The Notre Dame 2019 football schedule looks more formidable than 2018’s ended up being. Even so, and even acknowledging that spring ball and fall camp can change the picture substantially for everyone, it also looks manageable. Road dates at Georgia, Michigan, and Stanford loom large now. Virginia Tech could be in for a big rebound. Stanford might not be so scary by the time we get to them, though (more on that below), Georgia and Michigan have their own question marks to deal with, and the Tech game is at home. Another 12-0 season, while of course unlikely, would definitely get the Irish into the playoff again; an 11-1 season might as well, as long as the 1 is a toe stub rather than a marquee loss. Both seem improbable but certainly not impossible.

A quick explanation is due on second order win differential, which is noted below for each opponent’s 2018 record. S&P+ tracks something called second order wins, which is how many wins S&P+ would expect you to have in hindsight. Bill Connelly wrote a great piece on it back in 2015. The differential between that and a team’s actual wins is what’s interesting, because large differentials strongly suggest a reversal of fortunes is coming. Somewhat counter-intuitively, a positive differential means you underachieved – you were expected to win more games than you did. On the flip side, a negative differential of course means you “should” have won less games than you did. Teams with big differentials tend very strongly to experience reversals the following season. The exemplars are 2013 TCU and 2016 Notre Dame, both of whom went 4-8 and had a +3.2 differential. 2014 TCU went 13-1 with a Sugar Bowl demolition of Ole Miss, while 2017 Notre Dame went 10-3 with a stirring Citrus Bowl win over LSU.

The cutoff for reliable predictive value is +/-1.8. Interestingly, only one Irish opponent in 2019 meets that criterion…


2018 record: 12-1
2nd order win differential: -1.7
Key personnel losses: RB Dexter Williams, WR Miles Boykin, TE Alize Mack, C Sam Mustipher, DT Jerry Tillery, DT Jonathan Bonner, LB Te’Von Coney, LB Drue Tranquill, CB Julian Love
Key staff losses: None

S&P+ really, really hated Notre Dame’s first three games, which is why it considers them to have overachieved; I wouldn’t read too much into that at this point. The Irish put together a fantastic 2018 regular season that ultimately ended on the very sour note of Clemson’s resounding playoff win. That finish overshadows the fact that Notre Dame won double-digit games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1988-89. With the notable caveat that schedules used to be smaller, the Irish have never won double-digit games in three consecutive seasons. As in, not ever. Yes, for many years they played only nine or ten games per year, and for many years after that they only played 11 games per year. Still, in a program as storied as Notre Dame’s, “first time ever” doesn’t come around very often. Could it happen in 2019?

Williams and Boykin were the top offensive producers for the Irish the season; their losses will be felt, but there are options to replace them. The departures of Mack and Mustipher should be surmountable, and with every other significant contributor returning the offense should be able to take a sizable step forward. The defensive story is much more concerning. Tillery and Bonner leave big but not impossible-to-fill shoes; we’ve seen the DT rotation guys for 2019 in extended action and they’ve all looked good. There should be decent depth behind them as well. Linebacker is a bevy of question marks with no clear answers and no clear front runners, aside from senior rover Asmar Bilal. If you’re looking for something to boost Mylanta sales in September, that’s it.

Three-fourths of the secondary will return, and those three guys were all really good last season. The brutal blow here is the last fourth – the loss of consensus All-American Julian Love, who ultimately couldn’t turn down the NFL. Love’s replacement at the moment is a huge question mark; how well Todd Lyght can answer that uncertainty will go a long way toward determining the defense’s 2019 fortunes. Another 10-win season got harder with Love’s departure, but if a couple of things resolve positively it’s very much within reach.

What I’m saying is, it could happen. It won’t be easy. But it could happen.

The Opponents

September 2nd – at Louisville

2018 record: 2-10
2nd order win differential: -0.3
Week before: Off
Week after:
vs. Eastern Kentucky
Key personnel losses: WR Jaylen Smith, LG Linwood Foy, RT Lukayus McNeil, SS Dee Smith, CB Cornelius Sturghill
Key staff losses: HC Bobby Petrino, replaced by Appalachian State HC Scott Satterfield

Sadly for the revenge-minded among us, a certain mustachioed defensive coordinator is no longer on the opposite sideline for this one; happily for those folks, however, he’ll make an appearance later! More germane to Irish fortunes, Satterfield is a good coach who will probably have Louisville Doing Good Things™ in relatively short order, but “opener against a veteran, more talented opponent” is a little too short. This is sort of a weird opener, as it’s a Monday game followed by an early-season bye. Will that affect either team? I think the margin between the teams here is too wide for it to really matter, but who knows.

If there’s any silver lining to the Cardinals’ disastrous 2018 campaign, it’s that they were really young and they’ll return a lot of guys. The pair of Smiths are big losses; Jaylen led the team in receptions and yards from scrimmage while Dee led in tackles, and both were locker room leaders. Overall, though, they return the vast majority of their contributors and they could be poised to take a big step in 2019 if Satterfield can un-BVG them quickly enough.

September 7th – Off

September 14th – vs. New Mexico

2018 record: 3-9
2nd order win differential: +1.0
Week before: Off
Week after:
vs. New Mexico State
Key personnel losses: RB Tyrone Owens, WR Patrick Reed, RG Aaron Jenkins, FS Bijon Parker
Key staff losses: Retained HC Bob Davie

New Mexico started last season 3-2. Whee! Sadly for the hot dog machines of Albuquerque, they lost their last seven by an average of 29 points. Average! Davie, the wish-on-a-monkey-paw result of Irish fans who wanted to get rid of Lou Holtz, has somehow managed to keep his job through consecutive 3-9 seasons and persistent allegations of thinly-veiled racism. Those of us who remember his dicta banning du-rags, cornrows, and tattoos at Notre Dame have feigned surprise appropriately.

There isn’t a lot to say here other than they run the option, Notre Dame is far better prepared for that than most programs they face, and despite a lot of returning experience for the Lobos the talent gap is enormous. So… Yeah.

September 21st – at Georgia

2018 record: 11-3
2nd order win differential: +0.5
Week before: vs. Arkansas State
Week after:
Key personnel losses: RB Elijah Holyfield, WR Terry Godwin, WR Riley Ridley, WR Mecole Hardman, TE Isaac Nauta, C Lamont Gaillard, DE D’Andre Walker, DE Jonathan Ledbetter, LB Juwan Taylor, CB De’Andre Baker
Key staff losses: DC/DB Mel Tucker, hired as Colorado HC; OC Jim Chaney, hired as Tennessee OC

Georgia will pit exceptional but in spots inexperienced skill position talent against a Notre Dame team that went to the playoff in 2018 and returns 17 starters. Georgia opens with Vanderbilt on the road, then has Murray State and Arkansas State at home before this game; I doubt the one game they’ll have in hand will be any real benefit, given the opponents. So both teams should be tuned up and ready to go, even before taking into account any offseason subtext. This is one of the marquee match-ups of September, and arguably one of the marquee match-ups of the entire national season schedule.

Speaking of the offseason subtext… I’m sure players and coaches for both teams had this game circled from the time it was scheduled. You better believe Notre Dame players redrew those circles several times, though, when Georgia players mocked them relentlessly during the playoff loss to Clemson. Will that be enough to make a difference in Athens?

Will Georgia’s attrition hit them hard enough to matter? They lost four of the five kids who had a decision to make this offseason – Holyfield, Ridley, Hardman, and Nauta – and they were all key offensive producers. They’ve recruited at an exceptionally high level under Kirby Smart, but there’s still no substitute for experience. Then again, they’ve recruited at an exceptionally high level. Will the loss of Mel Tucker hit them at all, given that his coaching specialty is Kirby’s specialty? How about Jim Chaney? He took Georgia from 93rd in S&P+ offense in his first year, to 14th in 2017, to 4th last year.

Much like the 2018 opener against Michigan, this game could be a tipping point for a pair of top ten teams. TV executives, rejoice.

September 28th – vs. Virginia

2018 record: 8-5
2nd order win differential: +0.9
Week before: vs. Old Dominion
Week after:
Key personnel losses: RB Jordan Ellis, WR Olamide Zaccheaus, TE Evan Butts, RG Jake Fieler, RT Marcus Applefield, LB Chris Peace, FS Tim Harris, SS Juan Thornhill
Key staff losses: None

Bronco Mendenhall led the Cavaliers to their best record since 2011 last season, punctuating the year with a 28-0 domination of favored South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. Can he build on that success in 2019? The answer will depend heavily on how well he can replace the 40% of 2018 scrimmage yards that are headed out the door with Ellis and Zaccheaus, and how much he can limit the stress on QB Bryce Perkins. Ellis led the team in carries last year with 215 but Perkins was right behind him with a whopping 212; OC Robert Anae caught some heat on Virginia message boards (yes, there is such a thing) for over-using Perkins in the ground game, especially since he seems be a more-than-capable passer.

Peace and Thornhill were also productive and will be tough to replace, but as defense is Mendenhall’s calling card I expect that to work itself out. Virginia was quietly very good on defense last year, ranking 27th in S&P+; for context, that would’ve been the third-toughest defense Notre Dame faced after Clemson and Michigan. I’m betting they’ll hold around there this year, which will make them an annoying opponent for a lot of people.

Finally, I’m pretty sure Juan Thornhill is Ron Mexico’s third cousin.

October 5th – vs. Bowling Green

2018 record: 3-9
2nd order win differential: -0.6
Week before: TBD
Week after:
Key personnel losses: WR Scott Miller, TE Dorian Hendrix, RG John Kurtz, RT Austin Labus, DE Jonah Harper, LB Brandon Harris, CB Clint Stevens, CB Montre Gregory, CB/PR Marcus Milton
Key staff losses: Fired HC Mike Jinks midseason

Bowling Green hired Boston College OC Scot Loeffler to replace Jinks. Here are the S&P+ rankings for Loeffler-led offenses:

  • 2011 – Temple – 32nd
  • 2012 – Auburn – 71st (stick a pin in that one)
  • 2013 – Virginia Tech – 91st
  • 2014 – Virginia Tech – 94th
  • 2015 – Virginia Tech – 72nd
  • 2016 – Boston College – 124th
  • 2017 – Boston College – 101st
  • 2018 – Boston College – 95th

This is the guy Bowling Green hired to revive their program from the moribund Mike Jinks era. Fun fact: Each of their three years under Jinks, they ranked better in S&P+ offense than Loeffler did that same year at a Power 5 program. On that stuck pin, Loeffler reached into to his past to hire former Auburn colleague – I swear I’m not making this up – Brian VanGorder to coach LBs.

He also retained DC Carl Pelini, which makes him probably the only coach in the country other than Bo who thinks Carl should be an FBS DC. There might not be a worse staff in college football than this one, folks. Oh, and Miller and Harris were their leading producers on offense and defense, Milton was highly disruptive, recruiting yada yada, but I’m not sure any of that really matters under the circumstances.

October 12th – vs. USC

2018 record: 5-7
2nd order win differential: +2.0
Week before: Off
Week after:
vs. Arizona
Key personnel losses: RB Aca’Cedric Ware, TE Tyler Petite, LG Chris Brown, C Toa Lobendahn, RT Chuma Edoga, DT Malik Dorton, ILB Cameron Smith, OLB Porter Gustin, SS Ajene Harris, FS Marvel Tell, CB Iman Marshall, CB Isaiah Langley
Key staff losses: Fired OC/WR Tee Martin, OL Neil Callaway, QB Bryce Ellis, DL Kenechi Udeze, and DB Ronnie Bradford; hired OC Kliff Kingsbury and then lost him to the NFL

The bad news for Irish fans is that JT Daniels and his top six pass-catchers will return. Yes, Daniels had an up and down year, and yes, I’m not sure how high his ceiling really is, but he clearly showed some flashes and if he’s going to make a big leap this is the year. The bad news for Southern Cal fans is pretty much everything else. They lose Ware, who was their leading rusher by a substantial margin last year. Not surprisingly, there are talented backs available to take his place, but losing three starters from a decidedly underwhelming offensive line makes one wonder how much room those backs will find.

On the other side of the ball, losing seven defensive starters is a massive blow. Safety Talanoa Hufanga started for the first half of 2018 before breaking his collarbone, and will return. So that’s good. Losing the guy who replaced him (Harris), their best play-making DB (Tell), and both starting corners is not. At the second level Gustin was their most disruptive player by far, pacing the squad in both TFLs and sacks despite only playing six games, and Smith was the lynchpin of their defense. Again, they can throw recruiting stars at those holes, but who knows how well that will work.

Complicating matters further is the continued presence of Clay Helton and the massive upheaval on his staff, including the triumphal-hire-turned-epic-faceplant of tabbing Kliff Kingsbury to helm the offense.* Oops. Something to watch is that they were the one opponent with a substantial positive second order win differential, so it’s fair to expect some amount of rebound from them. How much is more of an open question.

