Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Breaking Down Notre Dame's ACC Schedule

August 4, 2020
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We don’t know when, but with the exception of one team, we know who Notre Dame is scheduled to play in this unique season. And now that that part is known, we can start digging a little bit deeper into the schedule.

The way things break down for Notre Dame’s schedule, it can be separated into tiers. There’s a huge discrepancy between some programs on the schedule who the Irish will be heavily favored to beat, others who will present a challenge, and one opponent who is essentially like the final boss in a video game.

Half of the schedule sets up for what should be lopsided wins. The other half will determine whether or not Notre Dame qualifies for the ACC Championship game.

Tier 1: Mismatches

Syracuse

One of the new additions to the schedule, it’s a fortunate year to be playing them considering where things stand. After a breakthrough season in 2018, they dipped back down to 5-7 in 2019 and might be worse in 2020. They are projected to be 85th on offense and 91st on defense in SP+.

They lost their best pass rushers and don’t have any explosive skill players on offense returning.

Boston College

This game would look more intriguing if Phil Jurkovec is eligible and the addition of Ohio State transfer Jaelen Gill gives them a different kind of weapon in the backfield that they haven’t had before, but the defense is 92nd in SP+ heading into the season. They don’t have a Zach Allen or Harold Landry up front and the secondary does not have the same type of athletes new coach Jeff Hafley had at Ohio State.

Their strength is up front on offense, but that will be going against Notre Dame’s front seven. They simply don’t match up very well. 

Duke

Duke is a lot like last year’s team. They have some intriguing talent on defense, especially at defensive end, but it’s probably going to be a struggle to put up points (116th in SP+ on offense).

Clemson transfer Chase Brice should help, but no one should pretend like he’s Trevor Lawrence. They don’t have the talent to beat Notre Dame unless Brian VanGorder is coaching the defense.

Wake Forest

Losing quarterback Jamie Newman hurts because he was a dangerous dual-threat for them. They do bring back some talent at receiver with Sage Surratt as the standout and Donovan Greene is a future star. They aren’t built to overcome only having three starters back on that side of the ball, though, which is why they are 99th in SP+.

The defense has some legit talent, but it likely won’t be enough to keep the game very close without a lot of luck.

Georgia Tech

Geoff Collins is going to have them playing pretty good defense in year two. There is no doubt they will compete well on that side of the ball with players like cornerback Tre Swilling and linebacker David Curry good enough to play on any team in the conference. Just about everyone is back that matters on defense.

The problem is on offense where they are still adjusting from Paul Johnson’s triple option attack. They are projected 104th in SP+ despite returning a decent amount of production.

Tier 2: Flawed Foes

Louisville

Their offense has a chance to be special and they were at times last season. 14th in SP+ heading into the season, quarterback Micale Cunningham is an explosive runner and he’s surrounded by playmakers. TuTu Atwell is a threat to score on any touch. Javin Hawkins is a big time back. They finished 11th in plays of 20 yards or more in 2019.

The offense is good enough to win the conference. The defense is not.

They are 84th in SP+ and don’t have the players up front to get after the passer without help from the blitz.

Could they outscore Notre Dame in a shootout? It’s entirely possible. That’s how they would have to likely get it done, though, because they aren’t going to keep teams out of the end zone.

Pitt

Pat Narduzzi finally had a Sparty-level defense at Pitt last season and most of the guys who made it that good are back. They are loaded on the defensive line with three players who put up double digit tackles for loss last fall and that doesn’t include Reshad Weaver, who had 14 in 2018, but missed last season with an injury.

They are going to be strong at all three levels of the defense and are 12th in SP+.

The offense isn’t what it was when they almost upset Notre Dame back in 2018. That’s their huge flaw. The backfield isn’t as good and quarterback Kenny Pickett is still a checkdown machine who struggles against above average defenses.

The defense would have to win the game for them and they might be good enough to do that, but playing keep away like they did in 2018 is probably not going to be an option for them on offense.

Tier 3: Tough Challenge

Florida State

The Seminoles are the biggest wild card on the schedule. They have top end talent like defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and wide receiver Tamorrion Terry who are projected to be high NFL Draft picks. The defensive line looks closer to the old ones they had in the ‘90s than recent groups they’ve fielded. This group has top-15 talent on the roster.

We’ll see if Mike Norvell can get that talent to play up to their potential because Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart couldn’t. And even though they have plenty of future NFL studs, the offensive line is once again set up to be one of the worst in the conference.

This might be a team that Notre Dame would have an easier time with early if they haven’t gelled under the new coaching staff. Or it could be the opposite with them looking good early before falling back into bad habits later in the season.

No one knows what we’ll see from FSU in 2020 and a lot depends on if they can get James Blackman to be much better than he has been at quarterback.

North Carolina

7-6 a year ago shouldn’t produce this much hype for an opponent, but every loss was by one score and the offense finished 19th in yards per play last season with virtually everyone coming back.

Sam Howell was fantastic as a freshman quarterback, 10th in pass efficiency, and will be the best quarterback Notre Dame faces not named Trevor Lawrence. His two 1,000 yard receivers are back as well. This has the makings of a top-10 offense and is 8th in SP+ in the preseason.

The defense isn’t spectacular by any means, but linebacker Chazz Surratt was a disruptive force with 20 total Havoc plays. They are solid in the secondary and if they had a difference-maker up front, this match up would be even scarier.

This is going to be a difficult game for the Irish. The winner could be one of the participants in the ACC Championship game.

Tier 4: Final Boss

Clemson

There really isn’t a need to go into detail about Clemson. Everyone knows they are the juggernaut of the ACC. They are the team Notre Dame has to knock off if they want to win the conference and they might face each other twice. So it’s like fighting Ganon and then finding out that you need to beat him again just to save Zelda.

To get that second chance at them, whether they win or lose the first one, Notre Dame will have to run the table against the rest of their schedule. It’s entirely possible and there should be some big wins along the way.

It won’t be without its challenges, though, and games against Louisville, Pitt, Florida State, and North Carolina will determine how far the Irish can go this season.

 
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