Constructing the Perfect Notre Dame Schedule

While browsing around the internet a few weeks ago, I came across the beginning of a series of columns from one of the larger Notre Dame blogs on the web, “One Foot Down.” This series of columns by their staff and readers that would construct the perfect Notre Dame Football schedule. Here are their rules:

1) We are submitting a schedule for one season only. Although this removes some realism to the practice of constructing a full slate we are giving you God-like powers to schedule whomever suits your fancy. However, some elaboration on how you'd schedule for multiple years and decades is encouraged.

2) For the home-away-neutral site template you must pick one of the following: 7-5-0, 7-4-1, 6-6-0, or 6-5-1.

3) You have the use of one 'bye' week.

Notre Dame’s original 2015 schedule is here, and I’ll make my changes and explain them as we go.

2015

In actuality, I’d make very few changes in the 2015 schedule. On balance, I think it’s fair, but difficult enough. In 2015, Notre Dame’s agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference remains intact.

9/5 – Navy

Texas is originally scheduled here, and they're a worthy opponent who should stay on the schedule.  But I’m of the popular opinion that Notre Dame and Navy should open the season every year. Notre Dame has the advantage because it rids itself of the triple-option game early. This allows the national media to highlight the Midshipmen.

9/12 – at Virginia

We all have our thoughts about Virginia, but good or bad they’re a mid-level team in a Power 5 conference. Therefore, Mike London and the Cavaliers have the pleasure of hosting the Irish in early September. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them.

9/19 – Georgia Tech

The entire reason behind moving Navy to the top of the schedule is to avoid the triple-option later in the year, but there’s no need to upend the schedule and move the second triple-option game somewhere else. Playing the Yellow Jackets shortly after Navy lets the Irish capitalize on familiarity with a somewhat easy game against Virginia in-between.

9/26 – BYU

Originally, Notre Dame is scheduled to play to UMass, and BYU is scheduled to travel to Michigan. For the sake of taking care of our Independent brothers and sisters, I’ll invite BYU to South Bend for an early September matchup that should be decent.

10/3 – at Clemson

No brainer. Dabo wants to talk trash about how Notre Dame should be in a conference, and then he’s forced to beat the Irish. He probably forgot Notre Dame is traveling to Memorial Stadium, so theoretically he should be favored in this game. I know you’re wondering – Clemson starts their season at home against Wofford (9/5) and Appalachian State (9/17) before traveling to Louisville. The Tigers then take their bye week on 9/26 before facing Notre Dame.

10/10 – USC

Originally, this is scheduled for 10/17, but Texas plays Oklahoma here and God knows you can’t move the Red River Shootout. USC is scheduled to play Washington this week, but has a bye week on 10/3, which makes this move neat for all involved. The game with USC is protected – which means they will play Notre Dame every year, but when not playing in Southern California this game can be played at Notre Dame’s convenience.

10/17 – Texas

No rest for the weary. By moving Navy to the top of the schedule and keeping Texas we have to put the Longhorns somewhere. While this creates a very tough four game stretch for Notre Dame, many of these are at home and give instant credibility in the eyes of the playoff committee.

10/24 – Bye week

They’ll need it, but it doesn’t get any easier after this week off.

10/31 – Ohio State (Shamrock Series in Indianapolis)

Ohio State is open this week and Temple is kind of a waste for Notre Dame. At this point in the season we’ll have learned everything we need to know about how good or bad both teams are. This game is an instant sell-out, and playing it in Indianapolis only makes sense. The payout to both teams would be huge and, as listed, is currently the best game on 10/31. It’s also Halloween.

11/7 – at Pittsburgh

I always forget Pitt is now in the ACC. Because of that they get to stay on the 2015 slate. Pitt and Notre Dame played each other for many years, so traditionally this should be a good game. Pitt plays their home games at Heinz Field (home of the Pittsburgh Steelers) where packing the fans in shouldn’t be difficult.

11/14 – Wake Forest

This is part of the ACC schedule and as such, Notre Dame is required to play it. Like Virginia, the Demon Deacons should enjoy their singular trip to South Bend.

11/21 – Boston College

This game is actually not part of the ACC schedule. Notre Dame is scheduled to play Boston College as part of the Shamrock Series, but now the Irish will play Ohio State in that game. In my schedule, the Eagles will travel to South Bend for Notre Dame’s final home game of the 2015 campaign. Of course, we Catholics always stick together.

11/28 – at Stanford

The Irish play one game on the west coast per year, and because USC travels to South Bend this year, Notre Dame will travel to Stanford. I understand some people like to play teams of a similar academic mindset, but there’s no reason this game needs to be a staple every year. Beginning in 2016, the Irish will play a second Pac-12 team that isn’t Stanford every year.

Looking at me 2015 schedule, you can see the schedule is significantly harder than it was before. The stretch that includes BYU, Clemson, USC and Texas before facing Ohio State in Indianapolis is daunting to say the least. As constructed, the 2015 Notre Dame Fighting Irish probably couldn’t win every one of those games, and there are no gimmes in there either. The schedule will be a bit easier in 2016 without the ACC, but it will be better because we’ll be able to play one team from each conference.

2016

Notre Dame’s original 2016 schedule is listed here, and remember we’ve eliminated the ACC agreement in 2016, so we should have a chance to play at least one school in every conference. The other rules are the same, so we’ll have one neutral site game (Shamrock Series) which we hope is against the biggest of our rivals.

9/3 – at Navy (FedEx Field)

Originally scheduled as Texas, but as I mentioned above, the goal is to get Navy and the triple option out of the way. Opening on Labor Day weekend in D.C. is nice. Ideally, when it’s Navy’s turn to host, this game moves around the country to showcase both teams and be used as a recruitment tool. In years where the Irish don’t play USC in California, this game can play in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, etc. I’m not opposed to Notre Dame making two west coast trips per year.

9/10 – Nevada

Sure. No need to get crazy after playing Navy on the road. An upgrade here wouldn’t be terrible; Nevada isn’t that bad of a team.

9/17 – Michigan State

Playing mid-level powers from the Midwest does little for Notre Dame, but this matchup with a good program does nothing but help the Irish in the eyes of the playoff committee. This game should rotate between the Spartans, Michigan, Purdue and maybe Ohio State, with the Spartans and Wolverines getting the most repetitions.

9/24 – Duke

Duke is also originally scheduled as a part of the ACC agreement, but they're easy enough to handle after Michigan State and should cause no harm. This game being in South Bend is good for the Irish, Duke and the ACC. The ACC is happy to have as many games as possible showcased on broadcast television (NBC).

10/1 – Arkansas (Shamrock Series in Arlington)

The Irish are scheduled to make two trips to Texas in 2016, so let’s make the first one worthwhile. Texas on September 3 is on the original schedule (above), and the second is against Army on 11/12 (changed; below), but we’re going to spice this up with the SEC and Bret Bielema. Jerry Jones would do almost anything to have his Razorbacks (1965 graduate) play Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium, and the payout would be good enough for Notre Dame to skip out on Syracuse in New Jersey.

10/8 – at Penn State

This game is originally scheduled to be at N.C. State and I had thoughts of having the Irish travel to Brigham Young, but I’d rather see them play a top-tier Power 5 team like Penn State. Playing in Happy Valley almost guarantees this will be a nationally televised game. If Penn State and Notre Dame are both playing well at this point in the season it’s only icing on the cake.

10/15 – Washington

Originally scheduled to be Stanford in South Bend, this matchup provides a bit more variety. In 2016, the hope is that Washington will be ready to compete against the big dogs, and the two schools have decent history together (ND 8-0).

10/22 – Bye week

10/29 – Miami (FL)

This is another holdover from the ACC schedule and a re-match of the ‘Catholics vs. Convicts’ rivalry from the 1980s.

11/5 – at Texas

Visiting the great state of Texas twice within six weeks might be a bit much for many people, but playing Texas at Darrel K. Royal is worth it. This is the end of their home and home series, but in future versions of this sequence I’d rotate through Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as home and homes and never make this a neutral site game.

11/12 – at Tennessee

This is originally scheduled to be Army in Texas for the Shamrock Series, but playing an SEC team on the road seems much more appealing. This would be the second game in 2016 versus the Southeastern Conference and there aren’t many places more appealing than Neyland Stadium is in November.

11/19 – Virginia Tech

If we’re all lucky, Frank Beamer won’t be coaching at Virginia Tech in 2016. Even if he is, having Virginia Tech as another ACC holdover isn’t such a bad thing. Notre Dame will host all three of its ACC opponents in 2016.

11/26 – at USC

Fight On. The Irish make their one and only trip west of 2016 and their third of four out-of-time zone trips in as many weeks. This game is one of the best in college sports and as Mike Wilson says, “is appointment television,” so there’s no way we’d replace it with another Pac-12 team or move it anywhere else on the schedule.

There you have it, Notre Dame’s re-worked 2015 and 2016 schedules. 2016 was a lot easier to change once I was able to eliminate three teams from the ACC. Playing two teams each from the Power 5 should hopefully quiet down people like Dabo Swinney and Gary Pinkel who insist Notre Dame needs to play 13 games or join a conference to be eligible for the playoff.

Because of the agreement with the ACC, the 2015 schedule looks, and should be, significantly easier than the 2016 schedule. If Notre Dame were to roll through 2015 with one loss, the chances of them repeating the same feat in 2016 drops substantially. In 2016, Notre Dame probably travels outside of their time zone more than any other FBS team.

Notre Dame should be able to kick up its recruiting a bit in 2016 as it travels to Texas twice, the east coast twice and California once. It would be difficult for anyone to argue against Notre Dame being the most exposed and vulnerable team, as well as possibly having one of the toughest FBS schedules in the country.

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