We are now less than three weeks from the start of the season, and as always, fans are circling the must-see games. Notre Dame rarely lets anyone down in that regard, but we’ll take a look at the body of work as a whole here, ranking the Irish’s most watchable games from No. 12 to No. 1.
Agree? Disagree? As always, we love to hear from you.
12. Nevada (Sept. 10, 3:30 p.m. ET/NBC). Rarely does the home opener generate the least excitement, but it’s hard to find another game that deserves this spot more than a tilt with the Wolf Pack. It will be great to see old Irish friend Brian Polian -- who recruited Manti Te’o to South Bend way back when -- but there’s little buzz here from a football standpoint.
11. Duke (Sept. 24, 3:30 p.m. ET/NBC). OK, the third home game comes in as the second-least exciting tilt. And we’re not writing off the Blue Devils here, either, as David Cutcliffe (another old Notre Dame friend) has built them up into a more-than-formidable foe. But the circumstances around this one just aren’t what the next 10 are.
10. Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey (Oct. 1, time/TV TBD). So, the Orange might not be the best opponent in the world. But first-year coach Dino Babers’ offense will be exciting to watch. And this New York native says any trip back to the tri-state area, and to an NFL stadium, is worthwhile.
9. Army in San Antonio (Nov. 12, 3:30 p.m. ET/NBC). There is a respectable opponent and plenty of history here. And though this is the first non-prime-time Shamrock Series game, it’s still a Shamrock Series game. And it’s the last one we’ll see 'til 2018.
8. Virginia Tech (Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m. ET/NBC). Circumstances could prompt this game to be moved much higher up the list if both teams have strong seasons. Senior Day should be special, but it’s hard to imagine the Hokies taking off too much in Justin Fuente’s first year.
7. Navy in Jacksonville, Florida (Nov. 5, 11:30 a.m. ET/CBS). There is simply no rivalry like Notre Dame-Navy. None. And the games have done their best to live up to that billing in recent years. Enter a new venue for this one: the Jaguars’ EverBank Field.
6. at NC State (Oct. 8, time/TV TBD). I know I’m not the only one who thinks this game has “Virginia 2015 trap” written all over it. Raleigh is a neat city, and NC State has not exactly been the most welcoming of hosts to big-name opponents in recent years, so this could turn into a fun game.
5. Miami (Oct. 29, 3:30 p.m. ET/NBC). Much like Virginia Tech, it’s hard to imagine Miami turning back the clock in the first year of a new coaching regime (Mark Richt’s). But it’s Miami and Notre Dame, and there is no shortage of history here. It’s also a chance for Irish fans to see Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya, who’s already being billed as a potential top pick in the 2017 draft.
4. Michigan State (Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. ET/NBC). It’s been too long, Sparty. The Irish have a three-game winning streak against MSU, including handing the Spartans their only loss in 2013 during the teams' last meeting. While MSU no longer has Connor Cook, there’s no underestimating Mark Dantonio’s crew. And, oh yeah: It’s under the lights.
3. at USC (Nov. 26, time/TV TBD). Notre Dame and USC. Need I say more? OK, if it turns into a bloodbath like the Irish’s last game in L.A., back in 2014, then the game will lack some serious punch. But if one team enters with a perfect season on the line, like in 2012? Buckle up.
2. at Texas (Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET/ABC). It’s the first time the Irish have opened with a true road game since 2006. And it’s hard to imagine a more ballyhooed opening than this one, with two tradition-rich programs under the lights -- with their own Sunday night to themselves, no less. The Irish are favorites in this one, but something tells me we’ll learn a lot about both teams -- good or bad -- through their performances on opening night.
1. Stanford (Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m. ET/NBC). I’ve never understood why this rivalry hasn’t gotten more attention, but moving it to prime time sure is a good way to help fix that. No program has consistently been a bigger thorn in Notre Dame’s side -- both on the field and on the recruiting trail -- than Stanford. The past four games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Here’s hoping there’s another fall classic on tap.