Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 39 of 55

40 SEPT. 10, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI THE MAC ATTACK Other than continuing its annual rivalry with Navy that began in 1927 and has since remained unin- terrupted, Notre Dame seldom has ventured outside of playing a team from a major league, or the Power Five — ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big 12 — as it is known today. As a football independent, albeit a partial member in the ACC, the modus operandi of its schedules has emphasized a slate laden with teams from such leagues. The military acad- emies have been the prime exception. That began to change in 2008 un- der then Notre Dame athletics direc- tor Kevin White. Two years earlier in 2006, the Fighting Irish for the first time began 12-game regular- season schedules on a yearly basis, and the realization crystallized that going through a 12-game gauntlet with only Power Five teams would not be conducive to championship aspirations. So in 2008 and 2009, Notre Dame opened their seasons against non- Power Five teams San Diego State and Nevada, respectively. By 2010, Mid-American Conference member Western Michigan was added, and in 2015 the Fighting Irish schedule began a string of what will now be annual one-game visits from teams in lower-level leagues: • Massachusetts of the MAC in 2015 (62-27). Former Irish assistant Charley Molnar served as the head coach for the Minutemen during their first two seasons in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012-13, but was let go after a pair of 1-11 campaigns. UMass ended up leaving the MAC after the 2015 campaign and has competed as an independent ever since. • Nevada of the Mountain West Conference in 2016 (39-10), with cur- rent Notre Dame special teams coor- dinator and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian the head coach. Polian was realistic going into the contest, with the prime purpose to pick up a $1 million payday for the school to make the trip. "If we were supposed to beat Notre Dame we wouldn't be in the Moun- tain West," he said after the game. • Last year it was Miami (Ohio) of the MAC, a 52-17 sacrificial lamb coached by former Notre Dame as- sistant Chuck Martin (2010-13). • This year it is Ball State of the MAC, a first-time opponent for Notre Dame. The Cardinals ended 2017 on a nine-game losing streak, behind only UTEP (12) and Kansas (11). • In 2019, the Irish have games scheduled on Sept. 14 versus New Mexico — currently coached by 1997-2001 Irish head coach Bob Da- vie — and on Oct. 5 against MAC member Bowling Green. That might be a way to compensate for some overscheduling that season with road games against Louisville, Geor- gia, Michigan and Stanford. • Western Michigan is on the docket for 2020, while Toledo comes aboard in 2021. The SEC in particular has made scheduling into an art form because of the potential of a 13th game with the conference title game. For example, Alabama this year strategically has Arkansas State, Louisiana and The Citadel — the tune-up the week before facing Au- burn — on its slate. Auburn likewise has Liberty scheduled the week be- fore Alabama, with Alabama State earlier in the season. Georgia opens with Austin Peay, has Middle Tennessee two weeks later and plays UMass the week be- fore its rivalry game with Georgia Tech. Clemson, which has been in the College Football Playoff three straight years, opens against Furman and Georgia Southern, with Texas A&M in between. Thus, interspersing games against MAC or Mountain West foes is a first step to allaying some degree of diffi- culty in the schedule. Next probably would be not relinquishing a home game for the sake of the Shamrock Series — as the Irish did this year GAME PREVIEW: BALL STATE Top STorylineS The Irish have worked on alleviating the degree of difficulty in their schedules by annually hosting a team from a lower-level league such as the MAC, including last year's 52-17 rout of Miami (Ohio). PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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