Prior to Thursday, Notre Dame had an open date on its 2018 schedule. With announcement of the 2017-2019 schedules from the University, however, that open date is no longer open. Notre Dame added Vanderbilt to the schedule on September 15 for what could be the Commodores first trip to Notre Dame Stadium since 1995.
The one caveat here is that Notre Dame announced with the release of these schedules that a home game in both 2018 and 2019 could be moved to a neutral site in what would be a return of the Shamrock Series.
A quick look at the 2018 home games and the Vanderbilt game jumps out as a really strong candidate for a Shamrock Series. It’s doubtful Notre Dame “wastes” a home game against a marque opponent like Florida State, Michigan, or Stanford. That leaves Vandy, Pitt, Ball State, and Syracuse. Notre Dame vs. Vanderbilt at Nissan Stadium – the home of the Tennessee Titans looks good to me.
Notre Dame and Vanderbilt haven’t played each other since Notre Dame opened the 1996 season on the road in Nashville in a rare Thursday night contest for the Irish. Notre Dame struggled mightily with the Commodores that night and nearly started their season with a loss. Trailing 7-6 in the fourth quarter, Ron Powlus rallied the Irish for a 14-7 victory with a game winning touchdown with just under five minutes remaining.
In that game Notre Dame fumbled the ball seven times while losing five of them as they nearly were upset to start the season for the second year in a row. Notre Dame was upset by Northwestern in the 1995 season opener.
Vanderbilt’s potential trip to Notre Dame next season would be their first since 1995 when they lost to the Irish 41-0.
When Notre Dame and Vandy square off, it will be interesting to see if Derek Mason is still in charge of the program. Mason took over for James Franklin when he left for Penn State and while he’s improved his win total in each of his three seasons, he still has yet to produce a winning season. Mason led Vandy to a 6-7 record in 2016 but their season came to an end with an Independence Bowl loss to NC State.
Should Mason improve on his record again this year and return for 2018, it would not be his first trip to Notre Dame Stadium. Prior to taking over the Vanderbilt program, Mason served as an assistant and then defensive coordinator for Stanford from 2010-2013. Mason made two trips to Notre Dame in that time including the epic 2012 showdown that ended with Notre Dame’s thrilling goal line stand.
With Vanderbilt on the 2018 slate, Notre Dame will play at least one SEC opponent in each of the next three years. Notre Dame faces off against Georgia in prime-time on September 9th this year and will travel to Athens for the first time ever in 2019 as part of a home and home with the Bulldogs. Notre Dame could of course play more SEC opponents either in a potential bowl game or in the playoffs.
Start times for the 2018 home games were not announced as part of the schedule announcements Thursday and almost certainly won’t be until next year.
The last SEC team Notre Dame played in the regular season was Tennessee in 2005.