It's funny even thinking about the possibility that Notre Dame, a football independent since the beginning of their existence, could play only conference games this fall. But for this season, the Irish will be a member of the ACC and play 10 games against teams from the conference.
Notre Dame was scheduled for one non-conference game as well, but its Sept. 19 date with Western Michigan was canceled when the MAC decided to not play any sports this fall. Whether not the Irish can or will add a non-conference opponent at this time is pretty much irrelevant. At this point, those associated with the Notre Dame program want to play games of any kind. And with Florida State, North Carolina, Boston College, and Syracuse added to the six ACC games Notre Dame was originally scheduled to play, the Irish will still have an interesting slate of games this fall.
Here is how some of us at Athlon think Notre Dame will fare in those contests.
Notre Dame Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Notre Dame’s one-year membership (full-time) to the ACC will be an interesting storyline to watch in 2020. The Fighting Irish host Clemson in early November and play at North Carolina later in the month. Outside of those two games, coach Brian Kelly’s team is likely to be favored in its remaining matchups. Senior quarterback Ian Book and one of the nation’s top lines are back to form a strong foundation on offense for new play-caller Tommy Rees. The supporting cast needs a couple of playmakers to emerge at receiver and at running back, and help could come in the form of freshman Michael Mayer (TE), Jordan Johnson (WR) and Chris Tyree (RB). Reloading at end and cornerback remain the biggest concerns for defensive coordinator Clark Lea. Even if Notre Dame loses to Clemson on Nov. 7, a win over the Tar Heels on Nov. 27 likely means Kelly’s team would get a second shot at the Tigers in the ACC title game.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Notre Dame joining the ACC this season adds more intrigue to the conference title race, even though the Fighting Irish and Clemson were already scheduled to meet. With their non-conference slate practically wiped out, Notre Dame will test its mettle against the majority of the ACC, missing only Miami, NC State, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. The Irish have some question marks on their roster, but their overall talent level and track record under Brian Kelly immediately make them arguably the Tigers' biggest threat to their ACC supremacy. As long as Notre Dame can avoid any slip-ups and handle a couple of tough road tests, fans should get not one, but two helpings of Irish vs. Tigers this season, the latter taking place in Charlotte.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
He may not be the most talented quarterback in America, but Ian Book knows how to win games. As a starter, the fifth-year senior has lost just three games in his career and those were to Clemson, Georgia, and Michigan. While he will have to incorporate some young talent at wide receiver and running back, the offensive line returns intact and should provide fine support.
Defensively, the Irish will be led by a solid front seven. Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes weren't starters last year, but they are exceptional athletes that have been contributors at defensive end. There is a nice rotation in the middle of the line and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Drew White and very good linebackers.
While safety appears to be a strength, cornerback is the big question on the defense and perhaps on the entire team. And there are two teams on the schedule that could exploit that flaw. The Irish will enter November in the College Football Playoff hunt once again, but will fall to Clemson and North Carolina to finish 8-2.