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Fixing The Notre Dame Football Schedule - Part One

Written by Connor Regan Senior Staff Writer Twitter: @thatconnorregan

Photo by The Irish Tribune


There's much to be said about Notre Dame's schedule over the last 20-ish years. They've received repeated criticism for scheduling multiple mediocre opponents in a single season, dropping historical rivalries (looking at you, Michigan), and signing an ACC deal that sees them play 5-6 ACC teams (some not even rivals) a year through 2037. The following breakdown is sure to be controversial: feelings will be hurt, and accusations will be levied, but at the end of the day, the goal here is to fix Notre Dame's schedule going forward and set them up for success amidst college football's new future. Conference realignment and the inaugural season of the 12-team CFP are sure to mix things up in college football, and the Irish must do whatever they can to remain independent and relevant while trying to survive the chaos.


This analysis will be split into two parts, the first of which will cover Notre Dame’s rivals, specifically assessing which ones the Irish should leave behind, which ones the Irish should bring back, and how to maximize each matchup. Part 2 will address more significant changes to the schedule, and the ACC deal. There are endless unknown variables, complex contracts, and yet-to-be-had negotiations, so take all this with a grain of salt.


Current Situation

There are 3 main issues with the schedule that need to be addressed if Notre Dame is going to get over the hump and not just make the College Football Playoff, but win it all.

  1. Weak Strength of Schedule

  2. No Conference Championship

  3. Missing Rivalries / Rivalries to Move on From


These 3 issues can be remedied in a variety of ways, but all in all, the end goal is also 3 fold:

  1. Maintain Notre Dame’s Independence

  2. Keep them Financially Viable for The Future

  3. Maintain a Clear Path to The CFP / Give Notre Dame a Legitimate Chance to Win It all


Strength of Schedule / No Conference Championship

The genesis of this article came from the prevailing criticism from Irish fans and haters alike; Notre Dame's strength of schedule has been relatively weak in recent years. Some of the biggest critiques have been the annual matchup against a relatively weak Navy, often playing teams like Army, Airforce, and BYU, a rivalry with a declining Stanford, and a propensity to play 2-3 Group-of-5 teams a season. Unfortunately, these critiques have cemented into reality over the last 15-ish years. Between 2005 and 2023, Notre Dame averaged the nation's 25th toughest pre-season strength of schedule. While not abysmal, barely ranking within the top 25 of toughest opponents is a strike the Irish can't afford. Even if they were to win out, there would be a high likelihood the Irish lose a SOS comparison and could suffer in the CFP seeding process because of it. On the other hand, advocating for a schedule composed of all Power-5 conferences would be silly and would ultimately prevent the Irish from making it to the dance at all. There is a balance to be found.


No self-respecting Notre Dame fan would advocate in good faith for full-conference membership, no matter how attractive the BIG10's new media money is. Independence is at the core of Notre Dame football and is a cornerstone the program aims to maintain. Yet, changes need to be made if the Irish are to remain independent amidst a consolidating conference landscape. This is where increasing the overall strength of schedule solves multiple problems. Notre Dame must construct a more robust regular season schedule to compensate for their lack of a conference championship.


Most CFP contenders play 2-3 layup games per year, and while Notre Dame is typically within this 2-3 layup game range, their unique independent status means each regular season game holds more weight. Playing 2 Group-of-5 teams alongside Navy, Stanford, and whoever else the ACC decides to throw at them that particular year counts against them more than an Alabama team that, for example, may play 2 FCS teams and a Mountain West team, but cap the year off with a classic SEC championship against an until-then undefeated SEC opponent.


For reference, Notre Dame has only reached the top 15 in SOS 3 times over the last 13 seasons (excluding the 2020 COVID-19 season). Additionally, they've played Navy alongside at least 2 non-Power-5 teams every year since 2015, with only 2018 as an exception. Not having a major guaranteed late-season matchup like a conference championship to add to their playoff resume is something Notre Dame can only mend by joining a conference. In lieu of that, designing a balanced, routinely top-15 strength of schedule is the best tool the Irish have to design their own destiny. If other power-5 teams play 3 easy games, the Irish should shoot for 2.






