Monday, May 16, 2011

Shaping Future Irish Schedules

The structuring and shaping of the Notre Dame schedule is a very complicated process. Not being tied to a yearly conference slate gives the Irish unparalleled flexibility while also presenting unique challenges to fill the schedule each season.

Former athletic director Kevin White's choices and philosophies greatly curtailed that flexibility.

First, he set out to soften the schedule in an attempt to make the path to success easier than it had traditionally been for Notre Dame.

Next, he committed to scheduling in a 7-4-1 format that restricted the ability to find quality opponents since ND could not offer a home-and-home. White also attempted to bully smaller schools into scheduling their "home games" at neutral sites.

Luckily, new athletic director Jack Swarbrick has worked to undo many of White's foibles, most notably the 7-4-1 structure. The schedules in coming seasons are far more interesting than in recent years and the quality of opponents both home and away has risen back up to the standard Notre Dame historically kept.

Goodbye, Tulsa and Western Michigan. Hello, Texas and Miami.

So who else could Swarbrick look to target for future Irish campaigns? Today, we list 10 teams that Notre Dame hasn't played in over 20 years (or ever) that would be welcomed additions to the schedule in coming seasons.


Series Record: 10-3 (Notre Dame)
Last Meeting: 1989 (ND won 59-6)
How They Fit: A possible Home-and-Home series or maybe just a one-time ND home game

We'll kick things off with an old powerhouse that June Jones is literally in the process of bringing back from the dead. Southern Methodist would give Notre Dame a solid and interesting "lower tier" opponent that would provide exposure in the fertile recruiting ground of Texas.

It's certainly not the flashiest opponent right now, but if June Jones keeps the Mustangs on their current trajectory, it may be in the near future.

Throw in the fact that current SMU athletic director Steve Orsini is a Notre Dame graduate, and it just may happen.


Series Record: 1-0 (Notre Dame)
Last Meeting: 1972 (ND won 21-0)
How They Fit: Home-and-Home Series

The Horned Frogs have morphed into one of the darlings of the NCAA, thanks to back-to-back BCS game berths and three consecutive top 10 finishes.

Head coach Gary Patterson has built such a strong program over the past 10 years that TCU is making the jump to the Big East and will now chase an automatic conference bid.

TCU would provide the Irish another strong game in Texas and strengthen ties with its new Big East brethren.

Scheduling a series might be a nice gesture, since the Horned Frogs are essentially handing Notre Dame's basketball program one or two extra wins per year.


Series Record: 8-6-2 (Notre Dame)
Last Meeting: 1964 (ND won 31-7)
How They Fit: They'd be a perfect Home-and-Home plus Neutral Site series

It's been over 45 seasons since the Irish and Badgers have faced off on the gridiron. The Big Ten's expanded conference schedule could make things tricky, but this is a series that would generate a lot interest within both fan bases.

There would be a huge Wisconsin presence invading South Bend for an Irish home game and vice versa for the game at Camp Randall.

Plus, the Badgers are a perfect fit for a neutral site game. Notre Dame-Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, anyone?


Series Record:
1-0-1 (Notre Dame)
Last Meeting: 1982 (Tied 13-13)
How They Fit: Neutral Site Game

As fun as it would be to schedule a home-and-home with the Ducks, the logistical issues created by the newly expanded Pac-12 conference schedule make that seem extremely unlikely. That doesn't mean a one-time neutral site game can't work, though.

Qwest Field in Seattle seems like a perfect venue that would allow for a bi-partisan crowd in a loud, rocking environment.

Brian Kelly vs. Chip Kelly, Kelly's Spread Offense vs. The Blur, The Tradition vs. The Team with 734 Different Uniforms, The Leprechaun vs. The Duck. What's not to love about this matchup?


Series Record:
4-0 (Notre Dame)
Last Meeting: 1988 (Notre Dame won 54-11)
How They Fit: One-time ND home game

I know, I know, this is a significant step backwards after powerhouses like Wisconsin and Oregon. But the schedule needs fillers, too, and the Owls would be a nice change of pace.

Rice is a top-notch academic school, and I'd have no problem adding them to the mix every once in awhile like we have Duke and Wake Forest in recent years.

Besides, two of the four years the Irish have played them, Notre Dame has gone on to win the national championship ('73, '88).


Series Record:
Last Meeting: 1979 (Clemson won 16-10)
Proposed Series: Early season Home-and-Home

Notre Dame heading down to the Death Valley would most likely be the most hyped out of conference game the Tigers have played in decades.