* Speaking of which: reports that Kingsbury’s buyout was $150,000. I did not leave off a zero. Texas Tech fired him with $7,000,000 remaining on his contract and well-financed NFL teams were showing interest – what the hell was the point of a $150,000 buyout? Just when you though USC couldn’t possibly look dumber in all this…

October 19th – Off

October 26th – at Michigan

2018 record: 10-3
2nd order win differential: +0.3
Week before: at Penn State
Week after:
at Maryland
Key personnel losses: RB Karan Higdon, TE Zach Gentry, RT Juwann Bushell-Beatty, DE Rashan Gary, DE Chase Winovich, DT Lawrence Marshall, DT Aubrey Solomon, LB Devin Bush, CB David Long
Key staff losses: WR/co-OC Jim McElwain, hired as Central Michigan HC; DL coach Greg Mattison, hired as Ohio State co-DC; LB coach Al Washington, hired as Ohio State LB

Nobody on Notre Dame’s 2019 schedule and perhaps nobody nationally was hit as hard by defensive attrition this offseason as the Wolverines given who they lost and who’s available to replace them. Gary, Bush, and Long were all early declarations. Solomon transferred to Auburn; he was a presumed starter this year before injury and a presumed starter for next year before being disgruntled over how his injury was handled. TE Zach Gentry, the 6’8″ impossible-to-stop weapon who Alohi Gilman, you know, stopped, also declared early. Jokes aside, he was a key part of their offense. The loss of Jim McElwain could also loom large, as control of the offense now presumably slides solely into the hands of Pep Hamilton again. And Pep is, shall we say, less than popular with the Michigan faithful. Don Brown interviewed with Temple but it looks like he’ll stay, otherwise the staff changes would have Ann Arbor in full-on meltdown. Really hate to see that.

RB Chris Evans should be up to the task of replacing Higdon and the offensive line returns everyone besides Bushell-Beatty, so the run game could be a strength. A solid receiving corps of  Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, and Tarik Black all return. QB Shea Patterson returns and will do what he has done through his three seasons at Ole Miss and Michigan: rack up stats against bad teams and play somewhere between “meh” and “awful” against good teams. On defense, losing Bush and Long is a big blow but the back seven should be fine, as there’s a good mix of talent and experience. The defensive line, though… Woof. They’re going to be undersized and inexperienced on the interior. They lost a highly productive pair of edge rushers and may have to slide one or two of the guys who were going to replace them into the interior. That’s why they play the games and all, but right now the line looks like an impending disaster.

Also, while Notre Dame is off the week before this game, Michigan travels to Happy Valley. You can imagine how elated their fans are at the thought of (a) playing Notre Dame right in the middle of the Big Ten season and (b) coming off a road rivalry game while we come off a bye. Heh.

November 2nd – vs. Virginia Tech

2018 record: 6-7
2nd order win differential: -0.3
Week before: TBD
Week after:
Key personnel losses: RB Steven Peoples, LG Kyle Chung, RG  Braxton Pfaff, RT Yosuah Nijman, DT Ricky Walker
Key staff losses: None

The Hokies lost a lot of defensive talent last offseason. And when I say “a lot,” I mean “a metric poop-tonne.” Between graduation, NFL declarations, dismissals, and injuries, Floyd, DE Trevon Hill, DT Ricky Walker, and DE Houshon Gaines were the only guys in their top eleven tacklers from last year to return. To make matters worse, Hill was dismissed after the September loss to Old Dominion and Gaines tore his ACL in early November. The injury bug hit the entire defense hard during the season, in fact, as Tech ended up starting more than 20 different defensive players. That’s how you fall from 9th in S&P+ defense all the way to 81st in one year.

But now a bunch of those guys come back, and they could bounce in the other direction. Rover Reggie Floyd was their best defender and has an NFL decision to make; reading the tea leaves it seems like he’s probably coming back, which would be a huge help of course. Head man Justin Fuente was able to find some offensive answers with QB Ryan Willis, who stepped in when starter Josh Jackson broke his leg in week 2. So there’s some upside there, and Fuente needs to capitalize on it. His seat isn’t hot, but if he can’t turn it around this season I think it’ll start to warm up.

