ESPN Tabs College Football Playoff Rematch With Clemson As Notre Dame Football's Biggest Game of 2020
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The Choice For Notre Dame’s Biggest Game Of 2020 Is Clear

One game on Notre Dame’s schedule will inevitably become a referendum on the Fighting Irish’s 2020 season, fair or not.

Two months of buildup — if the season goes as scheduled — will reach its peak when likely preseason No. 1 Clemson rolls into Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 7. The Tigers schedule starts favorably, with their seemingly two most difficult opponents coming to Death Valley. They may still be undefeated by November.

And if so, Notre Dame will have a chance to score as big a win as it has in 11 years under head coach Brian Kelly.

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Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book versus Clemson in the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl
Notre Dame and Clemson met in the 2018 College Football Playoff. The Tigers won 30-3 (Matthew Emmons, USA Today)

The Irish’s inability to notch those is a steady source of consternation. Two losses in marquee games against Georgia and Michigan last season took some shine off an 11-2 season, Notre Dame’s third straight with 10 wins. The specters of the six losses since 2017 linger despite an overall steadiness and upset-averse stretch, as if they’re a constant reminder of the level Notre Dame can still reach and has been denied from attaining.

Which is why the game versus Clemson represents much more than a turn in the national spotlight. It’s a chance to arrive as a title contender and is being recognized as one. In a series identifying the most important game for each of its preseason top 25 teams, ESPN named this game the biggest of Notre Dame’s season.

“The Irish lost to Georgia last season by six points, which ended up being one of two losses on the season,” ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren wrote. “If Notre Dame wants to show it’s in the national conversation, the team is going to need to do it against Clemson at home on Nov. 7. It's late in the season, and depending on how the rest of the schedule prior to that game plays out, it could have big ramifications for both Notre Dame and Clemson.”

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All six Notre Dame losses since 2017 have come against teams that finished in the top 25 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Irish have defeated two such teams in that span: a 49-17 win over eventual No. 8 USC and a 24-17 victory over eventual No. 7 Michigan. Notre Dame’s last win over a top-10 team at the time of the game came on Sept. 29, 2018, a 38-17 home takedown of then-No. 7 Stanford. The Cardinal finished 9-4 and out of both top 25s.

Clemson’s most important game, though, was a week two meeting with Louisville. The Cardinals went 8-5 in their first year under Scott Satterfield and are a popular preseason sleeper team. They play Clemson on the road, but have a chance to throw a wrench into the ACC race with a victory. They also play Notre Dame Nov. 21 in South Bend.

Notre Dame plays two other teams in ESPN’s preseason top 25, No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 21 USC. ESPN staff writer Bill Connelly dubbed a home game against No. 16 Minnesota that could decide the Big Ten West as the Badgers’ most important. USC’s was an opening-week meeting with No. 3 Alabama in Arlington, Texas.

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