Having a series with Clemson gives Notre Dame more exposure in the South and supplies a truly intriguing matchup that would capture a lot of attention.

Boise State

Series Record:
Never Met
Last Meeting: N/A
Proposed Series: Late season Home-and-Home

Two years ago, a Top 10 Oregon visited Boise State in what was trumpeted as the biggest game in school history. Imagine the pomp and excitement if the team that is definition of a traditional power decided to do the same thing.

It would provide Notre Dame another interesting opponent that ND could stash in the late part of the schedule. Why? Because Boise would bend over backwards to have a game with the Irish no matter when ND wanted to play it.

Notre Dame tipping its cap to the Broncos and taking on a home-and-home would essentially validate Boise's stature.

Sure, the Broncos would likely be willing to sign off on a trip to South Bend with no promise of a return game, but why not set a precedent?

Brian Kelly has said he's willing to take on any opponent, anywhere, so why not make the trip and visit the smurf turf out west?


Series Record:
1-0 (Georgia)
Last Meeting: 1980 (Georgia won 17-10)
Proposed Series: Home-and-Home plus a Neutral Site

A series with the Bulldogs would mean more exposure for the Irish in the South while supplying a matchup of two schools with huge traditions.

Georgia and Notre Dame have met only once and that was in a bowl game (1980 Sugar Bowl), so the series would be a breath of fresh air.

The home-and-home would be exciting while the neutral site game in the Georgia Dome would be sold out in the blink of an eye.


Series Record:
Last Meeting: 1989 (Notre Dame won 36-13)
Where They Fit: Early season Home-and-Home

Virginia is a program that's been stuck in neutral for most of the past decade, but they have the potential to be a very solid program in a conference that seems to be constantly in upheaval.

UVA is a fantastic school academically with like-minded values in that regard and another interesting matchup that could serve as a "middle tier" opponent on the schedule.


Series Record:
5-1 (Notre Dame)
Last Meeting: 1987 (Notre Dame won 37-6)
Proposed Series: Home-and-Home or just a Neutral Site

Howard Cosell put it best when he was broadcasting the 1973 Sugar Bowl between No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 1 Alabama.

"Notre Dame and Alabama: at Notre Dame, football is a religion; at Alabama, it's a way of life."

The two schools had a series scheduled for the middle part of the last decade, but it eventually fell through.

If they could find a way to get it back on the slate, it would generate almost unparalleled excitement and be a showstopper that captures the attention of the entire country for a weekend.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Got any ideas for other teams, specifically some interesting neutral site games? Fire away!


  1. How do you decry the scheduling of Tulsa and Western Michigan while at the same time suggesting Rice?

  2. Because there's somewhat of a history with Rice and it's a premier academic institution. Not the case with Western Michigan and Tulsa.

  3. you talk oregon as a neutral site opponent in seattle, and wisconsin in green bay. never work because those games are in the tv areas of the pac-12 and big 10 conferences.

  4. How Bout Penn State Again?? That would be Great..

  5. We should play schools that share our vision of student-athlete, which is why I like playing the academies, and Stanford. I also like the Rice, SMU, TCU (maybe Vanderbilt and Northwestern) idea, but laugh at Miami, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and the ilk. We should NEVER play 'football factories' who barely graduate their athletes or do so by giving them
    'passes' through their classes. We are an independent; let's use that to our advantage.

  6. Anonymous -

    Why wouldn't they work even if they're in TV areas of the Pac-12 and Big 10? I don't quite follow.

  7. Get Penn St. back on the schedule!!! Greatest rival in my generation. Being a PA boy and all!!!

  8. Green Bay a neutral sight? I don't think so!
    ND / Wis at Soldier field maybe.

  9. Like Brian Kelly said: ANY TEAM, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME!!

  10. "Notre Dame heading down to the Death Valley would most likely be the most hyped out of conference game the Tigers have played in decades."

    Except that every year, they play SEC opponent South Carolina in a game where one win matters to both Clemson and USC fans more than 100 losses to ND ever could.

  11. "Notre Dame tipping its cap to the Broncos and taking on a home-and-home would essentially validate Boise's stature."

    Funny. I think their wins did that already.

  12. "Why wouldn't they work even if they're in TV areas of the Pac-12 and Big 10? I don't quite follow."

