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Notre Dame’s road to the CFB playoff; Toughest 2023 matchups
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman, left, celebrates with quarterback Sam Hartman (10) after Notre Dame defeated the Navy Midshipmen 42-3 at Aviva Stadium. (Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame’s road to the CFB playoff; Toughest 2023 matchups

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (BVM) – Notre Dame’s open to the 2023 campaign couldn’t have gone more smoothly for second-year head coach Marcus Freeman, as the Fighting Irish handled business during their trip across the pond. 

Behind an offensive explosion that saw Notre Dame cruise to a 42-3 win over Navy, the offseason expectations for the improved unit quickly lived up to the hype as transfer quarterback Sam Hartman impressed by completing 19-of-23 passes for 252 yards. Even with the defense following suit in the Fighting Irish’s efforts, attention will almost always focus on Hartman who will be the main decider on whether or not the team has what it takes to make it to the College Football Playoff in 2023. 

With the sixth-year quarterback proving to be as advertised in his opening action with the Fighting Irish, the team may be at the opening of a potential playoff candidacy. While a win over Navy doesn’t quite move the needle like some of the other team’s Notre Dame is set to play later on in the year, a look towards the future might not be that far stretched for the Fighting Irish program. 

Here’s a look down the line at three games that could change Notre Dame’s chances. 

Notre Dame Ohio State football
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day shakes hands with Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman following a game at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 21-10. (Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)

Week 4: Ohio State

Last year’s Week 1 matchup against the Buckeyes looked promising for nearly three quarters as the Fighting Irish went toe-to-toe with one of college football’s top quarterbacks. With Notre Dame’s offense unable to keep up with Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud down the stretch, the team’s lack of a passing attack came to the forefront far earlier in the season than anticipated. This year’s matchup could flip the script, however, as the two teams find themselves seemingly on opposite ends of the quarterback position as the Fighting Irish get Ohio State at Notre Dame Stadium this time around.

Notre Dame USC 2023 football
Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) runs the ball ahead of Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker JD Bertrand (27) during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Week 7: USC

Last year’s battle between the historic teams turned out to be one of the better college football games of the 2022 season as quarterback Drew Pyne delivered one his best performances of the campaign, completing 23-of-26 passes for 318 yards. While the effort kept them close, Notre Dame was unable to keep up with the high-powered USC offense, losing 38-27. With a chance to play the Trojans at home in 2023, the game should bring about another close effort as the Fighting Irish match up better on paper than they did a season ago. With Caleb Williams still at the helm, the Heisman winner could make this Notre Dame’s toughest test of the season.

Notre Dame Clemson 2023 football
Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Audric Estime (7) scores a touchdown against the Clemson Tigers in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. (Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

Week 10: Clemson

Notre Dame’s best win of the 2022 campaign came against the Clemson Tigers during the team’s Week 10 affair, as quarterback Drew Pyne passed for just 85 yards on the day. The significant win sets up a different looking Tigers program in 2023, as Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik gets set as the team’s full-time starter. The Fighting Irish got a look at Klubnik last season after the 2022 backup replaced DJ Uiagalelei late in the third quarter. With a trip this year to Death Valley, the late regular-season action could either propel, or tank, Notre Dame’s playoff chances.

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