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Sports

3 new Notre Dame schedule concerns after Wake Forest postponement

| Friday, September 25, 2020

Initially, this column was supposed to be about the new-look Notre Dame offense, as they prepared for their third game of the season, at Wake Forest. Instead, the Fighting Irish now face a double-bye, as a COVID-19 outbreak in the locker room forced them to postpone their game with the Demon Deacons until Dec. 12. Ideally, with two weeks until their next game, Notre Dame should have time to recover from the outbreak and start practice in plenty of time to prepare for their battle with the Florida State Seminoles. But the consequences of this postponement go beyond just the next two weeks, as there are several things to look at regarding the long-term hopes of the Irish in 2020. 

No rest for ACC championship

Let’s look at the most direct effect first. If Notre Dame’s season goes according to plan, and they are in position to compete for the ACC title game, they will now be entering that game with even less rest than they were originally slated for. With the Irish now slated to take on the Deacons on Dec. 12, the ACC Championship will likely be moved to Dec. 19, which was already listed as the alternate date for the game. This means Notre Dame will play three consecutive weeks prior to that potential title game clash. Clemson, Notre Dame’s likely opponent should the Irish extend their season to the 19th, will now have a week off prior to that game, meaning that Notre Dame will not only be tasked with taking down Trevor Lawrence and co., but they will have to do it on less rest. 

That extra rest becomes extremely beneficial to Clemson, who end their regular season with games against Pitt and a road trip at Virginia Tech, ranked No. 21 and No. 20 respectively at the moment. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s end of season schedule becomes just a little more difficult. The Irish had been slated to end their year with Syracuse, who has scored only 16 points in two games so far. That game would have likely allowed Notre Dame to rest starters, but Wake Forest, while not a powerhouse, may not grant the Irish that same gift. Wake Forest has shown life on offense, putting up 13 points against Clemson — which is pretty impressive given the opponent — followed by 42 points against NC State. Notre Dame should still win this game, but Wake Forest is a far tougher opponent than the Irish would like, particularly now that they’re faced with a potential one-week turnaround to the ACC Championship.

Junior wide receiver Braden Lenzy evades a defender along the sideline in the 2020 Camping World Bowl against Iowa State.

Potential trap game becomes even worse

Pitt is a scary opponent already. Although Notre Dame is 5-1 against the Panthers in the Brian Kelly era, their biggest margin of victory was 12 points, and that was the only win by more than one possession. In both of Notre Dame’s most recent undefeated regular seasons, Pitt gave the Irish a sizable scare, forcing triple overtime in 2012, and losing by just five points in 2018. Thus Pitt’s presence on the Notre Dame schedule on Oct. 24 was not exactly a welcome sight. Now, that game presents an even bigger challenge. The clash with the Panthers was already scheduled for the week after a home game with a Louisville team that could be ranked at the time, and just two weeks after a home night game with Florida State. The road trip to Pitt seemed dangerous enough after those two higher-profile games, with the anticipated Clemson game just two weeks away as well. Now, let’s toss in the fact that this will be Notre Dame’s first true road game. Due to the postponement of the Wake Forest game, Notre Dame’s first four games will now be played in South Bend. While road atmospheres are hardly the same this year, this game is still going to be played in an NFL Stadium (Heinz Field), and, if Notre Dame is 4-0, the expectation to take down the pesky Panthers ahead of the Clemson game will be astronomically high. For a Notre Dame team that is breaking in a lot of new playmakers, particularly in their receiving corps, having their first true road game be a contest that was already being listed as a potential upset is far from ideal. Notre Dame did not look ready for big road games last season, committing a dozen false start penalties at Georgia and being laughed off the field against Michigan. Road game struggles and Pitt have me really nervous about this one. Brian Kelly absolutely has to have the Irish ready for this game. 

Potential for rusty performance against Florida State

Florida State has a talented roster. They’ve recruited well, but for some reason, their on-field product has been pretty miserable the last few years. That being said, taking the Seminoles lightly would be a grave mistake. Florida State will come into a night-game atmosphere that should be about as loud as it can be with socially-distanced seating. Their recent showing in South Bend, a 42-14 humiliation at the hands of the Irish, will be on their minds, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them chomping at the bit for a road upset. Moreover, if Florida State loses to Miami this weekend (they are listed as 11.5 point underdogs), they will enter that game 0-2 against FBS opponents, with potential ranked clashes with No. 11 UNC, No. 24 Louisville and No. 21 Pitt looming in the weeks following. A date with No. 1 Clemson also graces their November slate. That would make the game against Notre Dame even more critical as FSU tries to scrap their way into bowl contention, after a stunning and ugly season-opening loss to Georgia Tech. Notre Dame will enter this game on 21 days of rest, which means they should be ready to go, but the danger of rust, particularly in their passing offense, which has not clicked as a unit yet, is definitely a concern. The Irish cannot come out slow in this one. Everyone wants to beat Notre Dame, and FSU may be desperate for a victory. If they smell blood after a fast start, it could bring a close to Notre Dame’s CFP hopes before they even get off the ground.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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