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

Clemson is not the only major test Ian Book and Notre Dame will face in 2020

Last year, along with playing five ACC opponents and their traditional rivals, Notre Dame had dates with a national power and a Big Ten contender. The Irish fell to both Georgia and Michigan but won the rest of their games to finish 11-2.

 

This season's schedule has a similar look. The Irish will battle six ACC teams with one coming against the elite of the elite in college football. Also, Notre Dame will leave campus to go up against another of the Big Ten's best*. The Irish should be favorites in the other 10 games, but several of their foes are hard to handicap in 2020.

 

Here is how the Irish schedule shapes up, from the easiest game to the most difficult.

 

9. Sept. 19 vs. Western Michigan

The Broncos under Tim Lester may not be winning at P.J. Fleck levels, but they have appeared in bowl games the past two years. Unfortunately, Lester is going to have to replace quarterback Jon Wassink and 1,400-yard rusher LeVante Bellamy.

 

8. Sept. 12 vs. Arkansas

The Razorbacks have not beaten a Power 5 team since defeating Ole Miss on Oct. 28, 2017. Florida transfer Feleipe Franks will most likely be the starting quarterback, but to be successful, the Hogs' offensive line must improve. Defensively, Arkansas had the worst unit in the SEC in 2019.

 

7. Nov. 14 vs. Georgia Tech (in Atlanta)

Because the Irish will travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the game against the Jackets is a bit trickier than the Arkansas clash. Georgia Tech should be improved, especially on defense, but head coach Geoff Collins is still trying to find the right offensive personnel.

 

6. Oct. 31 vs. Duke

For the second year in a row, the Irish will play the Blue Devils, this time at Notre Dame Stadium. Last fall, the Irish defense stymied Duke, holding them to just seven points. Despite landing Clemson quarterback transfer Chase Brice, the Devils may be offensively challenged once again and will have to rely heavily on a talented D.

 

5. Sept. 5 at Navy

For the first time in the history of this long series, Notre Dame will play the Midshipmen in Annapolis, Maryland. Replacing a 2,000-yard rusher at quarterback won't be easy, but some quality running backs return to power Navy's triple-option attack. On the other side, the defense was sapped by graduation losses though Diego Fagot is a top-flight linebacker.

 

4. Sept. 26 vs. Wake Forest (in Charlotte)

Remember when a team saw Wake on their schedule and just chalked up a win? That’s no longer the case as Dave Clawson has led the Demon Deacons to four straight bowl games. Wake Forest has been led by its offense in recent years, but with defensive end Carlos Basham Jr. and linebacker Ryan Smenda returning, that side of the ball should be a strength this time around.

 

3. Oct. 17 at Pittsburgh

This may be the sneakiest game on the Irish schedule. The Panthers always play Notre Dame tough and the Pitt defense from front to back is one of the best in the ACC. If Pat Narduzzi's team can run the ball on offense and quarterback Kenny Pickett can make some plays downfield, Pittsburgh could be a major ACC Coastal division contender.

 

2. Nov. 21 vs. Louisville

Louisville is the complete opposite of Pittsburgh. Javian Hawkins had a huge freshman with 1,525 rushing yards – including 122 in the season opener against Notre Dame – and Tutu Atwell developed into one of the country's best receivers. But if Louisville is going to make giant strides, the Cardinals can't finish 102nd in total defense again.

 

1. Nov. 7 vs. Clemson

The loss of explosive wide receiver Justyn Ross will hurt the Tigers, but Clemson is loaded with weapons and quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be supremely motivated in what will most likely be his final autumn at Clemson. Running back Travis Etienne will put up huge numbers again and defensive coordinator Brent Venables has All-America candidates in Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas, and Derion Kendrick.

 

*Note: Schedule subject to change. Prior to the Big Ten's and Pac-12's decisions to go with conference-only schedules, Notre Dame's game with Wisconsin at Lambeau Field (Oct. 3) would have ranked second on this list. The Fighting Irish's home date with Stanford (Oct. 10) would have been sixth and their annual rivalry game with USC (Nov. 28) would have landed third.

 

— 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.

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