Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

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

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54 APRIL 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I n each of the past three years, there was one opponent on the Notre Dame football schedule (if that) where one could say the Fighting Irish would be the definite underdog. • In 2020 it was Clemson, but at least it was at home. • In 2019 it was at Georgia, while the October matchup at Michigan was more of a "pick 'em." • And in 2018 it was Michigan again, in the home opener, but that too was deemed a toss-up. Vanquishing Clemson in 2020 and Michigan in 2018 propelled head coach Brian Kelly's troops to the four- team College Football Playoff. During this three-year period they posted a glittering 32-2 regular-season record. The 2021 schedule is trickier to as- sess. On one hand, who could one hon- estly say will be favored over the Irish? Notre Dame has been fantastic at home with a 24-game winning streak (four short of the school record since Notre Dame Stadium opened in 1930) — and three of the four perceived toughest foes this season, USC, North Carolina and Cincinnati, are at home. The fourth, Wisconsin, is in Chicago, a nearby, friendly locale for the Irish. Furthermore, Notre Dame has been fabulous at "winning the games it is supposed to," including a program- record 32-game winning streak against unranked foes. Yet in the same way where the Irish appeared "due" to defeat a marquee foe such as Clemson last year is an upset at home against a USC or someone else finally in the cards? Some of the 2021 storylines include: 1. ANY GIVEN SUNDAY The Labor Day Sunday opener at Florida State, which has fallen on hard times, including a 3-6 mark last year with a 42-26 loss at Notre Dame, has an eerie vibe. The last time the Irish opened on a Sunday was at Texas in 2016. Like Florida State, the Longhorns had been reeling (coming off 5-7 and 6-7 marks)and desperately needed a win against a foe like Notre Dame — whom it had lost to 38-3 the previ- ous year. Indeed, they did get the W (50- 47 in double-overtime), which sent Notre Dame into a 4-8 spiral. The Irish are in a far healthier place now, but these are the type of settings on the road and in an opener with a new offensive line and quarterback that can be dangerous. 2. LIMITED TRAVEL AND BY THE BYES There are only four true on-campus road outings — and none in back-to- back weeks. The two longest trips are at the beginning (FSU) and end (at Stanford). Notre Dame has perfected having the bye week come right at the half- way point, and it did so again in 2021 with the Oct. 16 bye prior to hosting always-talented USC Oct. 23. Meanwhile, the ACC is continuing its own tradition of byes prior to fac- ing Notre Dame, with North Caro- lina, Virginia Tech and Virginia all having one prior to playing the Irish. 3. REUNION The originally scheduled two- game series with Wisconsin — 2020 at Green Bay's Lambeau Field (can- celed) and 2021 at Chicago's Soldier Field — has been much anticipated. Since 1993, the Badgers have had eight Associated Press top-10 finishes — including No. 7 in 2017 — com- pared to Notre Dame's five. They don't recruit at Notre Dame's level, but do maximize what they have with program soundness and physicality. The intrigue is heightened even more with graduate transfer quar- terback Jack Coan potentially at the throttle for the Irish after posting a 12-6 record as the starter at Wisconsin. 4. REUNION II The week after Coan's reunion, the Irish coaching staff will have one of its own versus Cincinnati. Kelly coached the Bearcats from 2007-09, fashioning a 12-0 mark in 2009 prior to accepting the Notre Dame job that December. He joins Ur- ban Meyer as having the distinction of leading 12-0 regular seasons at two Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Meanwhile, first-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Free- man was instrumental in Cincinnati's 31-6 record the past three years un- der head coach Luke Fickell — as was former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock. 5. THE VIRGINIANS Until 2015, the Notre Dame football team had never played in the state of Virginia. This year it will play both in Blacksburg versus Virginia Tech (Oct. 9) and then in Charlottesville against Vir- ginia (Nov. 13). Those two teams both visited Notre Dame in 2019, with the Irish eking out an 11th-hour 21-20 vic- tory against the Hokies to begin a 16- game winning streak, the third-longest at the school since 1950. ✦ Remaining On Or Ahead Of Schedule THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at The Irish will enter the 2021 season with a streak of 24 consecutive home wins, four short of tying the school record at Notre Dame Stadium. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS NOTRE DAME 2021 SCHEDULE Date Opponent (All-Time Record Vs. ND) Sept. 5 at Florida State (6-4) Sept. 11 Toledo (0-0) Sept. 18 Purdue (26-58-2) Sept. 25 vs. Wisconsin* (6-8-2) Oct. 2 Cincinnati (0-1) Oct. 9 at Virginia Tech (1-2) Oct. 16 Bye Oct. 23 USC (37-48-5) Oct. 30 North Carolina (2-19) Nov. 6 Navy (13-79-1) Nov. 13 at Virginia (0-3) Nov. 20 Georgia Tech (6-29-1) Nov. 27 at Stanford (13-21) * at Soldier Field in Chicago

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