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: 1-1
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.
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: 1-0
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.
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Got any ideas for other teams, specifically some interesting neutral site games? Fire away!