Multiple Florida State sources are now strongly indicating that FSU will host Notre Dame football in 2014. It's an exciting matchup between two storied powers who, in recent years, have righted the ships and have been consistently among college football's top schools.
But is it a good thing for the school to be playing Notre Dame in 2014, when it already has games against Clemson, Florida, at Louisville, at Miami and (for all intents and purposes) at Oklahoma State?
Yes and no.
From an on-field perspective, the schedule sets up to be quite difficult if FSU has National Championship aspirations. The chance that a top team runs through that schedule unscathed is probably in the 5-10 percent range.
But there are other concerns as well, like taking advantage of special circumstances. Notre Dame is joining the ACC in 2014 as a partial member, and with that comes fanfare. That notoriety is multiplied if the Golden Domers have a marquee game on the slate. And while the ACC sometimes makes confounding decisions, it's no dummy when it comes to realizing its prized asset -- the 'Noles.
A similar thing was done with Pitt's entrance to the league this season. Its first ACC game? Florida State. Heck, not only do the Panthers open conference season with the Seminoles, they open their entire season, on Labor Day, with FSU.
That won't happen with Florida State because FSU is opening the year with Oklahoma State. But it would make sense to have the game played in September, though not directly after.
There's no doubt that the schedule will be very tough. Even so, it's worth asking why not have Florida State play at Notre Dame in 2014, provided it could get a return game in 2015, an odd-numbered year in which the Seminoles won't host Clemson or Florida, two prime draws.
Of course, there is no guarantee that FSU would get a return home trip so soon. It's not as if Florida State and Notre Dame are guaranteed to play annually.
One interesting angle here is ticket sales. Florida State has beefed up the schedule starting in 2014 because the new playoff system all but requires it. But that doesn't apply to 2013, which has a far weaker home slate, by comparison. As a result, some fans are not renewing their season tickets, which is not a good thing.
The thought echoed by some is that fans on the verge of not renewing their tickets will elect to go ahead and renew for 2013 so that they do not lose their choice seats for when Notre Dame comes to town. I'm not sure how much I buy this line of thinking, as Florida is a home game in 2014, and I don't think Notre Dame is enough to push them over the edge. But what do I know? I don't buy tickets.
But let's get to the question that brought you here: just how much tougher is FSU's 2014 schedule than what the Seminoles face in 2013? Somewhat.
Personnel losses & Location
It very well could be the case that some of the opponents FSU will face are not quite as tough as the name on the jersey would imply.
Before we get into this, let's acknowledge that though this might be the best way to evaluate a team two years off in the future, it's still quite crude.
Take Oklahoma State. A very, very underrated team in 2012 that brings back 15 of 22 starters and is perhaps the Big XII favorite for 2013. OSU projects to bring back only 10 of 22 starters from this 2013 squad, and must break in many new starters in the first game of the year, in Dallas. The Dallas factor will help, as that will practically be a home game for the Cowboys (Dallas is a major alumni base for OSU), but it's no easy to break in a roster with 12 of 22 starters being new.
Or take a look at Louisville, a team that whose 2012 season was just as overrated as Oklahoma State's was underrated. The Cardinals won the Big East and beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl. But they were incredibly lucky to even be there, going an unsustainable 6-1 in single-score games. This 2013 Louisville team looks loaded, returning 17 of 22 starters. It's the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East. But FSU isn't playing the 2013 Louisville squad. It's facing the 2014 team, which projects to lose 8 of 22 starters to graduation, and that is not counting Teddy Bridgewater, who will be eligible to turn pro, and very likely could be the top QB prospect available. At Louisville will not be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, but the 2014 Louisville squad projects to be a step down from the 2013 rendition, and perhaps a large step if Bridgewater departs for the NFL.
Head on down I-75 to Clemson, where the Tigers are the strong conference Favorite in 2013. But the 2014 team will be without several key players who are finally out of eligibility, including QB Tahj Boyd, LT Brandon Thomas, and probably Sammy Watkins, who doesn't exactly seem like a four-year player. There's also no guarantee that Chad Morris sticks as offensive coordinator. Clemson's defense could be much improved in 2014, but without the offensive difference makers, and playing in Tallahassee and not South Carolina, 2014 seems a bit easier than 2013.
Miami also stands to lose a lot from its extremely veteran 2013 team. Four offensive starters, including QB Morris and OL Henderson and Linder will be graduating. To that, there are several juniors who could be added if they make the leap. On defense, Miami will be losing six of 11 starters to graduation. As FSU fans know, when a team is very veteran in one year, it's often quite young the next. next. Of course, you could argue that Miami's up and coming young players are going to be better than the graduating seniors. Florida State is undefeated playing at Miami since the demolition of the Orange bowl, in some part because the home field advantage for the Hurricanes is negated as Seminoles fans pack the place.
Notre Dame projects to lose eight starters, and that does not include early-NFL possibilities like defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix. I don't see a big dropoff coming for Notre Dame, but I'm also not sure that Notre Dame is expecting 2014 to be a dream season. It could be if they avoid early-NFL entries.
Florida, on the other hand, looks to be very loaded. Few realized that the 2012 Gators' squad had a lot of senior starters (8) and another four juniors declare for the NFL draft. The 2013 edition of the Gators is probably going to feature only five senior starters, who will obviously be gone in 2014. And I don't see many candidates for early-entry. The 2014 Gators should be very good. However, the matchup for FSU in 2014 is probably going to be easier than in 2013. For one, playing in the Swamp is extremely tough. Second, FSU is in a bit of a rebuilding/transition mode in 2013. In 2014, neither of those factors will be in play.
With Florida State projected to return a large chunk of its 2013 team in 2014, I think it is too early to write this off as a schedule that will prohibit another 10-win season. Sure, the Seminoles will need some bounces to get there, and a ton to go undefeated, but the names might be scarier than the teams on the whole.