After Losing Wisconsin, USC, Notre Dame’s 2020 Football Schedule Just Got Much Easier
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Notre Dame’s 2020 Schedule Just Got Easier

As the college football world makes the expected shift to conference-only schedules, Notre Dame loses, at minimum, three of its marquee games.

The first causality was the Wisconsin game on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, followed by the Pac-12 shutting its doors to non-members, which mean annual games against USC and Stanford are canceled.

It is possible that the SEC and American Athletic Conference could make similar decisions and in their stead will be a bevy of new ACC opponents.

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Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly leading the team onto the field
Notre Dame lost matchup with Wisconsin, USC and Stanford due to conference-only schedules. While this is a blow to the overall appeal of the schedule, it does make Notre Dame’s road to the College Football Playoff much easier. (Andris Visockis)

Given that Notre Dame was already set to play the best two ACC teams in Louisville and Clemson (at least according to most preseason polls), this should make the Fighting Irish schedule much easier than previously anticipated.

Easier Games Away From Home

In 2020, the two most difficult games outside of Notre Dame Stadium were expected to be against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field (Notre Dame was technically the home team for this game, but Green Bay, Wis., is clearly in Badger territory) and the regular-season finale versus USC at the Coliseum.

Now that both are off the books, the Irish will avoid their two toughest off-campus tests.

Yesterday, BlueandGold.com’s Patrick Engel broke down a mock schedule that included two additional ACC opponents in North Carolina and Virginia and kept matchups against Arkansas and Navy on the schedule.

If the schedule actually played out this way, Notre Dame’s five road games would likely be as follows:

• Sept. 26 at Wake Forest

• Oct. 17 at Pitt

• Oct. 24 at North Carolina

• Nov. 14 at Georgia Tech

• Nov. 28 at Navy

While none of the above matchups are cupcakes, Notre Dame should be favored in all of them. North Carolina, a team with a lot of hype heading into the 2020 season, would likely be the toughest road opponent and is actually ranked No. 17 in the NCAA preseason poll that came out in March, which is close to Wisconsin at No. 16 and USC at No. 19.

But not every preseason poll jumped on board the hype train for the Tar Heels and left them unranked. This may be because for as much promise as the program showed, North Carolina still went just 7-6 last season, which included a Military Bowl win against Temple. This hardly puts them in the same class as Wisconsin, which went 10-4 in 2019 and finished No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll.

In the above scenario, the only other road game that would be slightly worrisome is at Pittsburgh, commonly considered a trap game for Notre Dame. The Panthers went 8-5 last year and Pat Narduzzi led squads always seem to play the Fighting Irish well.

Still, traveling to both North Carolina and Pittsburgh doesn't feel anywhere as daunting as playing Wisconsin in enemy territory or USC on the road to close out the season. No matter how you spin it, Notre Dame’s road schedule just got way easier.

Most Of The ACC Is Bad

Of course, it could end up that Notre Dame ends up playing ACC teams that are not Virginia (which is without quarterback Bryce Perkins), but the other options are even less formidable.

Remaining ACC teams:

• Miami

• Florida State

• North Carolina State

• Virginia Tech

• Boston College

• Syracuse

Among those teams, only Virginia Tech at 8-5 finished last season with a winning record, and it seems less likely Notre Dame would play the Hokies in 2020 after beating them in both 2018 and 2019.

No matter which ACC teams Wisconsin and USC are replaced with, it's evident that those programs will not be on the same level, making the Fighting Irish schedule much easier.

It’s also possible that both Navy and Arkansas are taken off the 2020 schedule and replaced with ACC opponents, but as evident by the teams listed above that wouldn’t necessarily make their schedule more difficult. Arkansas and Navy aren’t expected to be formidable in 2020, but neither is the rest of the ACC.

Will Weaker Schedules Be Excused?

With Notre Dame’s schedule becoming easier than anticipated in 2020, it begs the question: will this help the Fighting Irish make the College Football Playoff (assuming the postseason event takes place)?

On one hand, if Notre Dame beats Clemson, widely considered the best team in the country, going undefeated in 2020 seems more than doable. But, this also eliminates Notre Dame’s room for error.

For instance, it seems less likely a 9-1 Notre Dame team, even with a win over Clemson, gets into a College Football Playoff, especially if that loss comes at the hands of Louisville. Additionally, a loss to Clemson is a guaranteed death sentence in this scenario.

But all that seems like a lot to worry about at the moment. As teams across the country adjust to new schedules, a more important question is will there even be a college football season?

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