In a College Football World where most blue-blood programs schedule several cupcake opponents to start the season, often including an FCS opponent, Notre Dame Football has yet to give in. Each season the Irish Football Schedule is critiqued. Many of the experts who disrespect Notre Dame’s Schedule attended schools who play FCS opponents annually. At this moment there are only two schools in the country that have yet to schedule an FCS team, Notre Dame and UCLA.
Notre Dame and UCLA remain
Until a few months back, three programs had never scheduled an FCS opponent. These universities included Notre Dame, USC, and UCLA. Recently, the Trojans announced they would be playing UC Davis in the 2021 season, ending their tradition of never playing an FCS opponent.
Subsequently, there are only two Division 1 football programs that have never faced an FCS opponent, Notre Dame, and UCLA. The Fighting Irish have always prided themselves on having one of the hardest schedules in the country. Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly have made a statement by not adding an FCS opponent to the schedule. It is more of a legacy for the Notre Dame Football program. For now, UCLA is sticking right with the Irish and currently do not have an FCS opponent on any upcoming schedules.
Yes, the Irish do schedule programs that have typically not had a great football heritage such as Temple, Bowling Green, Ball State, etc. But fans can’t expect the Irish to play blue-blood programs every week. As every opponent seems to give the Irish their best shot, tactical scheduling helps place such teams throughout the Irish schedule.
This is not an exact science, and most opponents are scheduled several years in advance. Each fall, many traditional power programs have less than stellar seasons. Conversely, some programs with less tradition have breakthrough years. For instance, the Irish faced the #21 Temple Owls in 2015, and it was one of their biggest matchups of the entire fall. Just last season, the Irish faced a typically average Syracuse team at Yankee Stadium that was ranked #12. Conversely, the usually dominate Florida State Seminoles were a lousy football team when they visited South Bend in 2018.
Since Notre Dame is not in a conference, the Irish must make every game meaningful. There must be a right mix of blue-blood programs, road matchups, and top-25 teams. By scheduling an FCS opponent, that would only take up a vital spot where the Irish could be getting another quality victory.
Power Five Programs
It is very typical for Power Five programs to schedule teams that have been bad historically until they get to their conference schedule. Only a select few programs will schedule top-tier programs to face off early in the season. For example, last season Clemson traveled to Texas A & M, and this season the Aggies will travel to Death Valley. On the other hand, the Alabama Crimson Tide have not played a non-conference road game since Penn State in 2011.
Most analysts bash the Irish for not playing in a conference championship game. But some of the programs that win conference titles played FCS opponents earlier that season. So realistically, did they even play 13 games that should count? Even though the Irish don’t play a ranked team every week, at least Notre Dame has a consistent schedule the entire football season.
Fans want to see Quality Matchups
When it comes down to it, college football fans want to see good matchups. Notre Dame has always had a tough schedule, even if it means they sacrifice an undefeated season. The college football season goes by fast enough with only a 12-game regular season. Fans want to see the Irish play quality competition each week.
In 2019, Notre Dame will visit #3 Georgia, #7 Michigan, and #23 Stanford. However, the Irish could play all 12 games against ranked competition, and the haters would still critique Notre Dame’s schedule. Remember last season when Notre Dame beat Michigan head-to-head and the Northwestern Wildcats by more points than Michigan? But late in the season, the experts were telling us how much better the Wolverines were than the Irish? We all know how that narrative unfolded.
Notre Dame fans like seeing traditional opponents and matchups against blue-blood teams, not FCS opponents visiting South Bend.
Will the Irish ever face-off against an FCS team?
Jack Swarbrick and the athletic department have yet to schedule an FCS opponent. If Notre Dame has a football program, they should only play Division 1 FBS opponents. This is a tradition that puts Notre Dame ahead of other blue-blood programs. While many teams are scheduling FCS opponents and counting fictitious “co-national championships,” the Irish can be the standard for college football.
There is undoubtedly a benefit to keeping teams healthy and getting a break in the schedule but look how that turned out for Michigan against Appalachian State. Fans only get to watch 12 games a season, “13” if the Irish make a bowl game. The Irish shouldn’t trade one of their vital games for an FCS matchup. If Notre Dame Football wants to continue a legacy of greatness, they should stay away from FCS opponents.