First Glance: Notre Dame 2021 Schedule

A first glance at the Notre Dame 2021 football schedule
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Notre Dame will have a much different look in 2021, but the Fighting Irish will be expected to once again be a team that wins at least 10 games.

Notre Dame's opponents went a combined 55-48 this past season. Interestingly, Notre Dame won the most recent matchup against all but one opponent on the 2020 schedule. That one opponent is Toledo, who the Irish have never played.

FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

Date: Sep. 5
Head Coach: Mike Norvell, 3-6 (1 year)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 42-26 (Oct. 10, 2020)

2020 Record: 3-6
2019 Record: 6-7
2018 Record: 5-7

Year one of the Mike Novell era was incredibly rocky. It was the kind of first season that some coaches can't overcome. Norvell will have to get Florida State back on track quickly, and he'll need to do it with a roster that will look much different next season.

That, however, might be a good thing. The challenge, however, will be managing a difficult schedule. Florida State gets Notre Dame, Miami, Louisville and NC State at home, but it must play road games against Clemson, Florida, North Carolina and Boston College.

The growth of quarterback Chubba Purdy, assuming he is healthy, is a key for Florida State next season.

TOLEDO ROCKETS

Date: Sep. 11
Head Coach: Jason Candle, 38-21 (6 years) 
Last Meeting: First ever meeting

2020 Record: 4-2
2019 Record: 6-6
2018 Record: 7-6

Toledo has fallen off since its 11-3 season in 2017. The Rockets have been a bowl caliber team, but not the kind of program that can pull off an upset over a team like Notre Dame. The Rockets do return a lot of talent from this past season, and the Irish will be on short rest after playing Florida State on a Sunday.

This will be the first matchup between Notre Dame and Toledo.

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

Date: Sep. 18
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm, 19-25 (4 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 30-14 (Sep. 13, 2014)

2020 Record: 2-4
2019 Record: 4-8
2018 Record: 6-7

Purdue has been a tough-luck program the last two years, taking some of the shine off head coach Jeff Brohm, who is one of the best offensive minds in the game. If his team can stay healthy in 2021 it should be quite good, at least on offense.

Three of Purdue's 2020 losses were by one touchdown or less, and the Boilermakers return David Bell, one of the Big Ten's best wideouts. Sophomore quarterback Jack Plummer threw for 312.7 yards per game and eight touchdowns in his three starts. If he has a big offseason the Boilermaker offense could be dangerous next season.

Purdue is in the midst of a search for a defensive coordinator after Brohm dismissed Bob Diaco.

WISCONSIN BADGERS

Date: Sep. 25
Head Coach: Paul Chryst, 56-19 (6 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 31-7 (Sep. 26, 1964)

2020 Record: 4-3
2019 Record: 10-4
2018 Record: 8-5

Wisconsin is an interesting team to evaluate heading into the 2021 season. Quarterback Graham Mertz has tremendous promise, and freshman running back Jalen Berger shows upside as well. There will be plenty of experience coming back up front, but the pass catchers are a question mark.

Wisconsin, on paper, is hard to evaluate. The key will be how quickly Mertz grows up, Berger becoming an every down back and someone on the perimeter emerging.

If that happens the Badgers could be dangerous, because you know the Jim Leonhard defense is going to be really good.

CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Date: Oct. 2
Head Coach: Luke Fickell, 35-14 (4 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 58-0 (Oct. 20, 1900)

2020 Record: 9-1
2019 Record: 11-3
2018 Record: 11-2

Cincinnati lost defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, which is a huge blow. Head coach Luke Fickell, however, is a strong defensive mind and will help make the transition smooth for whoever takes over.

The Bearcat offense should be outstanding in 2021 thanks to the return of quarterback Desmond Ridder, who showed flashes of being one of the best quarterbacks in the AA last season. Cincinnati will have weapons on the outside, and OC Mike Denbrock could have one of the best scoring units in the league next season.

Cincinnati loses a lot on defense, but the return of edge rusher Myjai Sanders was big for the Bearcats, who will be dangerous.

VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

Date: Oct. 9
Head Coach: Justin Fuente, 38-26 (5 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 21-20 (Nov. 2, 2019)

2020 Record: 5-6
2019 Record: 8-5
2018 Record: 6-7

I have no idea what Virginia Tech will look like next season. Their quarterback depth chart is a mess, they lose their standout running back and their best offensive lineman. Defensively, Virginia Tech must replace Rayshard Ashby and other standouts.

There will be athletes on the roster, but overall there's not much I see that makes me think Justin Fuente is going to be able to get the program back on track.

