Notre Dame is just 34 days from kicking off the 2021 college football season, and fall camp starts in just five days. We continue our offseason coverage by launching into analysis of Notre Dame's upcoming opponents. We begin by ranking the Notre Dame schedule, with teams 7-12. coming up first.
The ranking of the game is about which games will be most challenging for Notre Dame. It is NOT a pure ranking 1-12. Things like matchups, where the game is played, when the game is played and other factors can determine which games will be tougher, which matters more than simply putting out a ranking without any context.
12. NAVY MIDSHIPMEN
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
2020 Record: 3-7 overall / 3-4 conference
All-Time vs. Notre Dame: Notre Dame leads 79-13-1
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 52-20 on Nov. 16, 2019
It's amazing how fast Navy has fallen, and it could have been worse had Malcom Perry not had a brilliant season in 2019. After going 20-7 in its first two seasons in the AAC (2015-16), Navy went 10-16 the next two seasons (2017-18) and went 3-7 last fall. Perry's brilliant resulted in Navy going 11-2 in 2019, but a 52-20 beat down at the hands of Notre Dame took some of the shine off that season. Navy must once again find a new quarterback and also must replace three starting linemen, a combination that has been kryptonite for the Midshipmen the last decade.
11. TOLEDO ROCKETS
Head Coach: Jason Candle
2020 Record: 4-2 overall / 4-2 conference
All-Time vs. Notre Dame: Have never played
Toledo was a solid 4-2 last season and its two losses were by a combined six points. The two years prior were a struggled or Toledo, which went just 13-12 in those campaigns. For Toledo the good news is they return 20 out of 22 starters, which is the most of any Notre Dame opponent. That includes standout running back Bryant Koback, who rushed for 2,626 yards 30 yards in his first three seasons, which includes a shortened 2020 campaign.
10. GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS
Head Coach: Geoff Collins
2020 Record: 3-7 overall / 3-6 conference
All-Time vs. Notre Dame: Notre Dame leads 29-6-1
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 31-13 on Oct. 31, 2020
I feel like I'm undervaluing Georgia Tech here, because they have some really, really good talent. There are legitimate concerns along the lines and the Jacket defense is still really bad, giving up 36.8 points per game last season. Georgia Tech returns six starters on both sides of the ball but it lost much of its perimeter skill on offense and only one of four starters return from the defensive line. What Georgia Tech has going for it is up-and-coming athletes in the secondary and a dynamic QB-RB duo in Jeff Simms and Jahmyr Gibbs.
9. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm
2020 Record: 2-4 overall / 2-4 conference
All-Time vs. Notre Dame: Notre Dame leads 58-26-2
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 30-14 on Sep. 13, 2014
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm enters a crucial season in his career with the Boilermakers. He looked to be on the verge of turning Purdue into a force in the Big Ten West after inheriting a disaster of a program and leading the Boilers to back-to-back bowl games. Since then Purdue has gone just 6-12. Purdue went just 2-4 last season, losing games by 3, 7, 7 and 10 points. Purdue has to start winning some of those games. Returning seven starters on both sides of the ball should help, and Purdue has two of the best players Notre Dame will face this season in wide receiver and David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis. Purdue absolutely must get better on defense if it's going to turn things around.
8. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Head Coach: Mike Norvell
2020 Record: 3-6 overall / 2-6 conference
All-Time vs. Notre Dame: Florida State leads 6-4
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 42-26 on Oct. 10, 2020
I think by season's end the Seminoles could be much better, but game one with a lot of new faces and a lot of youth I don't expect Florida State to be as strong. If this matchup were later in the season they might rank higher. The arrival of quarterback McKenzie Milton - assuming he is back to full strength and wins the starting job - should give the offense and its nine returning starters a boost. Florida State's poor offensive line will continue to tamp down its offensive effectiveness, and the abysmal defense returns just five starters. A number of transfers gives the defense new blood but the talent level still isn't what it used to be.
7. STANFORD CARDINAL
Head Coach: David Shaw
2020 Record: 4-2 overall / 4-2 conference
All-Time vs. Notre Dame: Notre Dame leads 21-13
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 45-24 on Nov. 30, 2019
I'm not quite sure what to make of Stanford heading into the 2021 season. Stanford looked to be getting back on track last season, winning the final four games of its shortened 2020 campaign. I like Stanford's pass catchers and running back Austin Jones has some speed, but their quarterback situation is in a bad spot after losing Davis Mills to the NFL. Stanford does return eight starters on defense, which should help, and if the quarterback position is better than I expect the Cardinal could shoot up this list.
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