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Notre Dame Football

Way-Too-Early Look at the 2019 Schedule

January 8, 2019
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I hate when college football season ends. Well, it never truly ends because there’s (second) signing day, spring ball, the spring game, early official visits, camp season, and there really is very little down time until they start playing games again in September.

One thing I like about the day after the games end is the way-too-early look at the next season. I like the top-25 lists, the early Heisman odds, the coaching carousel...pretty much all of it.

Even though there is still plenty of offseason to come filled with new additions, subtractions, and unexpected bad news for most programs, it’s fun to look ahead at what’s to come. With that in mind, here’s a way-too-early look at the 2019 schedule.

A lot of things will change between now and Labor Day when the Irish play their first game of 2019, but it doesn’t hurt to take a peak at what we might see from Notre Dame’s opponents this upcoming fall.

@ Louisville (September 2nd)

It’s a Monday primetime matchup to kick off the year and it’s a heck of an opening game for Scott Satterfield as the head coach who’s replacing Bobby Petrino at Louisville. He was 51-24 at Appalachian State with double digit win seasons in three of the last four years.

He’s not taking over an ideal situation. The Cardinals lost their final nine games (2-10 overall). The offense was dreadful (112th in S&P+). The defense, led by Brian VanGorder, was just as bad (109th). This is a full-on rebuild with the roster as a whole.

Quarterback Jawon Pass returns, but he struggled mightily. The other quarterback, Malik Cunningham, is an explosive runner, but the fact that a backup quarterback led the team in rushing shows how anemic their ground game was.

Satterfield was 4-8 in first year at App State before turning them into Sun Belt contenders. It will probably be a rough first year for him and Notre Dame will likely be heavily favored heading into this one.

Home versus New Mexico (September 14)

No short week for the Irish as they have extra time to prepare for New Mexico’s option attack. A couple of years ago this would have been considered a trap game scenario, but their program has been in a downward spiral under Bob Davie (you don’t say!).

They were 3-9 last year for the second season in a row. Davie only has the job because they can’t afford to buy him out. They also had a major scandal with serious allegations thrown his way regarding him and the program.

New Mexico went from 1st in rushing yards per game in 2016 to 19th in 2017 and 89th last year. Unless they drastically flip things around or Notre Dame has a Ball State kind of day at the office, this shouldn’t be a close game.

@ Georgia (September 21st)

Although this will be an incredibly tough matchup, Notre Dame does have the advantage of having two games before that should not be as difficult as the typical start to their season. I don’t need to tell anyone how big this game is for any Playoff hopes or in terms of national perception, so two games that should be comfortable wins before is kind of nice.

Georgia loses a lot of skill talent at receiver and tight end, but the offensive line will be awesome. Andrew Thomas is a stud at left tackle and the group as a whole should be a contender for next year’s Joe Moore Award. They have recruited extremely well there.

Jake Fromm returns at quarterback after a breakout season and running back D’Andre Swift might be the most talented back the Irish face at any point in 2019. The offense was spectacular at times last season and should be very good again. 

(After I finished writing this Georgia lost their offensive coordinator to Tennessee. So they’ll have two new coordinators next season.)

Although they lost Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker at corner, they have young guys like Tyson Campbell that should step up to fill the void. The talent they have brought in should be ready to shine after taking a small step back on defense (15th in S&P+).

It’s fair to assume that even without departing coordinator Mel Tucker (the new head coach at Colorado), the defense is going still be very strong. It’s probably better to catch them early because it might be one of the best defenses in college football by the end of 2019.

Home versus Virginia (September 28th)

Virginia is on the rise under Bronco Mendenhall with the Cavs going 8-5 in his third season. Two of their losses came in overtime to end the regular season as well.

Quarterback Bryce Perkins will be back and he was solid for them, but they are losing their leading rusher and receiver. They’ll need to find some answers there, but the defense finished 27th in S&P+. That was the strength of their team and they should have eight starters back from that group.

Something to remember is that Mendenhall’s BYU teams played Notre Dame tough on the road and I would be surprised if that wasn’t the case with his Virginia squad this time around.

Home versus Bowling Green (October 5th)

They are bringing in a new coach after a 3-9 season and that coach is former Boston College offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.

Things fell apart for the program after Dino Babers left for Syracuse. He won more games in his final year there (10) than they’ve won in the three years after (9).

I’ll save even a shallow dive into Bowling Green until the nine months from now, but Loeffler is someone who relied heavily on the power running game with play-action mixed in off of that over the last two seasons at BC.

Home versus USC (October 12th)

Now that Kliff Kingsbury is not going be running the offense there, who knows where things will go with the 2019 Trojans?

Clay Helton is back, but he still needs someone to run the show on offense. At least whoever is going to do that will have a ton of talent to work with.

JT Daniels should be much better as a sophomore and he’ll have Amon-ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, and Michael Pittman back to throw to. Getting the offensive line and the running game fixed should be a priority for them, but the skill talent they have at receiver will rival any program in the country.

