Notre Dame Could Face Nine Teams from the Top 25
However, the truth is that Notre Dame tries to make its schedule as challenging as possible and most years, ends up having one of the hardest schedules in the country.
This year is no different as, at this point, it seems possible that up to nine of its opponents this upcoming season could be ranked in the top 25.
Let’s start with the three teams that will probably not be in the top 25:
Purdue – Purdue has been one of the worst teams on the Irish's schedule for a few years in a row now. It only won a single game last year and there is not much optimism that this year will be any better. But could it get any worse?
Navy – Navy won nine games last year, which is no small feat in college football. But in all honesty, Navy hasn’t been a truly dangerous team since 2010 when the last of the Paul Johnson-coached players were still around.
Syracuse – They were barely bowl eligible last season at 6-6 and nothing that happened last season for the Orange indicates big things for 2014.
The next four teams have a solid shot at seeing the top 25:
Rice – Rice is from Conference USA and therefore doesn’t face too much steep competition. However, it won 10 games last year and any team coming off double-digit wins has a chance to get some votes to start the next season.
North Carolina – 2013 was not very impressive for the Tar Heels, but they are a team that I would never truly count out. They will have some good talent and should finally be getting past the scandal that has plagued them the last few years.
Louisville – Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong are gone and under normal circumstances that would mean a rebuilding year. But Bobby Petrino is back and might have enough tricks up his sleeve to put together an impressive season.
Northwestern – They started 2013 as one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten and finished as one of the biggest disappointments. The off-field distractions might play a factor but Pat Fitzgerald generally knows how to get the most out of his players and if they can shake off the last six games of last year, 2014 could be big for the Wildcats.
These other five teams will almost assuredly be ranked at some point in 2014:
Arizona State – A few speed bumps in 2013 prevented the Sun Devils from having an incredible season but their offense was truly dynamic and QB Taylor Kelly is back for his senior season.
USC – Despite the firing of Lane Kiffin, USC was actually a pretty good team last year. It won 10 games and is stacked with talent as usual; the only thing that remains to be seen is whether Steve Sarkisian is a good enough coach to take advantage of it.
Michigan – It seems like Michigan has been hit and miss for the last decade but is a media darling, much like Notre Dame, which will almost always get it a week or two in the rankings at the very least. Beyond that, I have no idea what to expect from the Wolverines this year. They started 2013 looking good and looked horrible by the end of the year. Brady Hoke should start to be concerned if he can’t get at least 10 wins this year.
Stanford – 2014 will be more of the same for Stanford. Tough, physical play. David Shaw has shown that the new Stanford culture is here to stay and look for them to hang around in the top 10 for most of the year.
Florida State – The Seminoles should start the season with the No. 1 ranking and I will be cheering hard for them until they face the Irish on October 18. ND will be a big underdog but the chance to knock off the defending national champs in its own house is something every fan dreams about.