As usual, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will face one of the toughest football schedules in the nation this coming season. Notre Dame’s 2018 slate includes five games against teams that appear in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25, two neutral-site games and two teams from outside the Power 5. When you factor in a couple of road trips against two other teams that won bowl games to finish the 2017 campaign, the upcoming season is nothing short of a gauntlet for the Irish.
Here are the games on the 2018 Notre Dame football schedule, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult. This list could change before kickoff weekend, depending on injuries and other factors beyond Notre Dame’s control.
12. Sept. 8 vs. Ball State
This home tilt with one of the worst teams the MAC has to offer should be nothing more than a walk-through.
11. Sept. 15 vs. Vanderbilt
The Commodores are constantly looking for motivation and an identity. They have athletes who could challenge Notre Dame at times, but Vanderbilt should not be in this game for long.
10. Oct. 13 vs. Pitt
Pat Narduzzi’s defenses are always tough. And don’t look now, but it looks like the Panthers might have something in quarterback Kenny Pickett.
9. Nov. 17 vs. Syracuse (at Yankee Stadium)
The setting for this one should be nothing short of amazing, reminiscent of the Boston College-Fenway game a couple of year ago. That said, the Orange do have NFL-caliber talent at various spots on the field and a large alumni base in New York City. Things could get interesting — especially this late in the season.
8. Oct. 27 vs. Navy (at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego)
Like the Syracuse game in the Bronx, this will make for a fun trip. But also like the Syracuse game, the Irish will need stay focused in a strange environment against a pesky Navy team that’ll have a good chunk of the crowd behind them.
7. Nov. 3 at Northwestern
The Irish faithful will be well-represented at Ryan Field, but Pat Fitzgerald’s team is always ready for a fight. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has the ability to give Notre Dame problems in a variety of ways.
6. Sept. 22 at Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons are a team on the rise under head coach Dave Clawson. They’d love nothing more than to notch an early-season, program-defining win over the Irish.
5. Nov. 10 vs. Florida State
This one will be under the lights in South Bend, conjuring up images of the great battles with the Seminoles during the 1990s. It’s hard to know what to expect from Florida State under Willie Taggart at this point, but you can bet that the game will get chippy and chirpy at some point.
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4. Sept. 1 vs. Michigan
What a way to kick off the season! The rivalry is renewed and Jim Harbaugh will be in the building. This is one of the most anticipated season-openers in years for both programs.
3. Sept. 29 vs. Stanford
This should be another classic slugfest between two physical teams and two crafty head coaches. Stanford has its eyes on big things in 2018, and this game could set the tone for the rest of their season.
2. Nov. 24 at Southern Cal
Both teams could very well have a lot riding on this game. The Trojans return a lot of talent in the trenches and will be a much better team late in the season than early on, largely due to the development and comfort of the new faces at the skill positions.
1. Oct. 6 at Virginia Tech
This will very likely be a night game in Blacksburg, and there are few places in the country that can match the intensity of that environment. The Hokies are loaded and comfortable in their respective schemes on both sides of the ball.