Notre Dame Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick has been on a roll for some time now and last week’s announcement of a home and home series with the University of Georgia is just another in a long line of wins for one a guy who has become affectionately known as Savvy Jack to Notre Dame fans.
Brian Kelly had been mentioning throughout the off-season that he really wanted Notre Dame to schedule a SEC opponent in the near future. The Irish haven’t squared off against a SEC foe since a 2005 victory over Tennessee in Charlie Weis’s first season at the helm of the Fighting Irish. Even before the Irish swept that home and home with the Vols in 2004 and 2005 though, Notre Dame has rarely seen SEC opponents in the regular season.
Aside from the 04-05 Tennessee series, Notre Dame has only played six other games against SEC opponents in the regular season in the last 20 years – Tennessee (2001 and 1999), LSU (1997 and 1998), and Vanderbilt (1995 and 1996). The Irish did also play Texas A&M during the 2000 and 2001 seasons, but the Aggies were not part of the SEC at that time.
Eight games against the SEC in 20 years in the regular season isn’t enough exposure in the talent rich South where Notre Dame has struggled at times to lure top talent away from the SEC elite and hasn’t been enough experience against the powerful SEC to prepare the Irish for bowl game showdowns either. While Notre Dame is 6-2 in those 8 regular season games against the SEC in the last 20 years, they are 0-3 in bowl games against them including two embarrassing BCS blowout losses.
In short, getting an SEC opponent on the schedule has been long over due for the Irish and here is how Notre Dame benefits from getting Georgia on the future schedules.
The first thing that comes to mind with a home and home series with Georgia are the recruiting benefits of playing a marquee game deep in the heart of SEC territory. Georgia is one state in SEC territory where Notre Dame has actually had some success in recent years with the likes of TJ Jones, Stephon Tuitt, and Isaac Rochell all hailing from the Peach State. In general though, Notre Dame has struggled to lure elite talent out of the South with consistency.
Before you discount the recruiting impact a few games in the South could have for the Irish, remember that Notre Dame will have additional exposure in the South with the five ACC games a season part of Notre Dame’s future schedules and also consider Notre Dame’s recent success in Texas.
Notre Dame has made an effort to gain more exposure in the Lone Star State with Shamrock Series games in both San Antonio and Dallas in the last few seasons on top of a trip to El Paso for the Sun Bowl in 2010. Not so coincidentally, Notre Dame has had a recent resurgence recruiting in Texas attracting talents like Corey Robinson, Torii Hunter, Nick Watkins, Kolin Hill, Durham Smythe, and Grant Blankenship all in just the last two years. Class of 2015 commitments Jalen Guyton and Prentice McKinney are scheduled to add to the Texas talent pool on the Irish roster as well.
If Notre Dame can parlay the increased exposure in the South they will get from the games against Georgia and the ACC games, Brian Kelly and staff should have an easier time luring elite talent to South Bend.
With the move to new playoff format this season and the need to impress a selection committee with strong schedules and impressive wins, adding a marquee game against a team like Georgia could potentially give Notre Dame a stronger playoff resume come the end of the season. Notre Dame typically does not have to worry about impressing outsiders with their strength of schedule since historically they have a strong schedule, but continuing to add opponents like Georgia will only make that even less of a concern moving forward.
With all of the conference realignments and many major conferences expanding their conference schedules, there had some some concerns that independents like Notre Dame would have trouble scheduling marquee games. It appears as though those concerns have been overblown – at least for now.
A schedule shouldn’t just be put together to impress a playoff selection committee – it should give fans a reason to watch and a reason to travel. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun watching a team beat up on North West Southern Eastern Middle State in an out of conference game, but who wants to fork out the bucks for travel, accommodations, tickets, etc for a game like that?
Now, who wants to make a road trip to Athens, Georgia – one of the best venues for a college football weekend – to see potentially two 10 ten teams play in a nationally televised game that will be one of the most hyped regular season game of the year? In that scenario the only problem might be that the cost of tickets could be prohibitive of making the trip.
Notre Dame fans already looking into travel arraignments for Athens though should get ready for a different environment than Notre Dame Stadium though. The picture to the right should give Irish fans just a small taste of the different game environments in SEC territory. You won’t find too many face-painted, shoulder pad wearing fans in South Bend, but will likely encounter many along with a raucous environment and some more than lively fans at Sanford Stadium. I for one, can’t wait.
Overall, there is not much to dislike about the Georgia series that was announced last week other than it may involve some maneuvering of future schedules with regards to games in the four game Texas series that starts next season according to some reports. Notre Dame has reportedly already let Texas know that they would like to move scheduled games in 2019 and 2020, but Swarbrick has shown the ability to play some schedule Tetris in the past and should be more than up for the task.