Notre Dame’s Past Strength of Schedule Ranking

2010 - 29th Nationally

2011 - 15th Nationally

2012 - 15th Nationally

2013 - 31st Nationally

2014 - 29th Nationally

2015 - 16th Nationally

2016 - 34th Nationally

2017 - 2nd Nationally

2018 - 23rd Nationally

2019 - 35th Nationally

2021 - 43th Nationally 

2022 - 33rd Nationally

2023 - 46th Nationally



Weakest Teams on Notre Dame’s Past Schedules

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2021

2022

2023

U-Mass

Nevada

Temple

Ball State

New Mexico

Toledo

Marshall

Tennessee State

Temple

Army

Miami (OH)

Navy

Bowling Green

Cincinatti

BYU

Central Michigan

Navy

Navy

Navy


Navy

Navy

UNLV

Navy





Stanford

Stanford

Navy

Stanford







Stanford



The Rivalries

Notre Dame's deep tradition and early "barnstorming" style of scheduling teams across the country have led to roughly double the number of established rivals compared to the average Power-5 team. This mix of strategy and circumstance has led to the establishment of rivals in all corners of the country.


Notre Dame's expansive list of rivals spans can be split into a few categories:

  1. Significant historical rivalries (subdivided into A & B to denote significance or recent rivalry activity).

  2. Current rivalries

  3. Budding rivalries

  4. Smaller rivalries


We'll examine each rival and decide which ones Notre Dame should continue playing and in what capacity.

Current

Historic A

Historic B

Budding

Smaller

The Wild Card

USC - BIG 10

MICHIGAN - BIG 10

ARMY - AAC

CLEMSON - ACC

AIR FORCE - AAC

STANFORD - ACC

NAVY - AAC

MICHIGAN STATE - BIG 10

NORTHWESTERN - BIG 10

FLORIDA STATE - ACC

PENN STATE - BIG 10


STANFORD - ACC

PURDUE - BIG 10

GEORGIA TECH - ACC

OHIO STATE - BIG 10




USC - BIG 10

PITT - ACC





NAVY - AAC

MIAMI - ACC






BOS. COLLEGE - ACC






STANFORD - ACC






What to Leave Behind

Army/Airforce

There's an immense amount of shared history between the military academies and Notre Dame. While Notre Dame has a very publicized and recent rivalry with Navy, Army has 51 matchups against the Irish, dating back to 1913, and Airforce has 29 dating back to 1964. Unfortunately, the military academies have regressed from their National Championship days and no longer provide the classic matchups the rivalries were built on. Because of this, it makes little sense for Notre Dame to play multiple military academies. The rivalry with Navy isn't going anywhere, and has been made an obvious priority over the other military academies. Although the Irish haven't met the Falcons since 2013 or the Black Knights since 2016, leaving both matchups behind for good feels overdue.


Too Many Weak Schools - FCS, CONF. USA, MAC, Mountain West, AAC, Sun-Belt, Independents

The Irish must objectively leave behind the days of playing multiple layup games in a season. Yes, I know it sounds quite cavalier calling other teams "easy" or "layups," especially after the Irish have dropped games to Cincinnati in 2021 and Marshall in 2022. But with simplicity in mind, several teams on each year's schedule are easily identified as subpar. In the same vein as dropping Army/Airforce, the issue here is a weighing down of the SOS. Notably, the Irish played their first FCS team in school history in 2023, Tennessee State, drawing criticism from fans who believed they'd never see such a matchup. As discussed previously, Notre Dame's regular season cannot be accurately compared to the regular season of teams in a conference. Their lack of a conference championship makes each regular season game weigh more. Thus, trimming the fat must come first as we attempt to bolster the regular season schedule. The Irish can only afford to play 1 non-Power-5 opponent in addition to Navy without severely compromising the overall strength of their schedule. The days of playing Nevada, Navy, and Army in a single season must end. The Irish must provide no doubt about their 12-game strength of schedule.


What to Take Into The Future

These are the teams Notre Dame should maintain matchups with in some regular capacity, whether that be on rotation, annually, or bi-annually. The idea would be to avoid valleys where we have no idea when the next matchup is or a two-game agreement scheduled 10 years out.


To get it out of the way, there are a few teams we can all agree the Irish should never stop playing. Chief among them are USC and Navy. Not only did they both survive the last round of rivalry cuts, whereas the BIG10 teams did not, but they're both among the most historical matchups the Irish have. Navy holds the #1 spot for most matchups against Notre Dame with 94, and USC comes in at #2 with 91 matchups all-time. In short, it can be said with near-certain confidence that Notre Dame would never give up their rivalries with either team. What differentiates these two rivalries is how they fit into Notre Dame's future.





USC

There's plenty of legitimate criticism around the Trojans lately. Not having won a championship since 2004, never making a CFP game, and declining overall performance. However, USC does have a longstanding tradition with Notre Dame, a hotshot new head coach, and they're in California, a prime recruiting hub. Regardless of their success, they always manage to have top talent. Not to mention, USC's entrance into the BIG10 launches them onto a bigger stage than the PAC12 and into a conference with the most lucrative TV deal in college football. Regardless, there's close to no chance this rivalry goes anywhere.


Navy 

As for Navy, the situation is a bit more complex. Notre Dame VS Navy is one of the most historic rivalries in both Notre Dame and college football history. Still, in its current form, it's become more of a polite historical gesture than a competitive annual rivalry. Despite declining competition, the Navy rivalry is important and can be saved with a minor tweak. Historically, the Irish often played Navy alongside 2 other Group-of-5 teams, and in doing so, have seen a slide in its overall strength of schedule in recent years. Making the Navy matchup one of only two non-power 5 teams on the schedule would open space to schedule another marquee matchup or two in place of a conference title game.


Navy is arguably one of Notre Dame's most challenging non-Power-5 opponents, having beaten the Irish 4 times since 2007. Even if they're not winning games, their run game usually requires a team's full attention to handle and provides a solid, lower-risk matchup overall. Making Navy more of an early season warm-up than a classic matchup would ensure that the Notre Dame/Navy rivalry lasts into college football's new era while fitting into Notre Dame's CFP aspirations. For better or worse, this game isn't going anywhere; why not make it work for the Irish in the best way possible?


ND / NAVY MATCHUPS - 2007-2023

2007

LOSS - 46-44 - Broke 43-year ND win streak -‘64-‘06

2015

WIN - 41-24

2008

WIN - 27-21

2016

LOSS - 28-27

2009

LOSS -23-21

2017

WIN - 24-17

2010

LOSS - 35-17

2018

WIN - 44-22

2011

WIN - 56-14

2019

WIN - 52-20

2012

WIN - 50-10  - Vacated 

2021

WIN - 54-6

2013

WIN - 38-34 - Vacated 

2022

WIN - 35-32

2014

WIN - 49-39 

2023

WIN - 42-3


Those 2 matchups will likely stay in place, positioning a BIG10 team (USC) and an AAC team (Navy) on the schedule for the foreseeable future.


Michigan

Arguably, the most prominent criticism of Notre Dame's schedule in the last decade was the decision to "drop" their BIG10 rivalries with Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue. The loss of Michigan as a rival was one of the motivating factors for writing this article in the first place. Younger and older fans alike have countless memories of Wolverine/Irish matchups, and it's abundantly clear fans on both sides would like to see it back in regular rotation. The first matchup came in 1887, with a Michigan win that began an 8-game winning streak through the first 8 meetings. As of 2024, the Wolverines are currently leading the series 25-17-1.


It was announced that 2014 would be the last matchup between the two for the foreseeable future due to Notre Dame's newly signed ACC deal. Not long after, matchups were surprisingly announced for 2018 & 2019, where each team claimed a win at home. Since then, the only scheduled meetings are for 2033 and 2034, leaving yet another decade plus gap. The disconnect between the fandom's desire for this rivalry to be featured more and the increasing matchup gaps needs to be rectified.


Michigan State

Michigan State actually ranks ahead of Michigan in all-time matchups against the Irish, coming in at #4 all-time, with Michigan following at #8 . The Irish and the Spartans played each other nearly every year from 1948 to 2013 except for 1953, 1958, 1995, and 1996. That's 62 matchups over a 66-season span. The Irish stopped yearly play with the Spartans following the 2013 season to accommodate the newly agreed ACC deal. Ultimately, Notre Dame played Michigan State again in 2016 and 2017, with the next scheduled matchups arriving in 2026 and 2027.


Purdue & Northwestern

These are two of Notre Dame's oldest and most historic rivalries, dating back to 1896 for Purdue and 1889 for Northwestern. The Irish lead the all-time record in both matchups, topping the Wildcats 38-9-2 and the Boilermakers 57-26-2. The historical trajectory for both these teams is somewhat reversed. Northwestern played Notre Dame heavily from 1924 to 1948 and again from 1959 to 1976, whereas Purdue became more of a staple on the Irish schedule from 1946 to 2014. Purdue was nixed alongside Michigan and Michigan State after the 2014 season, and Northwestern has only played the Irish twice since 1996. While neither are particularly strong programs at the moment, their history shouldn't be ignored, and they should be involved in the Notre Dame schedule in some capacity.


Ohio State

While lacking in significant historical value, Ohio State manages to deliver where teams like Purdue and Northwestern do not. The Buckeyes are a powerhouse amidst the modern college football landscape and hold a gravitas that places them right at the top of the BIG10 alongside the reigning champs, Michigan. Ohio State first played the Irish in 1935, yet surprisingly, the two have only played a grand total of 8 times, with Ohio State leading the series handily 6-2. The Irish won the first two matchups in 1935 & 1936 but have lost the last 6 straight, with Notre Dame losing 2 years in a row in 2022 and 2023. Above most other rivals on this list, Ohio State presents one of the best brands and steepest competitors Notre Dame could ask for. Much like Michigan, these blue-chip teams would immediately make Notre Dame's schedule more competitive, and the idea of regularly scheduling this level of competition is something the Irish will have to do going forward if they wish to stay relevant.


Penn State

Penn State is easily the most historically competitive series on this list and the most prolonged absence we've seen thus far. The Irish have only faced off against the Nittany Lions 19 times, with a dead-even record of 9-9-1. The last meeting was in 2007, with nothing on the table for the future. There's just something about this matchup that immediately conjures up thoughts of Lou Holtz and the classic Snow Bowl game. And let's be honest, who doesn't want to see who breaks this tie?


ACC Rivals

Due to the nature of the current deal (already being scheduled out through 2037), we don't have much leeway to pick and choose which teams ND should play, at least not for a while. However, we can pick out the teams in the ACC which should be a focus either after the contract is over or in the event of a contract renegotiation coming to the table.


Clemson / Miami / FSU

These are the ACC's blue-chip programs. Despite any rumbling of conference restructuring, these 3 teams offer a combination of new/old history, name-brand gravitas, and the most consistent funnel of talent in the ACC. Regardless of FSU's future, keeping all 3 involved in the schedule in some capacity is a must.


Pitt / Georgia Tech / Boston College

This group comprises the most historical collection of ACC teams for Notre Dame. Pitt is Notre Dame's 5th most-played opponent of all time, and the two have been playing one another since 1909. Conversely, Notre Dame and Boston College didn't play their first game until 1975, but the rivalry was eventually dubbed "the holy war," and both programs shared legendary coach Frank Leahy. The matchup awards two trophies to its winner: a large crystal bowl dubbed the "Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl" and the "Ireland Trophy," a crystal cutout of Ireland commissioned by the 1994 Notre Dame student government. The Yellowjackets are Notre Dame's 9th most-played opponent, with the first of their 37 meetings coming in 1922. While these 3 teams haven't necessarily been competitive in recent years, their history needs to be respected.





The Wildcard

Stanford

Stanford is hands down the most complex issue on this list. The two programs have played every year since 1988, with the exception of 1995 & 1996, and 2020 due to COVID-19. This makes the Stanford rivalry the newest of Notre Dame's current annual matchups. Notre Dame's rivalry with USC gets attention even if neither team is ranked, but more often than not, USC is ranked decently and always has talent. At one point in time, the same could be said for Stanford, who, from 2009-2018, won at least 8 games a season, with 6 of those seasons seeing at least 10 wins. Over time, this established Stanford as not just a rival to Notre Dame academically, but also as a national powerhouse on the football field. Unfortunately, things have changed as of late. Over the last 5 years, Stanford has won only 17 games, averaging a paltry 3.4 wins/season. This poor performance has placed the Notre Dame-Stanford rivalry in uncertain waters, as its competitive edge has dulled quite a bit.