USC TROJANS

Date: Oct. 23
Head Coach: Clay Helton, 45-23 (6 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 30-27 (Oct. 12, 2019)

2020 Record: 5-1
2019 Record: 8-5
2018 Record: 5-7

USC won the Pac 12 South this season but could not get past Oregon in the title game. The Trojans lost many of their top players, including wideouts Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns, tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, standout safety Talanoa Hufanga and defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu.

There will obviously be plenty of talent on the roster, but I'm curious to see if the Trojan offense can take a step forward. Quarteback Kedon Slovis had a bit of a sophomore slump despite having talented weapons all over the place. Can he and the offense take that next step?

Year two of the Todd Orlando era on defense will determine just how much improvement the Trojans make.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

Date: Oct. 30
Head Coach: Mack Brown, 84-56-1 (12 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 31-17 (Nov. 27, 2019)

2020 Record: 8-4
2019 Record: 7-6
2018 Record: 2-9

North Carolina is absolutely an ascending program thanks to great coaching and strong recruiting in the last two seasons. The Tar Heels will be talented next season, even with the loss of a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, a 1,000-yard receiver and their tackling machine at linebacker.

The return of quarterback Sam Howell means the Tar Heels should once again be explosive, and we saw some of the potential of the young players that are expected to step up when UNC played Texas A&M without those rushers and pass catchers.

North Carolina taking the next step as a program will be determined by the defense. North Carolina actually got worse in year two of the Jay Batemen tenure, giving up 29.4 points per game this season. If that side of the ball doesn't get better the Tar Heels will continue to slip up in games they shouldn't.

NAVY MIDSHIPMEN

Date: Nov. 6
Head Coach: Ken Niuamatalolo, 101-67 (13 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 52-20 (Nov. 16, 2019) 

2020 Record: 3-7
2019 Record: 11-2
2018 Record: 3-10

Navy's 11-2 record in 2019 was fueled by a great season from Malcolm Perry. I don't see a Malcolm Perry on the 2021 roster, and I don't see Navy being a team that is anywhere close to as good as the quality Middie teams we saw in the early and mid 2010s.

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

Date: Nov. 13
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall, 30-32 (5 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 35-20 (Sep. 28, 2019)

2020 Record: 5-5
2019 Record: 9-5
2018 Record: 8-5

Virginia is a scrappy team, and that will always be the case as long as Bronco Mendenhall is the head coach. The Cavaliers ended the season with a 4-1 record, but they still can't get over that Hokie hump (lost 16 of last 17 meetings).

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong is an awkward looking quarterback, but he makes plays and is one of the better dual threat weapons in the ACC. He passed for 2,117 yards, rushed for 552 yards and combined for 23 touchdowns. How he develops, and Virginia finding more weapons or him, will impact how much improvement the Cavs make next season.

Virginia loses a lot on defense, and how players like Charles Snowden and Zane Zandler are replaced will have a big impact on the Cavs making strides next season.

GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS

Date: Nov. 20
Head Coach: Geoff Collins, 6-16 (2 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 31-13 (Oct. 31, 2020)

2020 Record: 3-7
2019 Record: 3-9
2018 Record: 7-6

Georgia Tech is a very, very interesting team. Watching that team this year was strange. You could see the athleticism and talent, but they just couldn't win games. We'll find out in 2021 if Geoff Collins is the guy to get this program back on track, because he will have a lot of talent to work with.

Running back Jahmyr Gibbs should be one of the best in the ACC next season, and quarterback Jeff Sims is a dynamic athlete. Both were true freshmen this past season, and their emergence in year two is key to the Yellow Jackets making strides.

Collins made his bones as a top defensive coordinator, and he'll need to get that unit going. Georgia Tech was abysmal on defense in 2020, giving up 36.8 points per game. If they don't shave at least 10 points off that average next year they'll miss a bowl game yet again.

STANFORD CARDINAL

Date: Nov. 27
Head Coach: David Shaw, 90-36 (10 years)
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 45-24 (Nov. 30, 2019)

2020 Record: 4-2
2019 Record: 4-8
2018 Record: 9-4

Stanford lost its first two games this season, and it seemed their decline would continue. A 24-23 comeback win over California sparked the Cardinal, who ended the season with four straight road wins, although none were by more than five points.

The decision by quarterback Davis Mills to go pro was crushing for the Cardinal, who should have weapons for the quarterback next season even with the loss of wideout Simi Fehoko.

Stanford's defense must get a lot better, and the good news for Cardinal fans is they return a lot next season.

Here are the 2020 scoring averages on offense and defense for Notre Dame's 2021 opponents.

2021 Opponents - Ranks

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