November 9th – at Duke

2018 record: 8-5
2nd order win differential: -1.2
Week before: TBD
Week after:
Key personnel losses: QB Daniel Jones, WR/PR TJ Rahming, WR Chris Taylor, WR Johnathan Lloyd, TE Daniel Helm, TE Davis Koppenhaver, LT Christian Harris, LG Zach Harmon, LB Ben Humphreys, LB Joe Giles-Harris
Key staff losses: None

Duke returns about 80% of its rushing production, with Jones accounting for most of the lost yardage. They also return all their defensive contributors aside from Humphreys and Giles-Harris. They avoid Clemson and Florida State in their cross-division games. David Cutcliffe is a good coach. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they lose Jones, who believe it or not could be a first round pick, and a huge chunk of receiving production: about two-thirds of their 2017 yardage and a whopping 25 of their 31 receiving scores. That doesn’t bode well for their passing game in 2018. The defense, which ranked 48th in S&P+ last year, will probably have to carry them this season.

Oh, and they open with Alabama in Atlanta. So, good luck with that one, fellas.

November 16th – vs. Navy

2018 record: 3-10
2nd order win differential: +0.4
Week before: TBD
Week after:
Key personnel losses: S Sean Williams
Key staff losses: DC Dale Pehrson, DE Tony Grantham, DT Sione Po’uha, OLB Napoleon Sykes, S Dan O’Brien

Two things of interest here… One, Tony Grantham is Florida DC Todd’s brother and Dan O’Brien is former Boston College/NC State head man Tom’s son. Helps to know people. More interesting than that is that in researching staff changes, I learned that Navy carries 14 on-field position coaches. I don’t know how this works given that the limit for every other team is 10. You can carry four graduate assistants, but the pay is terrible, they have to be within seven years of graduating, and you can only keep them on staff for three years. A quick scan of bios leads me to believe that none of the guys on Navy’s staff fit the 7/3 rules, and as each of them had “real” assistant jobs before Navy I doubt they’re working for peanuts. I’d be very curious to know what the deal is here.

Anyway… On the downside, Navy had probably their worst season since before Paul Johnson took over and they’ll have to replace Pehrson, who retired after 23 years. On the upside they only lose one 2018 starter, and maybe replacing Pehrson isn’t such a bad idea given how terrible their defense has been in recent years. Coach Sweep-the-Leg just hired FCS Kennesaw State DC Brian Newberry, who will bring a couple of assistants with him. We’ll see if Newberry, 21 years Pehrson’s junior, can infuse some energy into one of 2018’s worst FBS defenses. We’ll also see if Niumatalolo avoids the offensive tinkering that made that side of the ball a mess in 2018.

November 23rd – vs. Boston College

2018 record: 7-5
2nd order win differential: -0.8
Week before: TBD
Week after:
Key personnel losses: TE Tommy Sweeney, LT Aaron Monteiro, C Jon Baker, RG Chris Lindstrom, DE Wyatt Ray, DE Zach Allen, DT Ray Smith, LB Connor Strachan, SS Will Harris, FS Lukas Denis
Key staff losses: OC Scot Loeffler, hired as Bowling Green HC

As implied above, I’m not sure losing Scot Loeffler to Bowling Green was really a bad thing. HC Steve Addazio tried to lure Liam Coen away from his job as WR coach with the LA Rams, but Coen wisely turned it down; once you’re on the NFL carousel, it’s better to stay there. That needs to sort itself out, but whoever Addazio brings in, there are a couple of nice pieces in QB Anthony Brown and RB AJ Dillon as well as a decent receiving corps. They lose three starters on the OL, but I’m less concerned about that given it’s Addazio’s specialty. Boston College may actually be able to move the ball this year!

Defensively, they return CB Hamp Cheevers, who got some major-selector All-American recognition, but they lose a lot of production all over the field. How well DC Jim Reid will be able to overcome those losses may determine whether the Eagles slide back. I can’t see them improving dramatically on last year’s record, so treading water would be a mild win.

November 30th – at Stanford

2018 record: 9-4
2nd order win differential: -0.6
Week before: vs. Cal
Week after:
Key personnel losses: RB Bryce Love, RB Cameron Scarlett, WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR Trent Irwin, TE Kaden Smith, LG Nate Herbig, LG Brandon Fanaika, OG Nick Wilson, C Jesse Burkett, RT AT Hall, DE Dylan Jackson, LB Bobby Okereke, LB Joey Alfieri, S Frank Buncom, CB Alijah Holder
Key staff losses: None

My goodness, the attrition… Love, even as gimpy as he was in 2018, is a big loss. Scarlett, an effective bruiser who led the team in rushing scores in 2018 and would’ve started this year, is headed to the NFL too. Arcega-Whiteside, Irwin, and Smith were their top three receivers. QB KJ Costello is reportedly weighing his options and the guys behind him have a combined seven career pass attempts. What’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa… [deep breath] …aaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more concerning than all that is the offensive line situation. Loyal 18S readers may remember that I warned of impending doom on Stanford’s OL after last signing day, as they had signed just four total OL in the 2017 and 2018 cycles – two 5* OTs and a low 3* C in 2017, and just one guy, a low 3* C, in 2018.

