Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rockne's Ramblers | by Pat

At last weekend's Rockne Dinner in Chicago, between Charlie saying the only reason he'd leave ND is if he were fired, he died, or he retired, and Aaron Taylor's claim that he's leaving ABC Sports to become an elementary school teacher, the big news was Kevin White's announcement of some of the locations for future "neutral site" Notre Dame games.

There were discussions about adding a neutral site game back in September, but with definite locations being mentioned now, it seems the talks have moved from speculation to fact. Proposing that ND will move to a 7-4-1 type of schedule that consists of 7 home games, 4 away games, and 1 neutral site, Dr. White announced that the Irish will play in the following neutral site games:

2009 - Jacksonville
2010 - Orlando
2011 - New Orleans
2012 - Dallas
I think it's a great idea. Notre Dame will get a chance to play in front of fans and alumni in cities they don't normally visit, and I can't help but notice the games are in the talent rich states of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

On the other hand, I hope that the games are quality matchups, and not just matchups against a proverbial sacrificial lamb; the actual opponents weren't announced.

White said that this scheduling philosophy hearkens back to Rockne's barnstorming days, when the Irish would play neutral site games all over the country. While a reference to Rockne is the quickest way to the heart of any diehard ND fan, I hope Dr. White realizes that Rockne didn't line up many patsies on these trips. Unfortunately, not many top programs are going to want to give up a home field advantage, so the quality opponents might be few and far between. And with lackluster programs like San Diego State (2008) and Nevada (2009) still officially on the docket, I truly hope the future schedules aren't watered down any further.

With the '08 Navy game being played in Baltimore and the '12 Navy game being played in Ireland, I'm guessing that the 2010 Orlando game might be against the Midshipmen. As for the games in 2009, 2010, and 2011, you can get a look at what the future schedules are supposed to look like here, but obviously the teams and dates will still be shifting around to some degree.

Let me take a stab in the dark: South Florida might be the matchup for the 2009 game in Jacksonville. The Big East agreement goes into effect for 2009, meaning the Irish play three Big East teams that year. A game against USF would cover one of those slots with the other two possibly going to Pittsburgh (away) and West Virginia (home). From a USF standpoint, the attraction is obvious: I'm sure the Bulls would love to make a more serious move on Florida recruits, and the promise of a game in Florida against Notre Dame would be a great selling point. By the way, that game sounds like a cakewalk now, but honestly, I think the Bulls have the chance to be a Top 25 team by the time 2009 rolls around (if they can steal a few Florida high school studs here and there).

If I may make another prediction for a future game -- well, more of a suggestion than a prediction -- Georgia just cancelled a 2011 game with Cincinnati and now is in need of an out of conference opponent. I seriously doubt that the Bulldogs would want to travel up to South Bend to play the Irish, but what would they say to a game in New Orleans, live on NBC? (Not sure on the NBC part, but that was the rumor back in September). The Irish and the Bulldogs have only met once, a 17-10 Irish loss in the 1981 Sugar Bowl, so it would be nice to get a chance to even up the series. Besides, Georgia doesn't play LSU that year so it wouldn't be a repeat trip to the Bayou for the Bulldogs. At least one of the four "neutral site" games ought to be against a traditional power from a BCS conference school, and Georgia sounds good to me.

Finally, the 2012 game, in Dallas. I'm not going to guess a possible opponent, but consider this: the schedule for 2012 already has the Irish matched up with a Rutgers away game, presumably at the Meadowlands per the Big East agreement. Add in the Navy game in Ireland and the proposed game in Dallas, and that leaves only two genuine road games for 2012. One will be in Los Angeles against Southern Cal. The other might be Michigan State, if we continue to play them (which we should). I realize other schools do similar scheduling tricks with extra home games and such, but a 7-home game, 3-neutral site, and only 2-road game schedule sounds like a bit too much gerrymandering to me. Ideally, ND will be in the middle of a nice run of seasons at that point and shouldn't really need the home cooking.