When I looked at Notre Dame's schedule, this is the first thing that came to my mind:
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
I'll Rest When I'm Dead
February 22: Penn State; March 8: v. Denver (at Costa Mesa, C.A.); March 25: @Ohio State
Notre Dame could have backed off of their nonconference schedule in 2014 and nobody would have thrown shade in the Irish's direction. The program lost a ton of important contributors from 2013 and is entering the most difficult conference ever created. There would have been little shame in Notre Dame putting a host of competitive-yet-inferior programs on the slate, pushing all of its chips toward the ACC, and seeing how things would shake out. Interestingly, the Irish didn't even think that was an option: In addition to its five league dates (not including the ACC Tournament, which presents recurring horror), Notre Dame kept Penn State, Denver, and Ohio State on the schedule, three teams that will surely find a position in the top 15 of both major preseason polls. The result is crazypants bonkers: Eight guaranteed games against the best that Division I has to offer comprising two-thirds of the Irish's agenda. Look: Teams do this, but Notre Dame did this when they could have moved toward other options. That's impressive.
March 25: @Ohio State; March 29: @Syracuse; April 5: Duke
At a micro level, this is probably the most difficult stretch that Notre Dame faces in 2014: Three games in 12 days, featuring travel for the first two dates and finishing with a monster home date against an opponent that is developing all kinds of history with the Irish. The sneaky deadly aspect of this mini-stretch is that Notre Dame's visit to the Carrier Dome comes just four days after the Irish see Ohio State; that short turnaround against an opponent that Notre Dame struggled with in 2013 could create issues for the Irish.
February 22: Penn State; March 1: @North Carolina; March 8: v. Denver (at Costa Mesa, C.A.); March 16: Virginia; March 25: @Ohio State; March 29: @Syracuse; April 5: Duke
Where's the break? Seriously: Where does Notre Dame get a break from oppressive suffocation and pressure-filled opportunities? This is a murderous 43 days of constant action against the nation's best teams, 3,715,200 seconds of pure terror and excitement and probably a little bit of poop in underpants but so much to call it a day. Now, the Irish will only play about a game per week in this six-week march, but that's a game per week against opposition that is more than capable of sending Notre Dame's season sideways if the Irish can't navigate its waters with some degree of consistency. You don't necessarily look at the consequences of failing to come out of stretches like these without comical bandages wrapped around your head (rather, the focus is almost entirely on opportunity), but the potential of it happening to Notre Dame is real and could define the Irish's narrative exposition as the season unfolds.