Notre Dame's football schedule gets a new look in 2014 as the Irish begin their football agreement with the ACC.
With something resembling a conference realignment, Notre Dame agreed to play five ACC teams a year as part of a partial, non-football membership. However, a slight alteration means there will be just four ACC opponents this season: Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State and Louisville.
Notre Dame's 2014 schedule has its fair share of obstacles.
The rivalries with Michigan and USC as well as the Pac-12 games against Arizona State and Stanford are legitimate challenges through which Brian Kelly's team will have to navigate. Winnable challenges? Absolutely, but challenges nonetheless.
|2014||at Syracuse (Sept. 27)||North Carolina (Oct. 11)||at Florida State (Oct. 18)||Louisville (Nov. 22)||— —||— —|
|2015||at Virginia (Sept. 12)||Georgia Tech (Sept. 19)||at Clemson (Oct. 3)||at Pitt (Nov. 7)||Wake Forest (Nov. 14)||Boston College (Nov. 21 Boston, Mass.)|
|2016||Duke (Sept. 24)||at Syracuse (Oct. 1)||at North Carolina State (Oct. 8)||Miami (Oct. 29)||Virginia Tech (Nov. 19)|
The Irish's ACC slate, though? It's manageable for the first three seasons that were announced—especially in 2014.
Of the four aforementioned ACC games, only the Seminoles should be favored to start the season. Florida State returns Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and restocks other key parts of its starting 22 following a BCS championship run.
That game, which is in Tallahassee on Oct. 18, is going to be a major test for new Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
One of the biggest questions for Notre Dame is turnover, especially on defense. Obviously, there's no perfect replacement for a guy like defensive tackle Louis Nix III.
"We're going to have a lot of really good players coming back, I feel really confident in that," [head coach Brian] Kelly said. "[I'm] really excited about the prospects next year defensively in the guys we got coming back."
Also returning after one season away from football is former starting quarterback Everett Golson. The presumption is that Golson will find his way back into the starting lineup, but Kelly has yet to name a starter—or a timetable for naming a starter.
"It’s always about finding that consistency at that position,” Kelly told Tom Coyne of the Associated Press. “It’s just going to take some time. I don’t have a timetable on it. I’ll know when it’s running the right way and it’s smooth. It’s not there yet.”
Whoever starts at quarterback—Coyne's article suggests Malik Zaire is awfully confident he'll be the one—they'll have some nice pieces around them. Leading running back Cam McDaniel and Amir Carlisle, should he stay healthy, return to boost the running game.
DaVaris Daniels, if/when he returns from academic suspension, was the team's second-leading receiver a season ago.
There's talent there and the number of returning starters—11, according to Phil Steele—doesn't fully tell the story of what Notre Dame has coming back. In short, the Irish would appear to be in a good position against three of the four ACC teams they'll face in '14.
Whereas some conference realignment programs like West Virginia and Colorado have struggled in their conferences, Notre Dame shouldn't have a problem with its ACC slate.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.