by Mike Coffey
I remember the day I set foot on campus in August of 1987 to begin my freshman year, I received a refrigerator magnet that had the football schedules on it through 1993. Life in the days when ND wasn’t almost the only independent in Division 1 and crazy television contracts didn’t rule the day certainly allowed the Fighting Irish to plan ahead.
Yesterday, that pendulum swung almost fully back the other way, as just over 253 days before it kicks off, the 2014 Notre Dame football schedule was made official, as were the 2015 and 2016 slates. Along with those announcements, Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick discussed the philosophies that will guide his efforts in putting together the 2017 schedule and beyond.
I’m long on record as a 4-4-4 devotee (see here and here, among other places) when it comes to ND football scheduling, and with the advent of the four-team-playoff-determined-by-committee, adequate strength of schedule is going to become even more of a factor. So as I perused Jack’s offerings, I decided to see how well they stuck to that template.
Before I start, I’ll be happy to cop to a couple things:
1) Scheduling as an independent these days isn’t easy. Conferences are starting to pass rules prohibiting playing mid- or late-season games outside the conference. I’m not going to claim Jack’s job is easy in this endeavor, but I’m also not going to downgrade the financial and promotional value of a game against ND for potential opponents either.
2) The ACC deal combined with current contracts made these three schedules tougher than normal. It’s hard to make room for the new opponents when some of the contracts for the current opponents don’t allow for flexibility. I don’t know who the authors of those contracts were, so I’ll give Jack the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Let the sport commence:
August 30 — Rice
September 6 — Michigan
September 13 — Purdue (Shamrock Series – LucasOil Stadium)
September 20 — Off
September 27 — vs. Syracuse (Meadowlands)
October 4 — Stanford
October 11 — North Carolina
October 18 – at Florida State
October 25 — Off
November 1 — vs. Navy (Landover, MD)
November 8 — at Arizona State
November 15 — Northwestern
November 22 — Louisville
November 29 — at Southern Cal
Tier 1: Michigan, Florida State, Southern Cal
Tier 2: Stanford**, North Carolina, Arizona State, Northwestern**, Louisville
Tier 3: Purdue, Syracuse, Navy
Tier 4: Rice
Game order — 4-1-3-x-3-2-2-1-x-3-2-2-1
This schedule is perfect — exactly the kind of schedule I want Notre Dame to play. Three marquee opponents, spread throughout the year, and good progressions of difficulty leading up to those games. ND is fortunate Stanford and Northwestern are playing above their usual tier level right now, but even if those teams fall back, there are others who potentially can take their spot. I can handle a tier-4 as a body-bag game to open the season. Even the bye weeks are strategically placed.
But it’s also not the buzzsaw some of the more delicate among us are making it out to be. There are only three true road games — the LucasOil and Meadowlands games are against awful teams and should feature strongly pro-Irish crowds. Stanford may not be the same team we’ve seen the past couple seasons with the number of players who have exhausted their eligibility. If ND can get the job done in Tallahassee, a spot in the playoff bracket is a very reasonable expectation.
I could see myself at nine of these games. ASU already is circled on the calendar, FSU is doable with enough frequent flyer miles, and I’ll be applying for every game on the home slate for the first time in a while. Maybe I can talk the family into Thanksgiving in LA. An outstanding job by Jack.
September 5 — Texas
September 12 — at Virginia
September 19 — Georgia Tech
September 26 — Massachusetts
October 3 — at Clemson
October 10 — Navy
October 17 — Southern Cal
October 24 — Off
October 31 — at Temple (Philadelphia)
November 7 — at Pittsburgh
November 14 — Wake Forest
November 21 — Boston College (Shamrock Series – Fenway Park)
November 28 — at Stanford
Tier 1: Texas, Southern Cal
Tier 2: Virginia**, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Pittsburgh**, BC**, Stanford**
Tier 3: Navy, Wake Forest
Tier 4: UMass, Temple
Game order — 1-2-2-4-2-3-1-x-4-2-3-2-2
Decent, but not nearly as good as 2014. The addition of Texas is more than offset by the presence of two Tier 4s, especially when Wake is thisclose to joining them there. I’d almost rather have a bye than play UMass. While Clemson might sneak up to Tier 1, you could easily drop Virginia, Pitt and BC into Tier 3 if they continue to play poorly. And whoever had the idea to play a game at 37.5k-seat Fenway Park needs to be checked for a severe brain injury, especially when the location makes it a de facto road game.
If I go to Temple or Pitt, it’s because I have family there. Texas is not to be missed, and I may see what Clemson has to offer. I’ve heard good things about Virginia. But there’s no way in hell I’m going to watch Wake Forest in South Bend in November. If they could have swapped that one with GaTech….
GRADE: B- (would be higher without UMass).
September 3 — at Texas
September 10 — Nevada
September 17 — Michigan State
September 24 — Duke
October 1 — vs. Syracuse (Meadowlands)
October 8 — at North Carolina State
October 15 — Stanford
October 22 — off
October 29 — Miami
November 5 — at Navy (site TBD)
November 12 — Army (Shamrock Series — San Antonio)
November 19 — Virginia Tech
November 26 — at Southern Cal
Tier 1: Texas, Miami, Southern Cal
Tier 2: Michigan State, NC State, Stanford**, VaTech
Tier 3: Duke, Syracuse, Navy, Army
Tier 4: Nevada
Game order — 1-4-2-3-3-2-2-x-1-3-3-2-1
Bleh. A schedule that has Texas and Miami on it is dragged into the muck with almost half the games featuring four Tier 3′s and Nevada. This is how the Ohio States of the world do things, not us. There is absolutely no reason Army or Nevada have to be on this schedule, and putting the Shamrock game back in Texas when we’re already playing in Austin seems foolish. And if Stanford reverts to form or Frank Beamer retires, we’re boned. If ND doesn’t make the playoff bracket with this tray full of cupcakes, the entire coaching staff should be ridden out of town on a rail. Yes, they should get actual rails and do that.
I’ll be in Austin and in South Bend on the 29th. But outside of that, this slate has NBC Contract written all over it.
As I said at the top, I’m sure Jack had his hands tied with some of this, and I’ll be interested to see what happens in 2017 and beyond. Those slates will be governed by the stated Scheduling Philosophy, though, and I’ll address that tomorrow.