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Notre Dame finishes ranked, faces tough test next season

The final assessment of the 2013 college football season confirms the initial thoughts of Notre Dame's 2014 schedule.

It is going to be a challenging year for the Irish.

Notre Dame (9-4) finished No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 24 in the USA Today coaches poll, and it will have five teams on the schedule next season the finished in each of the final polls.

Florida State (14-0), which defeated Auburn 34-31 Monday night for the BCS championship and returns Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, headlines next year's schedule. The Irish travel to play the Seminoles on Oct. 18.

Notre Dame's first test against a ranked opponent will be at home when the Irish play Stanford (11-3), which finished at No. 10 in the coaches poll and No. 11 in the AP poll.

The Irish play host to Louisville (12-1), which is No. 15 in both polls, on Nov. 11, and they caught a bit of a break as the Cardinals lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the NFL draft and their coach, Charlie Strong, to Texas.

Notre Dame has two road games against teams that finished ranked in both polls as the Irish play at Arizona State (10-4), which is ranked No. 20 in both polls, on Nov. 8 and finish the 2014 season at USC (10-4), which is ranked No. 19 in both polls, on Nov. 29.

"There's no question it's a challenging schedule," coach Brian Kelly said Dec. 21, a day after the next three seasons schedules were released. "I knew coming in we were going to have a challenging schedule, especially as an independent. We can't be left with questions about our schedule as an independent. We're going to have to play a notch above a conference-scheduling team.

"It's a challenging schedule, but I think it's certainly going to be one where it's going to help us if you look at the strength of schedule index. If (the selection committee for the College Football Playoff is) truly going to pay attention to that, I think it helps us in the long run."