    Reply: The reason that ND has pursued these games in the past is because they can generate new revenues for the school and NBC. However, in order to do so, the games have to be televised by NBC and thus counted as ND home games. Conference TV deals prohibit this if the game takes place "within the geographic footprint" of the conference. Thus, the motivation for ND is largely removed.

    Somebody else may be able to chime in on how they got around this for this year's ND/Maryland game @ Fedex Field.

  13. We've never played Virginia Tech

  14. We need to play Fresno State. They can be tough, but there coach always says " we'll play anybody, any where, any time!"

  15. ND - Wisconsin would be outstanding. Home and home is just fine. Neutral site unnecessary, except maybe Soldier's Field.
    Penn State - yes.
    Boise State - you have a condescending tone toward them - as if we honor them by deigning to play them. 10 years ago that would have been understandable, but no more. Maybe in a few years schools will tremble at the name of Notre Dame as in the good old days, but not now.
    Alabama - YES
    Miami & Texas - excellent.
    Ohio State - let's not forget that home and home shellacking they gave us back in the mid-90s. (Yes they are a jock school).

  16. How about Tennessee. We've had some great games with them in the past. I think we should have a home and home with them at least once a decade.

  17. If we are committed to playing a few games each year against a Big East school, West Virginia could be a good choice for a home and home. Some history there back from the Holtz era.

    Illinois would be a game that would get huge exposure. Last time we faced them was 1968. Again, there's the problem with the expanded Big Ten schedule.

    I'm all for adding more Big 12 schools, especially since their survival as a conference is tied to our independence. Maybe Baylor for those looking for like-minded institutions?

    TCU would be a great game, and Boise State would probably let us dictate the terms of the agreement, just to get us on the schedule. I love these types of discussions because Notre Dame is in such a great position to create some truly unique and interesting schedules.

  18. Mix in some Texas A&M. A&M is a school with great academic values. Alabama for sure. Florida State and Miami. I'd like to see us play Colorado, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma. We're always in Los Angeles or northern California playing Stanford, if you're looking for filler, go south and add in San Diego State for recruiting purposes.

    And since I live in San Antonio, Texas San Antonio is birthing their football program coached by Larry Coker this year. Just to please me, ND must play UTSA in San Antonio for as long as I live here.

  19. Note to everyone: These are all teams we haven't played in over 20 years. We've played Penn State, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Florida State, etc. in that time period.

    To the snide Clemson comment: ND visiting Death Valley would be a more hyped one-time event than the annual South Carolina game (I didn't say important, I said hyped). Herbstreit said that ND-OSU in the mid-90's was the most anticipated and hyped game he'd ever been to at The Horseshoe. ND has a way of creating that atmosphere even if it's not "the most important game on the schedule" per se (because no one would've argued ND-OSU was more important to the Buckeyes than OSU-Michigan).

    To the snide Boise comment: Despite all of their wins and recent success, there are still plenty of people who don't take Boise State seriously (see: Ohio State). A major power like ND scheduling them would be a huge step toward national respect for them.

  20. This is my ultimate 12 game schedule (in no chronological order):
    First off, the "essentials" which ensure that we play in Southern California or Northern California Every year, Boston every other year, and New York/Baltimore/Philadelphia every other year.
    1. Michigan
    2. Michigan St
    3. Purdue
    4. Navy
    5. USC
    6. Stanford
    7. BC
    Okay, that only leaves 5 "flex" opponents. I suggest the following:
    8. A home and home with One SEC Team every two years, rotating LSU, BAMA and Tenn (becuase we have a history w/these teams) but nonetheless, in the current climate of SEC dominance we hafta play one EVERY year (and not VANDY)
    9. and 10. The obligatory big east games: PItt (which can be played at Heinz field) and TCU which can be played at Cowboys Stadium (which will sell out in 20 mins) and played on NBC in Prime Time as the "neutral game" like Wash St in 2009. This is a game in Texas every other year.
    11. Penn St every year. Cmon, it was such a great rivalry btween two like minded institutions. Every few years we can play in Philly!
    12. I like the Wisconsin idea, i like Nebraska, Oklahoma, FSU or Miami. zthey all work for me.
    Ultimately, the point is to have the irish play the best programs in the country. We will never reach the upper echelon that we used to sit atop until we go back to the days where we beat 3 of the Top 5 teams in the country (see 1988-1989). No more Western Michigans. This years schedule is pretty brutal, so if we win ten games, we wont be a paper tiger the way we were the three years that we were embarrassed in the BCS,