Well, it appears doom has come more quickly than even I had anticipated. Wilson headed off to medical retirement, as 2016 signee Clark Yarbrough already had done. Herbig – you might remember Tillery putting him on skates repeatedly this past season – left early for the NFL. Fanaika, Burkett, and Hall were all fifth-year seniors. All that attrition means that Stanford will enter spring ball with only seven scholarship OL. Seven! To make matters worse, at least three of those seven guys are dealing with injuries and their availability for contact in the spring is in question. They have five linemen signed for 2019 but none are early enrollees. Do you remember the 2007 Blue-Gold game, when Weis had to put a different color jersey on the few healthy linemen he had and have them play for both teams? Not exactly a good harbinger for 2019 Stanford.

The defensive attrition is less catastrophic but still a concern. Okereke, Alfieri, Buncom, and Holder were all productive starters. Jackson was a reserve who would probably have started this year but retired for medical reasons as well. They have some talented players ready to step in, particularly in the back seven, so they’ll probably be OK. Unfortunately for them, with almost all their skill position production gone and their offensive line in shambles, they’ll need the defense to be more than OK to have a good season. I think .500 might be a challenge for them this year.


Much can change before September 2nd. Coaches could still come and go, players will transfer in and out, injuries could strike, etc. We’ve never let reasoned thought stop us before, though, and we’re not about to let it now either. So… What kind of season can we expect in 2019?

I think it’s helpful to break the schedule down into four categories: toss-ups (50/50 win chance), should-wins (60/40), traps (70/30), and automatics (95/5). There could be a fifth category, I suppose, of “thanks for coming, Irish,” but I don’t think we have any of those this year. Not until the post season, anyway, which [LONG BITTER RANT DELETED].

Toss-ups: at Georgia, at Michigan

I know many have written off the Georgia game already, but as Scooter would say, not so fast my friend. They lost a lot of offensive and defensive production and we’re getting them early in the season. If we find good answers at linebacker I think the defense can be good enough again to keep this game a coin flip. I’m much less concerned by Michigan, especially with us off and them on the road the week before, but it’s still a top opponent at their place. These two games will do a lot to decide how 2019 will be remembered.

Should-Wins: vs. USC, vs. Virginia Tech, at Stanford

USC and Virginia Tech should both improve this year, but I don’t think it’ll be enough and we get them at home. Stanford could take a big step back after losing pretty much their entire offense, but we get them on the road and health and momentum are always a concern in game 12. These are three probably-decent opponents who should still be very beatable, especially since they’ll naturally command the lads’ attention.

Traps: vs. Virginia, at Duke, vs. Boston College

Similar to 2018 Vandy and Pitt, these are teams that probably won’t be much above average but they’ll be good enough to cause some trouble if you’re not careful. I think all three teams will be solid if unspectacular defensively, which always makes me nervous. They also each happen to be in a less-than-ideal spot in the schedule – Virginia follows Georgia, Duke follows Virginia Tech, and Boston College follows Navy. Notre Dame should have a clear advantage on paper against all three, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Irish struggle against at least one of them.

Automatics: at Louisville, vs. New Mexico, vs. Bowling Green, vs. Navy

I almost put Louisville in the Traps category because I think Satterfield will do well there, but facing a (probably) very veteran ND team with a train wreck of a roster is a lousy way to start your tenure. If we played them in late November instead you might be able to talk me into trap status. Navy has been trending the wrong way since mid-2017 and I don’t see that changing. New Mexico and Bowling Green are thoroughly overmatched on the field and led by below-average coaches. That’s a bad combo.

Predicted Record: 10-2

When you break the games into chunks like this, I think this is a pretty good schedule. We’ll have an opportunity for marquee wins without it being too insane, and we’ll have breathers inserted with appropriate frequency. I’m guessing we’ll sweep Michigan, USC, and Stanford, but drop games to Georgia and Virginia. I want to predict that we’ll beat Georgia, but it’s reeeaallly close and I’d rather keep my hopes down and be surprised. I do think we’ll have back-to-back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time in program history, then go to the Fiesta Bowl to face Ohio State, because that’s what we do.