Outgoing AD Jack Swarbrick fought for Stanford and Cal specifically to be admitted to the ACC, so it seems unlikely the Irish would go out of their way to vouch for Stanford if they had not considered the future of the matchup within the new-look ACC. Odds are the University and incoming AD Pete Bevacqua will go out of their way to ensure this rivalry sticks around. That said, the capacity in which the matchup exists going forward is still being determined. As of right now, Stanford's agreement with the Irish ends after the 2024 season. However, this should be no shock as the Irish typically let the USC, Navy, and Stanford agreements hit their final year before renegotiating. The ACC recently released their new 17-team, 7-year scheduling model, and it appears Stanford has the required 8-game conference slate filled through 2030. Until confirmed otherwise, this more than likely means the Stanford-Notre Dame matchup won't count towards the Irish's 5-6-game/year agreement.


As college football changes, the programs that will succeed are those that change alongside it. The changing ACC landscape could signal more significant changes from the Irish, transforming the look of some of their current rivalries, much like they did when they parted ways with the BIG10 after the 2014 season. Regardless, optics say this is another matchup the Irish don't want to lose. Much like the Navy situation, the Stanford matchup will likely stick around, but in what capacity is unknown.


Financial Viability for The Future

Notre Dame stands at a unique position. College football is reshaping itself in drastic ways as conferences realign and sign massive media deals. In light of all this change, many questioned if Notre Dame would remain independent or be forced into joining a conference to avoid missing out on the windfall of new broadcasting cash. For all its criticism, the ACC deal is pretty lucrative for the Irish. Why not then go after the fattest pig in the pen: The BIG10. Notre Dame's current ACC deal pays them roughly $17 million a year as a "part-time" member, and in conjunction with their newly minted NBC deal, the Irish are bringing in a projected $65-70 million a year. This impressive payout beats the ACC member average of approximately $40 million, yet the BIG10's new deal will see each of their 18 teams make roughly $80 million a year. Many have said Notre Dame would be satisfied with a TV revenue gap of only $10-15 million from the biggest conferences. While that may be, the Irish could work a little magic and potentially close that gap altogether without giving up their independence.


The New Big 10

Much like the ACC, the BIG10 contains several classic Notre Dame rivals. The combination of the current ACC deal of 5 games and the annual Navy, USC, and Stanford lineup apparently made maintaining Notre Dame's BIG10 rivalries untenable. They ended the annual agreements with Michigan State and Purdue and its semi-annual matchup against Michigan. In order to enhance the Notre Dame SOS, bring back classic rivalries, break into the most lucrative TV deal in the nation, and satisfy disgruntled traditionalist fans, the Irish must find a way to bring back the BIG10 relationship in more ways than the odd 2-game contract. Despite all the criticism, the ACC deal has provided Notre Dame with a blueprint for big conference broadcast agreements. If they approach a new deal correctly, they could strike a far more advantageous deal than the ACC one.


The Irish should look to sign a 4-game/year deal with the BIG10. If they can pull it off, they'd likely boost their broadcast revenue to over $80 million annually. To avoid the issues we've seen from the ACC deal, the Irish could propose a more specific agreement that maintains some matchup consistency against the teams actually motivating such a deal in the first place. It could look something like this:


4 Game Agreement

Game 1 - Rotates between Michigan & Michigan State

Game 2 - Rotates between Purdue, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State

Game 3 - Rotates through the remaining 11 teams (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Oregon, UCLA, Washington)

Game 4 - USC (Annually)


Now, at first glance, this may seem too advantageous for the BIG10 to agree to, but the Irish would be playing 2 of the conference's weaker teams in Purdue and Northwestern, alongside a matchup with USC that's frankly going to happen regardless. The 4th game in the agreement would be a concession by the Irish to the BIG10, giving them the flexibility to plug Notre Dame in to fill scheduling holes much like the ACC has and satisfy their future matchups against Indiana and Wisconsin.


Regardless of what format this 4-game agreement takes, rotating between specific groups of teams could prevent an issue the Irish have seen many times before - a long-term contract with an underperforming team. Take, for example, the "Game 3" slot. This is a 4-team mix comprised of two big brands and recently high performers (Ohio State & Penn State) and two classic rivals who have recently underperformed (Purdue & Northwestern). It's the best of both worlds: you satisfy rival play, schedule marquee matchups, and avoid a 5-10-year deal with one team that may weigh down your SOS.


