Notre Dame Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions
For now, the Irish are without wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore, who are being held out of practice and competition during the ongoing investigation.
“I care deeply about the four young men,” Kelly said following Saturday’s practice. “But I’ve got a job to do. And I’ve got another 100 players that I have to be concerned with.”
Kelly must also concern himself with a rigorous schedule, one that features Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC.
Five ND opponents also in the poll: FSU(1), Stanford(11), USC(15), Arizona State(19) and UNC(23).— Dan Murphy (@BGI_DanMurphy) August 17, 2014
Only six teams play more AP Top 25 teams than Notre Dame this year. And five of those are from the SEC. Stanford is the other.— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) August 17, 2014
Let’s go game by game through Notre Dame’s schedule and predict the outcome.
For now, it’s only appropriate to approach this exercise as if Notre Dame will be without Daniels, Russell, Williams and Moore for the entire season. Obviously, should any of the four be cleared, these predictions are subject to change.
Week 1: Rice
The drama will still likely be fresh in the air when the Irish take the field in less than two weeks against Rice in the season opener.
But don’t expect that to slow down Notre Dame too much against the Owls.
Kelly figures to have his squad ready to go for Week 1. There’s plenty of excitement surrounding a new season—not to mention the new turf and new Under Armour uniforms—and the players should have no problem working past the distractions versus Rice.
The Owls did notch 10 wins and claim the Conference USA Championship in 2013, but Notre Dame still looks too strong.
Prediction: Win (1-0)
Week 2: Michigan
September 6 is shaping up to be quite the scene in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame hosts the Wolverines for the last time before the rivalry takes a break for an undetermined length of time.
To add more excitement to the showdown, the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET under the lights in Notre Dame Stadium.
The energy and emotions surrounding the game will seep onto the playing field in some capacity. Which team will thrive off it?
On paper, it’s a tighter matchup now for the Irish without Daniels and Russell. The Wolverines roared to a 41-30 victory over the Irish last season, as quarterback Devin Gardner sliced up Notre Dame’s secondary to the tune of 294 yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-33 passing.
Assuming Russell does not play, how will the Irish defensive backs fare if the game is another high-scoring contest?
Still, early in the season, at home, expect the Irish to put together a thorough effort and get revenge for last year’s loss.
Prediction: Win (2-0)
Week 3: Purdue
The Boilermakers finished 1-11 in 2013, with their lone win coming over Indiana State in Week 2. They kept it interesting against Notre Dame last season before the Irish eventually held on for the 31-24 win.
Don’t expect it to be that close in 2014. The Irish head off-site to Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium for the annual Shamrock Series matchup. Notre Dame has won each of the four Shamrock Series games during Kelly’s tenure and posted point totals of 27, 46, 41 and 37, respectively.
Prediction: Win (3-0)
Week 5: At Syracuse
After the three consecutive games to start the season, Notre Dame gets its first bye week before facing Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The week off could allow the Irish to refuel and refocus, ensuring the matchup with the Orange doesn’t turn into a trap game.
The Syracuse game is actually a pivotal one on Notre Dame’s docket. Were the Irish to lose, they’d stumble into a three-week stretch against Stanford, North Carolina and Florida State.
The Orange enter their second season under head coach Scott Shafer. Senior quarterback Terrel Hunt brings a dual-threat ability to the offense, as the 6’3”, 234-pounder threw for 1,638 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013, while also adding 500 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Syracuse should benefit from the location of the game, but that probably won’t be enough to take down Notre Dame.
Prediction: Win (4-0)
Week 6: Stanford
Notre Dame’s biggest test in the first half of the regular season comes against Stanford, which is ranked 11th in the preseason AP Top 25 poll.
The Cardinal have been a model of consistency under head coach David Shaw, who has continued moving the program in the same direction as former head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Shaw’s squad will have a different feel in 2014 without defensive coordinator Derek Mason (now the head coach at Vanderbilt) and NFL rookies Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds. This is where the consistency and continuity of Stanford’s program are key.
Notre Dame will face a talented offense led by quarterback Kevin Hogan and wide receiver Ty Montgomery, but that unit must replace running back Tyler Gaffney.
There are question marks for the Cardinal, but Stanford could be too steady and well-coached to be tripped up by the Irish.
Prediction: Loss (4-1)
Week 7: North Carolina
North Carolina checks in at No. 23 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, and the Tar Heels are a trendy team in 2014.
The Week 7 matchup could be one of the underrated make-or-break tilts of Notre Dame’s season. I recently tabbed this game as one of three that could potentially ruin Notre Dame’s year. Much of that has to do with the timing on the schedule—sandwiched between Stanford and Florida State.
