Notre Dame Football: 2015 Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Set aside all the talk about conferences, independents and 13th games, and Notre Dame's 2015 football schedule stands out for its difficulty.
The Irish clash with Texas, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford, and there are few true cupcakes on the docket.
Let’s take a game-by-game look at the schedule and offer our early predictions for each matchup.
The season-opening matchup with Texas is likely bigger in name than difficulty for the Irish.
The Longhorns are coming off a 6-7 season in which they suffered losses to BYU, UCLA, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, TCU and Arkansas. Second-year head coach Charlie Strong has work to do before Texas returns to the nation’s elite.
That being said, the Longhorns still boast plenty of talent. Junior Tyrone Swoopes appears to be tightening his grip in the quarterback competition, according to the Statesman's Ryan Autullo.
But underneath the lights at Notre Dame Stadium in the season opener, it’s difficult to see the Irish falling to the Longhorns.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (1-0).
Notre Dame hits the road in Week 2 for a date with Virginia in Charlottesville. Coming off a 5-7 campaign, Cavaliers head coach Mike London returns.
Virginia stumbled down the stretch in 2014, dropping five of its last six games, albeit against quality opponents in Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech. But beyond star safety Quin Blanding, an All-American talent, the Cavaliers don’t have nearly enough firepower to match the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (2-0).
Notre Dame’s Week 3 tilt with Georgia Tech should be a fascinating matchup at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish have struggled against the option in recent years against Navy and Air Force, in particular. Now they’ll face Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack in the first month of the season.
The Yellow Jackets claimed the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense, per CFBStats.com, in 2014 and ripped off 11 wins, including a 49-34 triumph over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl. But quarterback Justin Thomas, who racked up 1,086 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season, loses the next four leading rushers from 2014.
In his new role as special assistant to the head coach, former Irish assistant coach Bob Elliott has been tasked with solving the option.
Assuming the defense doesn’t lose any more key cogs, Notre Dame should be able to take care of the Yellow Jackets at home.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (3-0).
Notre Dame’s Week 4 matchup with UMass is as close to a sure thing as the Irish have.
Notre Dame is one of three schools to have never played a non-FBS opponent since 1978. UMass, for its part, has only participated at the FBS level since 2012. The Minutemen improved to 3-9 in 2014, building on two initial 1-11 seasons.
Notre Dame’s backups should log plenty of snaps in this one.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (4-0).
The Irish travel to South Carolina for their first major test at the start of October against Clemson.
The Tigers tallied 10 wins and stomped Oklahoma, 40-6, in the Russell Athletic Bowl to finish off 2014.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is returning from a torn ACL suffered last season, was “outstanding” in Clemson’s final fall scrimmage Thursday, per Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney.
Wide receivers Mike Williams (57 receptions for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns in 2014) and Artavis Scott (76 grabs for 965 yards and eight scores last season) give Watson serious weapons on the perimeter.
The Tigers must replace first-round picks Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony on defense. Still, defensive end Shaq Lawson is a force, and the Irish offense must find a way to score in what should be a raucous road environment.
Notre Dame’s leadership will help in this marquee matchup, but an early road victory could be a lot to ask for from a first-year starting quarterback.
Prediction: Clemson wins (4-1).
Nestled between pivotal games against Clemson and USC is the annual Navy game. The Irish host the Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 10.
Keenan Reynolds is back to steer the Navy offense, but Notre Dame will have already been primed for the triple-option with the Georgia Tech game.
Though the Midshipmen often fit into Notre Dame’s schedule as a trap game, the Irish have enough depth and exposure to the option to likely roll along.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (5-1).
Six weeks after the prime-time opener against Texas, Notre Dame hosts USC under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium in their annual rivalry game.
The Trojans bring back 16 starters from last year’s squad that demolished Notre Dame in the regular-season finale. Quarterback Cody Kessler completed 69.7 percent of his passes in 2014, firing 39 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
Though USC is littered with talented playmakers such as Su’a Cravens, do-it-all threat Adoree’ Jackson and one-time Irish target JuJu Smith, Notre Dame has risen to the occasion in recent home night games.
Expect the Irish to deliver a strong performance to match the atmosphere.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (6-1).
Notre Dame earns a well-deserved bye week following the USC game, and the Irish get back to work on Halloween against Temple in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Owls bring back quarterback P.J. Walker and linebacker Tyler Matakevich from a 6-6 squad in 2014, but Temple doesn’t present much of a challenge for a rested and prepared Irish team.
Notre Dame opened its 2013 season against Temple with a 28-6 victory. Expect a similar result.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (7-1).
When we looked at potential trap games for Notre Dame earlier this month, Pittsburgh fit the bill.
Not only did the Panthers topple the Irish, 28-21, in 2013, ending Notre Dame’s chances of grabbing a BCS berth, but Pittsburgh also has two of the best playmakers in the country at their respective positions. Running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd can make the Irish defense sweat. Plus, first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi is familiar with Notre Dame from his days at Michigan State.
But Irish head coach Brian Kelly has repeatedly praised the 2015 squad for its leadership, a quality that should help it withstand late-season upset threats.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (8-1).
The Demon Deacons stumbled to a 1-7 finish in 2014, with the only victory being a 6-3 win over Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame hosts Wake Forest on senior day on Nov. 14 in South Bend. Pair that atmosphere with the talent discrepancy between the two teams, and this game seems like a safe bet for the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (9-1).
In last year’s Shamrock Series game between Notre Dame and Purdue in Indianapolis, the Irish only led 17-14 at halftime. But Notre Dame outscored the Boilermakers, 13-0, in the second half to improve to 3-0.
In the 2015 rendition of the Shamrock Series, expect Notre Dame to overcome whatever problems Boston College offers. Eagles head coach Steve Addazio should bring a well-prepared team to Fenway Park, but without quarterback Tyler Murphy, who rushed for 1,184 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, Notre Dame can keep Boston College quiet.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (10-1).
The annual season-ending trip to southern California brings Notre Dame to Stanford this season.
After a disappointing 8-5 season in 2014, the Cardinal will look to bounce back in 2015. Quarterback Kevin Hogan, who struggled in a 17-14 loss to the Irish last year, returns for his senior season.
On paper here in August, Notre Dame appears to be the more talented squad, as the Cardinal lost nine starters from last year. Then again, none of the last three meetings between these teams have been decided by more than seven points.
The advantage goes to the Irish in a tight one.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins (11-1).
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.