I grew up being told life isn’t fair and I shouldn’t expect it to be. The message came from everywhere — mom, grandparents, teachers, and even the Princess Bride (although also pointing out it’s “fairer than death”, cold comfort as it may be). So let me begin by copping to the fact I have an extremely low tolerance for whinging about “fairness” and much prefer an attitude focused on overcoming perceived inequality.
As July approaches, the focus of ND fans turns to the 2019 schedule. At first glance, the casual fan might note the weakness of the home slate and the two major road tests which hopefully will offset it in the minds of those who determine post-season fates.
But it seems the story du jour … one that probably will crop up again and again as we progress … is how seven of Notre Dame’s 12 opponents have managed to give themselves off weeks prior to facing the Irish. Some publications have called the anomaly out as a “schedule superlative“, while others wonder, using my favorite adjective, whether Notre Dame’s is “the nation’s most unfair schedule“.
So rather than default to the mood of defeatism, let’s examine who these foes are and exactly what their schedules say.
September 14th vs New Mexico
The Lobos’ season opener is August 31st against Sam Houston State, and they’re off on the 7th. Raise your hand if you think the off week is going to help Bob Davie one iota, so we can properly identify you for a seemingly-necessary head slap. The idiot couldn’t win in Notre Dame Stadium when he was our coach, so I have a very hard time believing he-who-would-be-fired-if-New-Mexico-could-afford-it is going to pull out a victory over his former employer no matter how many bye weeks you give him.
Advantage: Are you kidding me?
October 5th vs Bowling Green
Given that the Falcons are in the MAC, you’re not expecting much from the schedule overall. Notre Dame will be their fifth game of the season, with a game at Kansas State the only one that might make an eyebrow twitch. Notre Dame will be coming off their trip to Athens, so this game may be a little trap-y. But BGSU couldn’t even manage four wins last year, so if there’s going to be a trap, I’d rather it be one of this nature.
Edit: Due to Virginia not being a bye-enhanced opponent, I forgot there’s a game between GA and BGSU, so what I said about Athens above doesn’t apply.
Slight, more due to ND’s previous week than theirs. Never mind.
October 12th vs Southern Cal
The Trojans’ schedule is not easy — they’ll already have faced Stanford & Utah and traveled to BYU & Washington before coming to South Bend. But like New Mexico, the opponent’s coach doesn’t worry me a lot. Clay Helton is still keeping Urban Meyer’s seat warm, and if ND needs to get fired up for a rivalry game like this, there’s a lot more wrong than who had a bye when.
Advantage: Moderate, assuming SC hasn’t folded their tents already.
October 26th at Michigan
Michigan doesn’t have a bye before they host Notre Dame. But Notre Dame does, and Michigan will have been in Happy Valley the week before. Make sure the people wringing their hands over all these bye weeks note this in their articles, kthx.
November 2nd vs Virginia Tech
Of all the games on the list, this is the one where I believe their bye may make a difference. I know they’re having personnel issues and whatnot, but other than going to Miami at the beginning of October, they’ll be relatively untested and may have a gaudy record giving them confidence. Justin Fuente is no dummy, and given an extra week and the Irish recovering from their Ann Arbor venture, he might be able to make some noise.
Advantage: Moderate, possibly significant.
November 9th at Duke
This is the only coming-off-the-bye opponent Notre Dame has to face on the road. Duke’s schedule isn’t doing David Cutcliffe any favors this year — they chose to go up against Alabama to open the season, and the ND game will be the Blue Devils’ first home game in a month. The only thing that makes this game possibly difficult is its location. Not that Durham is an intimidating environment, but playing a road game vs a rested opponent should be good for at least a quarter of balanced football.
Advantage: Slight … it’s still Duke.
November 16th vs Navy
Another home game against a team coming off a bye. But this is the Naval Academy. Are the Middies going to install the Air Raid offense in the off week? You always know what you’re going to get with Navy. The only difference here is they’ll be slightly more rested.
Advantage: Slight, although lateness of season may factor in.
November 23rd vs Boston College
This of course assumes the team is still playing by then — the Eagles’ schedule is BRUTAL. Their three games prior to Notre Dame are at Clemson and Syracuse followed by a home date with Florida State. They may need the bye week to sleep all that off. Steve Addazio has kept them competitive, but that may be a tall order this time around.
Advantage: Slight, but leaning towards moderate if BC weathers November.
Kwicherbitchin. So much sturm und drang over teams having the week off or playing weak opponents before they play Notre Dame. Hike up your skirts, ladies, this is Division 1 football. Six of the seven bye-blessed opponents still have to travel to South Bend to play the game, and five of the opponents are among the weaker teams on Notre Dame’s schedule already. Notre Dame always gets the opponent’s best shot — always have and always will — and a bye week doesn’t change that.
This is a very talented Notre Dame team facing a schedule with a couple major tests surrounded by mediocrities, and if Brian Kelly is close to the coach his backers claim he is, the 11-1 record I predicted after the spring game should well be within reach.