- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Notre Dame's 2012 schedule has been dissected, dissected again and dissected some more. And we're still more than two months away from the season actually beginning.
So, we'll change things up a bit today, with the help of The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel, who ranked nonconference schedules among BCS conference teams.
Here are where the Irish's upcoming opponents rank, with yours truly adding their conference slates.
1) Michigan: Alabama at Arlington, Texas; Air Force, Massachusetts, at Notre Dame. Now that's a schedule. Hail to the victors. One dud game out of four. Hey, Wolverines, you make 1973 proud.
Big Ten opponents: at Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, at Nebraska, at Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, at Ohio State
3) Miami: at Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman, Notre Dame at Chicago, South Florida. Super, super schedule. USF is only the third-best nonconference game.
ACC opponents: at Boston College, at Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, at Virginia, at Duke
4) Michigan State: Boise State, at Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan. Wow, home games against Boise State and Notre Dame. The Spartans also host Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. That's a season ticket.
Big Ten opponents: Ohio State, at Indiana, Iowa, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, at Minnesota
9) Pitt: Youngstown State, Virginia Tech, Gardner-Webb, at Buffalo, at Notre Dame. The Panthers have to feel a little deprived. They keep losing traditional rivals. Penn State won't play anymore. The Backyard Brawl with West Virginia is on hold until conference realignment settles down.
Big East opponents: at Cincinnati, at Syracuse, Louisville, Temple, at Connecticut, Rutgers, at South Florida
11) USC: Hawaii; Syracuse at East Rutherford, N.J.; Notre Dame. You can always count on the Trojans for quality entertainment.
Pac-12 opponents: at Stanford, California, at Utah, at Washington, Colorado, at Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State, at UCLA
20) Boston College: Maine, at Northwestern, at Army, Notre Dame. This schedule would rank No. 1 in the Big 12.
ACC opponents: Miami, Clemson, at Florida State, at Georgia Tech, Maryland, at Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, at North Carolina State
22) Stanford: San Jose State, Duke, at Notre Dame. The quality is starting to thin.
Pac-12 opponents: USC, at Washington, Arizona, at California, Washington State, at Colorado, Oregon State, at Oregon, at UCLA
24) Wake Forest: Liberty, Army, at Notre Dame, Vanderbilt. If anyone had reason to dumb down a schedule, it's Wake. But this is smart and solid.
ACC opponents: North Carolina, at Florida State, Duke, at Maryland, at Virginia, Clemson, Boston College, at North Carolina State
27) Oklahoma: at UTEP, Florida A&M, Notre Dame. Play a real game, like the Fighting Irish, and you zoom to the top of the Big 12 list.
Big 12 opponents: Kansas State, at Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas, at Iowa State, Baylor, at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, at TCU
43) Purdue: Eastern Kentucky, at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Marshall. Notre Dame saves the day.
Big Ten opponents: Michigan, Wisconsin, at Ohio State, at Minnesota, Penn State, at Iowa, at Illinois, Indiana
My takeaway: Notre Dame's opponents don't necessarily have the easy road, either. That's three opponents in the top four of tough schedules, four in the top-10 and six in the top-20. Two of those teams, Miami and Pitt, don't necessarily walk into this fall with the expectations of Notre Dame and some of the Irish's other high-profile opponents.
Let's also not forget that a number of these teams (particularly Michigan, MSU, USC and Stanford) have realistic chances of winning their divisions, which would give them another pre-bowl game against a top-notch opponent. Navy and BYU, of course, were not included on Tramel's list, as they are independents.
Look at the body of work of each of these schools and compare them to the week-in, week-out slate that Notre Dame is faced with. Do the Irish still have the most difficult road? My quick response is yes, as even the toughest schedules, like Michigan's and Miami's, still feature cupcakes like UMass and Bethune-Cookman, which offer more of a break than anything the Irish face this fall.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you guys on this subject. Which schedule is the toughest? Why? Drop me a note in the mailbag and I'll run the best responses here.
15dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf