Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Yesterday a Big Day for Notre Dame Football?

March 3, 2017
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Irish fans received a big bit of positive news yesterday, whether they knew it or not.  Notre Dame officially released the full 2018 and 2019 football schedule, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.  

Many of you have been members of IrishSportsDaily.com for years, and listening to our podcast, “Power Hour,” for just as long or longer.  

There is one consistent thing I’ve been ranting over for the past 15 years or so, and that has been Notre Dame’s schedule.  I’ve long believed the way Notre Dame scheduled their games has really made it very difficult for any head coach to be successful.  True, a great coach can manage a difficult schedule, but an undermanned, talent-thin coach has a challenging job building a program when he is consistently under the threat of starting the season 2-2 in September (or worse as we’ve seen happen) with very little to play for without a conference championship or guaranteed bowl slot ahead to shoot for.

I believe the way ND has scheduled their games has had just as negative an impact on the program as any coach they’ve hired, lack of talent they’ve had, or whatever bad voodoo luck they’ve endured these past 30+ years.  

Great programs are built both with great leadership from the coaching staff, and an athletic department paving the way for success.  For a long time, I’ve felt that ND’s athletic department has unnecessarily put some perplexing roadblocks into the path to success for Irish coaches.  Why make the road to success thorny when you are currently not a successful program?

My biggest complaint with ND’s schedule has been front-loading it with tough, often times, back-to-back rival games when your team is just trying to find themselves.  New teams need to work through the growing pains.  New starters need to learn to play at the speed of the game, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.  You can do that playing Temple and still expect to win.  You will have a more trying time doing that and winning against a team like Michigan.  

Notre Dame’s tradition of playing teams like Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, as well as games with Navy and USC, and their recent commitment to playing Stanford, really put the Irish in a problematic situation, schedule-wise.  The “Big 10” insisted that “non-conference games” be played at the start of the season, or so the excuse was made, and that put ND in jail with how they had to schedule these games in order to fit them all in.
Rick Kimball/ISD


The best decision ND has made in a long time, in my opinion, was the decision to partner with the ACC for five games per year, thus breaking the Big 10 grip on ND’s schedule.  Now, if ND is going to play a Big 10 team, they’re going to play them on their terms, or when they can fit them in, not the other way around.  

I’ve got to give Jack Swarbrick a lot of credit for making that move, as ND did have to eat some crow with the “chicken” game, justified or not, but in the end, Notre Dame came out way ahead, in my opinion, and I think we will see the benefits of that starting very soon.  

I was not a big fan of scheduling Michigan again so soon because I didn’t feel Notre Dame had the momentum in their program that Michigan currently had with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh and their recent success.  I still don’t like the decision, but the official release of the schedule yesterday makes me less concerned about it.  

Why?  

Because ND protected themselves in 2018.  One, they made Michigan play them first game out of the gate.  Neither team will have an unfair advantage.  Michigan won’t have a “walk through” game before playing ND the second game of the year, which often happened, and Notre Dame won’t have to play a team like Texas the week before playing a team like Michigan.  Nor will they have to play Michigan State the following week, as they often did under the old system.

Instead, ND has three winnable games in Ball State, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest to follow.   Even if ND happens to lose to Michigan, it’s the first game of the year, with three winnable games after, and any competent coach can guide ND to a 3-1 start with what should be plenty of positive momentum before they host Stanford in game five.   Smart!

My other problem was Notre Dame’s decision to try to sneak in that other “tough” game every year.  I realize the fans want it.  I want to watch the best teams play each other as well, but I also know I enjoy 10-11-12 win seasons a lot more than I enjoy 4-8 and 30 years of mediocrity.  

With Michigan, MSU, Purdue, Navy, Stanford and USC on the schedule, ND would always try to fit in that “Florida State” into the mix, while also playing the pain-in-the-ass Boston College to boot.  That is 7 freaking rivalry games and then throwing in Florida State for good measure.  No wonder there has been 30 years of futility at Notre Dame.

I know….I know.  “A good coach could manage that schedule.”  Yes, that’s probably true, and we’ve seen good coaches do it, but they can’t do it every year.  

We’ve seen the mountain of expectations wear down a guy like Lou Holtz.  I think the ridiculous schedule he had to play, combined with the sky-high expectations he created because of his success meant a quick flameout for him, and other great coaches like Ara before him.  

Again, if/when Notre Dame finally does have a great coach, and maybe that guy is Brian Kelly, why make his job harder?  Why wear down a guy by making his path to success harder?  

Will you be a happier fan with that mid-season win over Syracuse and a 11-win regular season, or will you be happier the Irish played Florida State, lost, and finished with just 8 wins?  Which outcome would help the program more?  

If Notre Dame returns to that consistent 11-game winner, sure, throw that Florida State game in there every other year.  They will have the strength in the program to overcome a potential loss.  The ND program does not have the strength to overcome it, currently, and you’re just spinning your wheels with 8 wins in the regular season.  

In 2019, Notre Dame protected themselves again.  They told Michigan: “if you want to play us, it’s going to be midseason.”  Check!  They also put a bye in front of it.  Double check!  

They start with an up-and-coming Louisville, which is a tough game, but throw a bye in after, and then play New Mexico at home before traveling to Georgia.  Notre Dame should always beat Louisville, and they should have enough experience to challenge a Georgia team at home.  Again, this should be another 3-1 start at worst with a capable coach.  

We know that the Irish are always going to play 5 ACC games.  We also know they’re continuously going to play USC and Stanford, and one of those games is going to be on the road.  We also know that Notre Dame will play Navy, another difficult game, as well.  At least two of those 5 ACC teams will  be challenging match-ups, most likely, and the power and strength of USC and Stanford should give ND enough “strength of schedule” points to keep them in the playoff hunt.  

ND usually schedules one tough game besides those mentioned, which I’m fine with.  But it’s that second difficult game, and playing so many formidable and rival games at the front of the schedule which has made it problematic for Notre Dame to gain the kind of momentum and success they’re seeking.

Hopefully that is now over with this new way of thinking in the ND athletic department…..hopefully.  

There has been much debate lately over the effectiveness and leadership of Irish Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, as to if he’s doing a good job.  One thing I’m willing to give him a lot of credit for is just this—fixing the schedule.  

I know not many care about Notre Dame playing Bowling Green, and neither do I, as long as they win.  I do know 4-8 and 30+ years of idleness brings much more apathy than playing Bowling Green ever would.  

Why make this more difficult than it needs to be?  Build the program.  Schedule some wins.  Help your coaches pave a way for success.  Build some momentum.  Get some excitement back into the program.  And when that finally happens, then challenge yourself when you’re in a position to do so.

Notre Dame football is not currently in a position to do that, and they’ve paid a dear price because of it.

Finally, hopefully, I think they “get it.”  

Watching Notre Dame sleepwalk through a 20-point win over Bowling Green won’t be exciting to watch, I’m certain, but I do know it will be a lot less painless than suffering another 4-8 season, with another 8-5 soon to follow.  

Thanks, Jack Swarbrick, for seeing the forest through the trees on this one.  


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