There are huge questions on defense. They didn’t have a great pass rusher after Porter Gustin was injured and they badly need some young defensive lineman to take the next step for them. Cameron Smith is finally gone at linebacker and they have to replace Iman Marshall and Marvell Tell in the secondary.

They have the kind of individual talent on the roster to compete with anybody, like they do every year. Will that be enough?

This game will mean a lot for Helton. If he loses then he’ll drop to 1-4 against Notre Dame.

@ Michigan (October 26th)

Notre Dame gets a bye week to get ready for this game and after seeing that and the two games before Georgia, this schedule doesn’t seem quite as bad as it did before.

They are replacing a lot on defense, the coaching staff included with a couple of recent departures. But as long as Don Brown returns (as of now he will be), then they are still going to be pretty good on defense even without Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush, and David Long.

On offense, they lose top back Karan Higdon. Aside from him, though, they have most of the pieces on offense returning. The receiving corps should be solid with Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones and Shea Patterson is back (10th in QBR).

The Wolverines performed their worst against the best teams they faced last season and they play at Penn State the week before. If they lose that game, Jim Harbaugh will be under tremendous pressure to beat the Irish.

Home versus Virginia Tech (November 2nd)

Quarterback Josh Jackson is expected back from injury and he’ll have a big time player in Damon Hazelton to throw to. The Hokies finished 25th in passing S&P+ last season and most of the production is still around in 2019.

It was a horrific year for them on defense, a rarity under Bud Foster. The injuries, suspensions, and early departures to the NFL crippled their depth on their way to finishing 81st in S&P+.

I’d expect a big bounce back from them this time around. They’ll be much better than they were and that should make this a much closer game than their previous meeting.

@ Duke (November 9th)

Duke is always hurt by early departures to the pro ranks, but that’s been a basketball problem. This year it’s a football issue with quarterback Daniel Jones and standout linebacker Joe Giles-Harris both declaring for the NFL Draft.

Those are huge losses for them combined with departing seniors like linebacker Ben Humphreys and receiver TJ Rahming.

They have a lot to replace on offense. On defense, not having those two linebckers will be big, but they’ve recruited fairly well on this side of the ball and have a group that should at least be above average with several experienced players back on the D-line.

The seniors for Notre Dame will remember the embarrassment of losing to Duke at home in 2016 and should be ready to show that the program is in a much different spot than they were then.

Home versus Navy (November 16th)

This is the first year in awhile where Ken Niumatalolo has a ton to figure out in the offseason. It was a brutal year for them with a 3-10 record.

It would be shocking if they weren’t much better than that. Expect the offensive efficiency to improve quite a bit and Malcolm Perry will be back for his senior year giving them an explosive option to get the ball to.

Niumatalolo cleaned house with his defensive staff and he is bringing in Kennesaw State defensive coordinator Brian Newberry to help fix things. His defense finished in the top-5 in total defense and the top-10 in scoring defense in the FCS last year.

Home versus Boston College (November 23rd)

AJ Dillon is one of the best backs in the country, but he was injured for a large chunk of 2018. A healthy Dillon along with year three of Anthony Brown as a starting quarterback makes BC intriguing on offense.

They’ll have to rebuild around those two, though. They lose three starters on the offensive line, two starting receivers, and a quality player at tight end as well.

They are also going to have rebuild on defense with no Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray at defensive end and no Connor Strachan at middle linebacker. In the secondary they are down three starters, including cornerback Hamp Cheevers (7 interceptions). He recently declared for the NFL Draft.

With only four returning starters on defense and a lot of production to replace on offense, it could be a rough year for Steve Addazio before they travel to South Bend.

@ Stanford (November 30th)

Is this the year Brian Kelly finally wins in Palo Alto? I guess we’ll see, but Stanford certainly is losing a lot from what was a pretty good offense. Running back Bryce Love, receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and tight end Kaden Smith are all leaving school early for the NFL. Trenton Irwin is graduating as well, which means 147 combined catches are walking out the door. 

The skill talent for Stanford will still be good without them if some young players emerge. Tight end Colby Parkinson has All-American potential. Wide receivers Michael Wilson, Osiris St. Brown and Connor Wedington were players Notre Dame targeted. Their development could depend greatly on if KJ Costello ends up coming back or not.

He has yet to declare what he will do. If he leaves, there isn’t an obvious next choice at quarterback. Without Love at running back, they might have to rely even more on the passing game too.

The defense returns Paulson Adebo, who had a terrific year at corner, but they are losing a lot of experience in the secondary and Bobby Okereke is finally gone at linebacker after being a standout for the past few seasons.

They should be solid on defense, but other than Adebo, there are no obvious playmakers. They need someone like edge rusher Gabe Reid (5.5 sacks) to make a big jump.

It’s going to be very interesting to see where both Notre Dame and Stanford are heading into this game. Five of Stanford first six games look like they could be toss-ups. If they aren’t good early, David Shaw may be fighting to be bowl eligible at the end of season.

 
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