After signing the nation's most lucrative TV deal and bringing in 4 new teams, the conference has announced a 5-year scheduling slate, where each team will play 9 conference opponents each season from 2024 through 2028, with some teams only having 4 conference home games while others have 5.


As for the open non-conference spots on BIG10 schedules, making Notre Dame one of only 3 non-conference opponents would benefit any BIG10 team. Not only would it be a brand boost for any team, but the blue-chip teams can use the Irish as an exclamation point on their SOS, and weaker teams could use it as a ratings boost. Multiple schools will be looking to host a non-conference home game, and the Irish's proximity to most of these teams makes them a wise choice. Further, Notre Dame's preexisting relationship with the 4 new additions from the PAC12 makes such a deal even easier to envision.


The possible addition of the 4 BIG10 games to the annual Navy matchup leaves 7 open slots on the schedule.


The ACC Situation

This is the biggest unknown in the mix. Criticism regarding Notre Dame's decision to become a partial member of the ACC came almost immediately after it was announced, as most projected the BIG10 as the most obvious landing spot for the Irish, should they ever decide to join a conference. The decision to (mostly) drop their BIG10 matchups for the foreseeable future was controversial, yet said a lot more about Notre Dame's changing priorities than it did about their actual desire to play.


Before the Irish signed the agreement in 2013, no BIG10 team had won a National Championship since Ohio State in 2002, and the landscape of college football had shifted heavily from the Midwest towards the southern United States and the SEC. This left Notre Dame in a position where they felt the need to break into the southern market while also upholding as many historic rivalries as possible. The ACC's combination of

Pitt, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, Georgia Tech, and a favorable deal ultimately convinced them to pull the trigger. To some degree, this explains Notre Dame's decision at the time.


At present, the ACC is objectively in turmoil, primarily stemming from their 20-year media deal signed through the 2036 season. The squeaky wheel at the moment is Florida State, who grows increasingly unhappy with the approximately $20-$40 million pay gap between the ACC's payouts and the new BIG10 and SEC contracts. While this pay gap may seem petty, funding is one of the most essential factors when competing for a national championship. The ACC's premier brands are, without a doubt, Clemson, Miami, and Florida State. Unfortunately, Miami has struggled in recent years, going 7-5, 5-7, and 7-6 over the last 3 seasons. While not nearly as dire as Miami's situation, Clemson has steadily slid over the last few years. While objectively successful in the broader sense of the word, the Tigers have failed to meet their lofty expectations. Clemson went to 6 straight CFPs, but after losing in the 2019 Championship, they fell in the 2020 CFP semifinals, ultimately missing the playoff altogether in 2021, 2022, and 2023.


There's a powerful force behind FSU breaking away from the ACC, and many fear this could cause a cascade effect, leading to the rest of the ACC's top talent departing. If FSU does make a break for it, there's speculation that the BIG12 would be a leading contender to land Clemson and Miami. This hypothesizing comes on the heels of a FSU lawsuit against the ACC, accusing them of "mismanaging member media rights" and "draconian exit penalties." Based on the conference agreement FSU signed, the estimated exit fee would be over $500 million. Depending on how this plays out, Notre Dame could conceivably be freed from their 5-6 game agreement through 2037 and either exit the conference wholesale or renegotiate the existing agreement.


To remedy the ACC agreement, the Irish should again propose a 4-game agreement in the same style as the BIG10 deal. The current 5-6 game model dominates the Notre Dame schedule, and more often than not, the Irish get 1 or 2 decent matchups, and the rest are fillers. While playing the 4 best ACC teams each year isn't the goal, this new agreement should address multiple areas of concern.


4 Game Agreement

Game 1 - Stanford (Either annually or on rotation)

Game 2 - Rotates between Pitt, Boston College, & Georgia Tech

Game 3 - Rotates between Clemson & Miami (Or whoever else is still around)

Game 4 - Rotates through the remaining ACC teams


An agreement of this kind would satisfy the Stanford/2nd trip to California and provide a mix of historic rivalry from Pitt, Boston College, and Georgia Tech. From here, things get gray with the top 3 teams (FSU, Clemson, Miami) depending on who leaves and who stays. It may never happen, or it could happen next year, but an ACC exit would open the door for Notre Dame to take advantage of a reeling conference and make an agreement that genuinely works for them.