Somehow, though, we think the Irish will find a way against North Carolina as long as they limit UNC’s offensive playmakers—many of whom have big-play, quick-strike ability.
Prediction: Win (5-1)
Week 8: At Florida State
This one has been circled on the calendars of Notre Dame fans since last season, when the Seminoles steamrolled their opposition throughout the regular season and capped off a perfect year with the comeback victory over Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game.
Not much has changed since then. Quarterback Jameis Winston and Florida State still will be heavy favorites against Notre Dame.
Over the weekend, Seminoles wide receiver Isaiah Jones was ruled academically ineligible. Unfortunately for Irish fans, that won’t be enough to slow down Winston and the high-powered Seminoles offense.
The best-case scenario for the Irish looks like Miami’s performance against Florida State in 2013. The Hurricanes stayed close in the first half (21-14 at the break) to give themselves a chance. However, Miami couldn’t keep it up in the second half.
The Irish will need a complete performance from start to finish.
Prediction: Loss (5-2)
Week 10: Navy
The Navy game often seems to prove interesting for Notre Dame, as facing an option offense can present a unique challenge.
But in 2014, the Irish face the Midshipmen following a welcome bye week after the three-game gauntlet of Stanford, North Carolina and Florida State.
Notre Dame’s defense is poised to be aggressive and athletic this season under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, and that group should be strong enough to slow down Navy’s offense.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds leads the Midshipmen, and the junior is good enough himself to give Navy a chance. Reynolds set an NCAA single-season record for quarterbacks with 31 rushing touchdowns in 2013.
However, he’ll need loads of help to top Notre Dame.
Prediction: Win (6-2)
Week 11: At Arizona State
Looking at last year’s game between Notre Dame and Arizona State provides interesting context for this season’s rendition.
The Irish escaped the 2013 shootout with a 37-34 win. Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly racked up 362 passing yards and three touchdowns along with two interceptions. Kelly attempted a whopping 47 passes.
Notre Dame, however, finally found its pass rush and recorded six sacks. Factoring in the two interceptions—especially Dan Fox’s 14-yard interception return for a touchdown with a little more than one minute remaining in the fourth quarter—it’s clear the game came down to big plays.
Well, if the Irish are without Daniels and Russell, that could be the deciding factor. Daniels and Russell have playmaking ability unrivaled by another Irish receiver or cornerback, respectively.
Prediction: Loss (6-3)
Week 12: Northwestern
After facing Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona, Notre Dame returns home in mid-November to battle Northwestern. The Wildcats appeared to be entering the season as a sneaky option against the Irish, but that all changed last week.
Senior running back Venric Mark, who was suspended for the first two games of the season, is transferring, according to a Northwestern news release shared with Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. To make matters worse, the Wildcats also announced receiver Christian Jones is out for the season with a knee injury.
Mark was limited by injuries in 2013, but he posted 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. Jones, meanwhile, hauled in 55 receptions for a team-high 668 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season.
Without two offensive stalwarts, expect Notre Dame to handle its business.
Prediction: Win (7-3)
Week 13: Louisville
Notre Dame must be careful against the Cardinals in the penultimate week of the regular season. Should the Irish even slightly turn their attention to USC—waiting in the regular-season finale—Louisville has the ability to clip Notre Dame.
There are offensive weapons aplenty for the Cardinals and head coach Bobby Petrino, so it will again be important for Notre Dame’s secondary to step up.
If Russell is still out of the mix, cornerback Cody Riggs could draw the top assignment of covering Louisville star receiver DeVante Parker.
It won’t be easy to keep Louisville’s offense in check. Even though quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has left for the NFL, his replacement—likely redshirt sophomore Will Gardner—will have had nearly a full season to get comfortable running the offense.
Prediction: Win (8-3)
Week 14: At USC
Ah, yes, the annual rivalry game, this year in Southern California to close out the regular season.
A lot of on-paper predictions and discussions are thrown out the window when two rivals clash, and that appeared to be the case heading into fall camp. Now, the outlook is murkier for the Irish with Russell, Daniels, Williams and Moore stuck in limbo.
It doesn’t take much to tilt the balance when two evenly matched rivals go at it. USC slots in at No. 15 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, while the Irish are 17th. With that said, the votes were due before news of the academic investigation broke.
At this point, USC probably has the upper hand. Then again, these teams won't meet for over three months. By that point, decisions could come down from the investigation, swaying the balance again.
Prediction: Loss (8-4)
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.