Notre Dame's path to glory will zigzag from sea to shining sea.
It starts Saturday night in San Diego, of all places, where the 7-0 Irish take on Navy. Then it's onto an even more novel location — Ryan Field in Evanston. The last time Notre Dame played at Northwestern, in 1976, it was called Dyche Stadium.
The Irish return home to face Florida State before tangling with Syracuse at Yankee Stadium. The five-week journey ends with a trip to LeBron James' new home for a duel with USC.
Based on his computations, SB Nation's Bill Connelly gives Notre Dame a 31 percent chance to finish 12-0. ESPN's Football Power Index puts it at 34 percent.
"Notre Dame is not like Alabama, on auto pilot," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit told the Tribune on Tuesday. "Notre Dame still has to respect its opponent, show up ready to play, play well and play smart. Athletically, they're not just going to blow people off the field. Anytime they're away from home, it will be a challenge."
Here's a breakdown of Notre Dame's remaining schedule:
7 p.m. Saturday at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego
SB Nation/ESPN Win probability: 91/98 percent.
Fear factor (1 is Bambi; 10 is a famished Hannibal Lecter knocking on your door): 3.
The Midshipmen are slated to miss a bowl for just the second time since 2003. Their last victory came in Week 3 against FCS foe Lehigh. They're one of only three teams averaging 300-plus rushing yards, but the offense is even more one-dimensional than usual, with a passer rating of 113.3 that is the team's lowest since at least 2009. The pass defense rates 102nd in FBS. But still ...
"Offensively I think they've really found themselves," Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. "They're extremely efficient. They have given us all that we can handle year in and year out. There has to be an incredible sense of urgency on the offensive side of the ball, by maximizing possessions, quite frankly every snap, because you just don't know how many possessions that you will get. Scoring points is absolutely crucial.
"From a defensive standpoint, that attention to detail and everything that you do is at a premium. We could use two more (off) weeks to prepare for Navy in terms of what they present to you."
6:15 or 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at Ryan Field in Evanston
Win probability: 78/76 percent.
Fear factor: 6.
Northwestern has won the last two — both in South Bend, Indiana — as a massive underdog. The 43-40 victory in 2014 came out of nowhere. The Wildcats entered on a four-game skid, having been outscored 120-50. That's part of why ESPN college basketball analyst and former Irish forward Jordan Cornette tweeted of the Nov. 3 game: "This one scares me."
He added in a message: "NU gets up for the Irish. The Cats see the love the Irish get nationally and believe that should be them. Similar institutions. (Plus) wonky travel for the Irish takes them out of their normal rhythm — a two-hour bus ride as opposed to flying or preparing for a home game. This can't be understated. It's usual and can hinder an 18- to 22-year-old's focus."
Cornette also believes that with the game being near Chicago there will be "distractions, distractions, distractions ... lots of ticket requests, lots of friends skipping over to Chicago for it and keeping guys up late."
Florida State (4-3)
6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at Notre Dame Stadium
Win probability: 82/88 percent.
Fear factor: 4.
The 'Noles are no longer the jokers that needed a rally to beat Samford. They lost at Miami by a point and pummeled Wake Forest 38-17, getting this passing line from Deondre Francois: 29-for-40, 353 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. (OK, now for a disclaimer: Ian Book also feasted on Wake's defense — 25-for-34, 325 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs — and the Irish chewed up 566 total yards.) Bottom line, we'll know way more about Florida State after they try to upend No. 2 Clemson on Saturday.
"Florida State is improving," Herbstreit said. "The defense is really good, and that has been overlooked with the year they've had."
They have not 'punted' on the season; they're still out there fighting. Their issue is offensive line play, and you wonder how that group will do on the road in South Bend."
1:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at Yankee Stadium in New York
Win probability: 76/78 percent.
Fear factor: 5.
A year after upsetting Clemson, Syracuse almost did it again. If the Orange had batted down a fourth-and-6 pass, they likely would be ranked in the top 20. Syracuse is ninth nationally in points per game (42.6) with a solid rushing attack (4.8 yards per carry). Coach Dino Babers benched senior quarterback Eric Dungey in favor of redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito in the fourth quarter Saturday against North Carolina, and DeVito delivered with three touchdown passes in a double-overtime victory.
If Notre Dame flops, an Irish mob could turn on athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The game was slated to be Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium before being designated as a Shamrock Series event. The Irish are 2-0 at "The House That Jeter Built" under Kelly, beating Army 27-3 in 2010 and Rutgers 29-16 in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl.
One more thing about Syracuse: Vernon Hills High alumnus Andre Szmyt (buy that man a vowel) is 18-for-20 on field-goal tries, including 3-for-3 from 50-plus.
"Dino Babers comes from that Art Briles coaching tree, so it's up-tempo, spread, fast and aggressive on offense," Herbstreit said. "Dungey is a gym rat, really good at running that offense. They can go with the quarterback with the hot hand. This game is one to take very seriously because they can score."
TBA Nov. 24 at the Los Angeles Coliseum
Win probability: 69/66 percent.
Fear factor: 7.
USC is the only team to beat Washington State, although the Trojans needed a bogus targeting reversal to do it. USC did legitimately stick Colorado with its first loss but then got housed at Utah. USC is a world of hurt now, having lost 18-year-old starting quarterback JT Daniels to a concussion and backup Matt Fink to broken ribs. If Daniels isn't cleared to return Saturday, third-stringer Jack Sears, who succeeded Sam Darnold at San Clemente High School, would get the call against Arizona State. Who knows who will be slinging it one month from now, but this much is clear: USC would love to spoil Notre Dame's season, as it did in 1996 (Lou Holtz's last game at the school) and 2005 ("The Bush Push").
"Who will USC be these next four weeks before they get ready for Notre Dame? Jack Sears could come in and light a fire," Herbstreit said. "The next four games are Arizona State, Oregon State, Cal and UCLA, so they could be 8-3 going in, having won four in a row, playing a rivalry game with nothing to lose. I don't know, man. For me that one and the one in Evanston are the games to be the most nervous about."
This article is written by Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.