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Notre Dame Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Fighting Irish's Schedule

Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football

Marcus Freeman's Fighting Irish set to face tough opponents from start to finish.

Six wins — all by double digits — by an average of 27.3 points per game coming out of the Week 7 bye brought the Notre Dame Fighting Irish into bowl season on quite the high note. But the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl was not exactly the season-ending party that the Fighting Irish hoped to have on New Year’s Day, falling 37-35 to Oklahoma State in Marcus Freeman’s head-coaching debut after Brian Kelly departed to LSU.

Related: Notre Dame 2022 Season Preview and Prediction

Freeman’s first full season at the helm will kick off with a showdown against his alma mater when Notre Dame squares off with Ohio State in Columbus on Sept. 3. But that certainly will not be the only difficult piece of the Fighting Irish’s 2022 puzzle. Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of Notre Dame’s upcoming regular-season schedule, ranked by the anticipated difficulty of each matchup.

12. Oct. 22 vs. UNLV

UNLV hasn’t finished with a winning season since 2013, totaling just 24 wins between 2014 -21. Couple those struggles with Notre Dame’s 11-2 all-time record against the Mountain West — as well as the Rebels’ schedule pitting them against the Fighting Irish subsequently after taking on the option-heavy offense of Air Force — and this should be among the easier points on Notre Dame’s schedule.

11. Sept. 17 vs. California

Notre Dame’s 23-4 all-time record against Pac-12 teams not named USC or Stanford is a good sign as it prepares to enter its Week 3 matchup with California. The Golden Bears have scored just 27 points total across four meetings with the Fighting Irish (all between 1959 and 1967) so this represents another early-season opportunity for Notre Dame’s defense to shore up any holes before taking on what should be stiffer competition.

10. Nov. 19 vs. Boston College

Notre Dame enters this matchup riding a seven-game winning streak against Boston College, a stretch that includes scoring at least 40 points in each of the last three. This being the final home game for an extremely large class of seniors — and Notre Dame winning its final home games in each of the last five seasons by more than 29 points per game — will make that streak a tough one for the Eagles to break.

9. Oct. 15 vs. Stanford

These two squads have alternated three-game winning streaks within the series’ most recent matchups. Not only has Notre Dame won each of the three most recent meetings (2018, '19 and '21) but the Fighting Irish have scored 45, 45 and 38 points apiece in that stretch. Their success against the Cardinal has largely come in the midseason matchups — not the meetings in the final week of the regular season — so this marks an opportunity to build on its prior week’s Shamrock Series matchup with BYU and take some momentum into the second half of the season.

8. Sept. 10 vs. Marshall

Marshall will visit Notre Dame for its first road trip of the season and its first-ever matchup with the Fighting Irish. The Fighting Irish may have some tough holes to patch up after their opening-week trip to Columbus, but they should be able to return to Notre Dame Stadium and find a way past the Thundering Herd in their home opener.

7. Oct. 29 at Syracuse

This will be Notre Dame’s first true road game in more than a month after the Fighting Irish are set to open and close the month of September in Columbus and Chapel Hill, respectively. And while this road trip against a Syracuse team that finished 5-7 in 2021 shouldn’t be too difficult, with a potential high-stakes matchup against Clemson coming up the following week, this may be a week during which Notre Dame may have its attention somewhat divided.

6.  Nov. 26 at USC

The Trojans have been struggling to contain the Irish as of late, with Notre Dame victorious in each of the last four meetings and eight of the last 11. But this being the final game of the regular season and a potential determining factor of any potential postseason trips for both programs, a close contest here is hardly out of the question.

5. Nov. 12 vs. Navy (in Baltimore)

Notre Dame has been dominant as of late in this historic series, winning each of the last four meetings with three of the victories coming by at least 20 points. And while the Midshipmen’s game plan consistently centers around its triple-option offense, the varied rotation of playmakers and focal points of the attack renders this annual matchup highly uncertain but also highly anticipated.

4. Sept. 24 at North Carolina

The Tar Heels are the first of the two teams — keep reading to find out who will be the second — to square off with the Fighting Irish coming out of a bye week. North Carolina’s extra week of preparation combined with this being Notre Dame’s first road trip after its season opener in Columbus will come against a Tar Heels squad that opens with three very winnable games, which should offer them a boost of momentum entering the matchup with the Fighting Irish.

3. Oct. 8 vs. BYU (in Las Vegas)

Don’t look past this one as a simple “take care of business” kind of trip, especially since this game will take place in Las Vegas. The Cougars have been a tough out the past few seasons and they'll get a few extra days to prepare for this showdown in Sin City with Notre Dame.

2. Nov. 5 vs. Clemson

Just two days shy of the two-year anniversary of its win over No. 1 Clemson in 2020, the Fighting Irish will look for a similar performance against a similarly talented Tigers team, though the latter may not be ranked at the top like they were in 2020. That outcome, though, will be tough to replicate as the Tigers’ bye week after their homecoming game against Syracuse gives them two weeks to prepare for this marquee matchup under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.

1. Sept. 3 at Ohio State

For obvious reasons, all eyes are on this matchup during the first weekend of the season. A prime-time season opener in which the road team head coach’s first (regular-season) game comes against his alma mater, oh, and not to mention it’s a matchup of two highly ranked teams. Notre Dame’s preparation for this game will undoubtedly be key, but the extent to which the Fighting Irish can carry any positive momentum forward could factor into how the Marcus Freeman era gets underway.

— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during the summer of 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.