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

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

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

By winning 10 games and the Citrus Bowl in 2017 and then following that up with a College Football Playoff appearance last season, Brian Kelly has made the '16 debacle a distant memory and has the Notre Dame program trending in the right direction. The successes during the past two seasons are having a positive impact on recruiting for 2020 and beyond, and another major bowl appearance will only reap more dividends.

And the 2019 Notre Dame schedule, despite featuring three major road tests, has enough built-in victories that the Irish should be pushing for a New Year's Six bid at a minimum. The Irish should be favored by double digits in at least nine of their contests this fall and with just one win in any of those three big road games, another high-profile bowl awaits. Two wins and a return to the playoff is possible.

Here is how the 2019 Notre Dame schedule stacks up.

12. Oct. 5 vs. Bowling Green

The Falcons quickly went from MAC contenders under Dave Clawson and Dino Babers to the back of the pack under Mike Jinks. It's now Scott Loeffler’s job to turn around the fortunes of a team that was 106th in both total offense and total defense in 2018.

College Football Rankings: Bowling Green

11. Sept. 14 vs. New Mexico

Winning in South Bend will be a tall task for former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie. But Davie has bigger concerns. After consecutive 3-9 seasons, along with the lingering effects of his suspension in 2018 for abusive behavior, the '19 campaign shapes up as important one for Davie in terms of job security.

College Football Rankings: New Mexico

10. Nov. 16 vs. Navy

A lot has happened since Navy knocked off the Irish late in 2016. Though the Midshipmen went to the Armed Forces Bowl that year, they saw their 14-game winning streak against Army snapped and have not beaten the Cadets since. The program has regressed in that period to the point where a bowl game was not an option after 2018's 3-10 finish. With just six total starters returning, expectations are not high for Ken Niumatalolo's crew this year, as well.

College football rankings: NAVY

9. Sept. 2 at Louisville

On the subject of quick downturns, there's Louisville. After eight consecutive bowl games, the program should have been at a point where it could survive the loss of 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. But things went sideways for Bobby Petrino last fall and former Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield takes over a team that was 128th in scoring offense and 122nd in scoring defense.

College football rankings: Louisville

8. Nov. 23 vs. Boston College

With Notre Dame losing defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and linebackers Te'Von Coney and Drue Tranquill, a power runner like Boston College's AJ Dillon could cause problems. But the Eagles will essentially be starting over on defense and a very thin unit could be worn down by the end of November.

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7. Nov. 9 at Duke

In what starts a tough November slate for the Blue Devils, Notre Dame makes its first visit to Durham since 1961. Duke will have to replace stars on both sides of the ball, but nine players with starting experience are back on defense, including Mark Gilbert, a 2017 All-ACC corner that missed most of last season with a hip injury.

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6. Sept. 28 vs. Virginia

The Cavaliers that will be making the school’s first-ever trip to Notre Dame Stadium are considered by some to be a prime contender in the ACC Coastal Division. Quarterback Bryce Perkins will lead the way on offense while Bryce Hall and Brenton Nelson headline a secondary that should be the strength of a quality defensive unit.

Virginia: college football picks against the spread

5. Nov. 2 vs. Virginia Tech

If the Cavaliers don't win the Coastal, the Hokies just might. The Irish ripped open a close game in the second half last October in Lane Stadium, but the Hokies return 10 defensive starters and have a pair of dangerous receivers in Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner. Hazelton had 12 catches for 131 yards and a score in last year's game.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Virginia Tech

4. Oct. 12 vs. USC

Prior to last fall, the last time USC finished under .500 was in 2000 and the firing of head coach Paul Hackett followed. Clay Helton returns for another year in Troy and while he will have some dangerous weapons, including Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns, along with developing quarterback JT Daniels, USC must get appreciably better at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: USC

3. Nov. 30 at Stanford

Despite Stanford Stadium not being a truly hostile road environment, Notre Dame has not won in Palo Alto since 2007. Part of the reason is that Stanford has had very good teams during that time. The Cardinal should again be formidable this fall, though they lose running back Bryce Love, star receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin, plus four starting offensive linemen.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford

2. Oct. 26 at Michigan

The Wolverines have a solid quarterback, two good receivers, and a new offensive identity under coordinator Josh Gattis. But will things really be any different with Jim Harbaugh in charge? Don Brown's defense was second nationally in total defense, but the Wolverines gave up 103 points in their last two games and have to replace several stars that are off to the NFL. Michigan is an extremely talented team, but also one that is very difficult to project in 2019.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan

1. Sept. 21 at Georgia

In what is arguably the most anticipated non-conference matchup of the coming season, Notre Dame will go to Athens for the first time ever. Head coach Kirby Smart has recruited at an elite level since arriving at Georgia and quarterback Jake Fromm, along with running back D'Andre Swift, have their sights set on the highest of prizes this year.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia

— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.