The (New) Shamrock Series

The Shamrock Series has been an objective success and should, without a doubt, be continued in the future, yet with a slight twist. In keeping with the theme of schedule strengthening, the Irish should use this strategy as big-game preparation for a CFP bid. The neutral sites, often NFL stadiums, are a massive spectacle used as a recruiting tool for athletes and fans alike, introducing all corners of the country to Notre Dame football. Why not pair this special event with a notable opponent? Moving on from the days of Army, Syracuse, and BYU, the Irish should use this game to incorporate SEC teams into the schedule more regularly.


While there are no truly established Notre Dame rivalries in the SEC, there are two teams the Irish have faced in recent years that provide some compelling stakes: Georgia and LSU. The Irish have only played Georgia 3 times: first in the 1980 National Championship and not again until 2017 and 2019, seeing the Dawgs win all 3 matchups. On the other side of things is LSU. The Tigers have played the Irish 12 times in all, with Notre Dame leading the series 7-5. The most enticing part of this matchup centers around Brian Kelly's recent abrupt exit from South Bend and eventual move to LSU. Many fans would love the opportunity to beat Kelly at his new destination, and such a win would be quite the statement for a young coach like Freeman. While there is an inherent risk in replacing a "layup" team with one from arguably the best conference in the country, getting a regular season opportunity to prepare for and play an SEC team on a massive neutral site stage would only benefit the Irish in the long run. This would be CFP prep 101, getting a tough test on their resume before the playoffs even begin.


Future Schedules

Notre Dame has several long-term contracts set up for the future, with some encouraging trends. There's a pretty even number of BIG10 and SEC matchups going into the early 2030s, a notable shift from the recent past. If the Irish can use these scheduled BIG10 matchups to count towards a formalized rotational deal, they could solve both the SOS and missing rivals issues.

FUTURE ACC GAMES THROUGH 2037

FUTURE BIG10 GAMES

FUTURE SEC GAMES

CONTRACT EXPIRATIONS

MIAMI - 7

PURDUE - 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027, 2028

TEXAS A&M - 2024, 2025

STANFORD - ENDS AFTER 2024

FLORIDA STATE - 6

WISCONSIN - 2026

ARKANSAS - 2025, 2028

USC - ENDS AFTER 2026

PITT - 6

MICHIGAN STATE - 2026, 2027

ALABAMA - 2029, 2030

NAVY - ENDS AFTER 2032

CLEMSON - 5

INDIANA - 2030, 2031

FLORIDA - 2031, 2032


VIRGINIA TECH - 5

MICHIGAN - 2033, 2034



GEORGIA TECH - 5

MICHIGAN - 2033, 2034



VIRGINIA - 5




SYRACUSEE - 5




BOSTON COLLEGE - 5




NC STATE - 5




LOUISVILLE - 4




DUKE - 4




WAKE FORREST - 4




NORTH CAROLINA - 4




The New Schedule

The following is an example of the schedule outlined above. Navy secures its annual matchup, along with Stanford in a revised 4-game ACC agreement. USC maintains its annual matchup with the Irish alongside 3 other teams that comprise the BIG10 4-game agreement. These 9 games leave space for a Shamrock Series game, a Group-of-5 layup, and a flexible open slot for any at-large team or scheduling conflict.


  • Game 1 - Easy Team #1 - Navy - AAC

  • Game 2 - Easy Team #2 - Group-of-5

  • Game 3 - BIG10 #1 - Michigan/Michigan State

  • Game 4 - BIG10 #2 - Purdue/Northwestern/Ohio State/Penn State

  • Game 5 - ACC #1 - Stanford

  • Game 6 - ACC #2 - Pitt/BC/GT

  • Game 7 - ACC #3 - Clemson/Miami

  • Game 8 - BIG10 #3 - Misc. Remaining BIG10 Team

  • Game 9 - ACC #4 - Misc. Remaining ACC Team

  • Game 10 - Shamrock Series/SEC Team

  • Game 11 - Misc. Power-5 Team

  • Game 12 - BIG10 #4 - USC


The easiest way to silence the "just join a conference" haters is to simply play such a strong schedule that there's nothing left to critique and secure enough media money that they rival top programs within conferences. While not all of these suggestions are realistic at the moment, Notre Dame's future scheduling strategy must evolve, or they risk being left behind. 


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