Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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64 PRESEASON 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI E valuating a college football schedule years in advance or even in the preseason can be an exercise in folly. A prime example occurred in 2018, when College Football Playoff-bound Notre Dame had road games at Vir- ginia Tech and USC, in addition to home contests with Michigan, Stan- ford and Florida State. From a "name" and preseason per- spective, that 2018 slate was deemed treacherous — particularly back in 2016, when Notre Dame itself was 4-8. Instead, Virginia Tech (6-7), Florida State (5-7) and USC (5-7) all finished with losing records in 2018, while injury-ridden Stanford was whipped 38-17 during a 1-4 stretch it experi- enced. Suddenly, the schedule didn't look as precarious. It can go the other way as well. The revamped 2020 docket, in which Notre Dame will be a full At- lantic Coast Conference member eli- gible for a league title because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has the mak- ings to be one of the most favorable ever for the Fighting Irish: • All but superpower Clemson lost a minimum of five games last season. • Other than the Tigers, the lone 2020 foes to even finish in the Associ- ated Press top 25 the past four years were Florida State, Virginia Tech and Louisville back in 2016, and Syracuse in 2018 — a team Notre Dame throttled by a 36-3 count. Plus, the Orange went back to a losing record last season. • Notre Dame does not have to pre- pare for Navy's unsettling triple-op- tion scheme, nor visit the Los Angeles Coliseum in the finale. It is the first time since 1926 the Irish will not face the Midshipmen, and the first year since 1945 they won't match up with the archrival USC Trojans. • Notre Dame does not play on the actual home turf of a 2020 opponent until Oct. 24 at Pittsburgh, and even that is an off-campus site in an NFL Stadium. The Sept. 26 meeting with Wake Forest is in Charlotte, not the Demon Deacons' home field — where the Irish handily won 56-27 back in 2018. • Florida State and North Carolina both have a bye the week before fac- ing Notre Dame — but so do the Irish those same weeks. No other teams have a bye prior to the Notre Dame game (not that it made a difference last year). • The showdown with Clemson re- mained at its Nov. 7 spot. Both teams should be unbeaten in what should be a mini-playoff and possible prelude to the ACC championship game either Dec. 12 or Dec. 19 in Charlotte, N.C. The Fighting Irish already had six ACC games on the 2020 docket as a partial league member in football, with 2019 records in parentheses: Clemson (14-1), Duke (5-7) and Louisville (8-5) at home, and Georgia Tech (3-9), Pitt (8-5) and Wake Forest (8-5) on the road. The four additions this year were Florida State (6-7) and Syracuse (5-7) at home, and Boston College (6-6) and North Carolina (7-6) on the road. Based on NCAA ratings — which can be misleading based strictly on winning percentage — that began in 1977, there have been only eight times in the 43 seasons since then the Fight- ing Irish have finished outside the top 50 in strength of schedule. Chronologically, here are those regu- lar seasons, and what occurred: 1983: No. 50 — 50-49-5 (.505) Despite finishing only 11-10-1 in head coach Gerry Faust's first two sea- sons, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the 1983 preseason by Sporting News because of two primary reasons. One was the "magical" third year of Irish head coaches, with four previ- ous mentors having finished unbeaten and/or national champs in year three. Two was a perceived softer sched- ule. Six of the first seven opponents would finish under .500, and the one that didn't (eventual national champ Miami) had lost to Notre Dame the year prior. Alas, the Irish still finished the regu- lar season 6-5. Athletics director Gene No Irish head coach played more killer schedules than Lou Holtz, but the 1993 slate — which included this 27-23 win at Michigan — turned out to be more manageable. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA SCHEDULE OF BENEFITS The revised 10-game ACC slate on paper looks like one of the lighter ones at Notre Dame

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