Blue and Gold Illustrated

June July 2018

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

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62 JUNE/JULY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T here are several oddities with Notre Dame's 2018 schedule. Four games will be played at home in September — and then only one apiece in October and November. There will be two regular- season trips to California. The only other time that occurred was in 2007 — at UCLA and at Stanford, two of the three Fighting Irish wins that season. For the first time, three home games will kick off at night. And, of course, it's not of- ten you see any school relin- quish a home game in order to travel for the fourth time in five weeks (Syracuse at Yankee Stadium Nov. 17 for the Shamrock Series). What has not changed is the three- part demarcation we generally have each year: the games one cannot af- ford to lose, the "upset specials" and the marquee contests most will mea- sure with regard to College Football Playoff stature. Notre Dame's games are ranked in order of difficulty: CAN'T LOSE THESE: 12. Ball State, 11. Vanderbilt, 10. Vs. Syracuse, 9. At Wake Forest, 8. Vs. Navy No defeat this season would hurt ninth-year head coach Brian Kelly's tenure more than one of these be- cause of the vast recruiting disparity that exists. Ball State is to Notre Dame this year what Arkansas State, Louisiana and The Citadel are to Alabama, or Furman and Georgia Southern to Clemson. Then again, Vanderbilt (18-31 un- der fifth-year head coach Derek Ma- son) also was a 59-0 loser at home to Alabama last year. An SEC foe still has to be respected, especially early in the year when the wear and tear of an arduous season hasn't quite yet hit. An option was given to play Syra- cuse in an indoor facility, but Kelly chose to play instead in the Novem- ber elements outdoors because the Orange's fast-paced offense — which stunned Clemson last year in the Carrier Dome — could be less potent. It averaged a national-high 87.8 plays per game in 2017. However, Syracuse is also 15-33 the past four years. Wake Forest had an identity change last year. In 2015-16, it had been lauded for stout defense, but last year it was mostly involved in shootouts, including a 48-37 loss at Notre Dame. A strong case can be made for Navy as one of the six most difficult challenges on the schedule, but at least the Irish have a bye the week before the trip to San Diego. UPSET SPECIALS: 7. Pitt, 6. At Northwestern We put Pitt here for three reasons. One, the Irish will be coming off two marquee games (Stanford and Vir- ginia Tech), and sustaining a high emotional level three straight weeks is difficult. Two, it is midterms week. Three, the Panthers have de- veloped a habit of playing to the level of their opponent, upsetting Big Ten champ Penn State and national champ Clemson (on the road) in 2016, and toppling 10-0 and No. 2 Miami last year. Would you believe North- western has a two-game win- ning streak against Notre Dame (1995 and 2014) — and has just as many 10-win cam- paigns (three) as the Irish since 2007? The week after facing Navy's triple option also has not been smooth for Notre Dame the last 10 years. MARQUEE MATCHUPS: 5. Florida State, 4. At Virginia Tech, 3. Stanford, 2. Michigan, 1. At USC Provided there is a 7-0 outcome in the first two categories, 3-2 here will get the Irish into a Big Six bowl and 4-1 a potential College Football Playoff spot (depending on how and when the possible defeat occurred). this May did not release lines versus Michigan and Vir- ginia Tech, but made Notre Dame an eight-point favorite at home versus Stanford and gave the Irish a nine- point advantage against FSU and a surprising one-point margin at USC. Michigan will be the harbinger. A defeat at home could portend a sixth four-or-more loss season in Kelly's nine years, especially when one points to the 9-12 November record the past five years. A victory versus the Wolverines may well put Notre Dame in the Col- lege Football Playoff/championship race come November for the fifth time in seven seasons. The fine line between champion- ship contention and fringe top-20 sta- tus remains. ✦ Fine Line Between Contention And Collapse THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at The showdown opener at home versus Michigan Sept. 1 is bound to set a tone for both teams the rest of the season. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL 2018 NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Time (ET) Sept. 1 Michigan (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8 Ball State (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Sept. 15 Vanderbilt (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at Wake Forest TBA Sept. 29 Stanford (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at Virginia Tech TBA Oct. 13 Pittsburgh (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Oct. 27 vs. Navy^ TBA Nov. 3 at Northwestern TBA Nov. 10 Florida State (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 vs. Syracuse# (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Nov. 24 at USC TBA ^ SDCCU Stadium in San Diego; Yankee Stadium in New York

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