In a result we all knew should happen but were hesitant to predict due to past trauma, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish closed the 2019 season with a resounding win over the Iowa State Cyclones in the Camping World Bowl. And there was much rejoicing.
Aside from being an appropriate ending to a good-not-great season, this game was also the first-ever meeting between the Irish and Cyclones. It’s always interesting when a program as old and well-traveled as Notre Dame plays a team for the first time, and reflecting on that got me thinking: what other teams has Notre Dame never played, and how happy/angry/bored would I be to see the Irish play them?
The list that follows below is the result of an exhaustive investigation conducted with the assistance of Winsipedia. It is of course restricted to FBS teams, because scheduling FCS teams is a disgrace. The potential matchups are divided into categories ranging from least to most interesting.
Category 1: I don’t care about these teams and neither do you, so let’s just list them and move on
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (?)
FIU Golden Panthers
Middle Tennessee St. Blue Raiders
UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
UL Monroe Warhawks
UNC Charlotte 49ers
*Notre Dame has a home game against the Huskies scheduled for 2024
**Notre Dame has a home game against the Rockets scheduled for 2021
Category 2: Might Be A Nice Way to Vary Up the Cupcake Rotation
The Hilltoppers and Chippewas get a joint entry on here for being the two participants in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, one of the greatest bowl games ever played. CMU gets bonus points for being Brian Kelly’s first FBS job.
This one’s for our site director.
Pirates are cool, and ECU pairs that mascot with a nice overall aesthetic compared to the teams that typically fill the spot they would take on the schedule (looking at you, Bowling Green, with your hideous colors and terrible uniforms).
The program that gave the world Brett Favre? They get an invite.
Any school with a history interesting enough to get the Matthew McConaughey movie treatment is interesting enough to schedule. Marshall should also owe Notre Dame a Navy-esque wookie life debt for its role in the Randy Moss affair, which culminated in Moss transferring to Marshall from Florida State (where he had previously enrolled when Notre Dame denied his application after he had signed his NLI to play for the Irish).
Fans of this matchup won’t have to wait long, as the Herd will be thundering over to South Bend on Sept. 10, 2022.
This team has a fun, colorful history, with notable alumni including: the Brothers Carr (David and Derek); solid NFL contributors in Davante Adams and Ryan Mathews; Trent Dilfer, whose Super Bowl ring has justified the retention of countless mediocre quarterbacks by middling NFL teams; and Lane Kiffin, the sleazy hit-and-run boyfriend of the football world.
Notre Dame and Fresno State also shared the distinction of nearly upsetting the 2005 USC Trojans, as the Bulldogs took the men of Troy to the wire in a 50-42 barn burner that took place a mere five weeks after the Bush Push game. However, Fresno State did not follow protocol and offer their coach a 10-year contract extension after the loss. Bad form, Bulldogs.
The first Power 5 team on this list! The Wildcats have been fun to watch in recent years, with a Citrus Bowl win over Penn State in 2018 and Lynn Bowden, Jr. tearing up the field from all angles. Their presence in the SEC adds additional pizzazz to the matchup, as does their dramatic recent basketball history with Notre Dame.
This is a no-brainer home-and-home matchup, as it would give the Irish a likely home win on one end and a short road trip against a decent opponent on the other; essentially a southern-fried Purdue.
Category 3: Now That’s Interesting
Memphis is so hot right now. Yes, they were humbled in this year’s Cotton Bowl and just lost their coach, but they are still a program on the rise and are certainly one of the more interesting G5 teams in the country.
The Tigers play a fun style of football and their offense is still influenced by the legacy of Chip Long, which should make them both an interesting opponent and one the Irish can scheme well to defeat. Give me a home and home with the Tigers or, if the Shamrock Series must continue, a neutral site game in Nashville to minimize travel and provide a fun destination for fans.
Like Memphis, Appalachian State has been on the rise in recent years, and has gained some name recognition since its heroic ‘07 upset of the Skunkbears. They are also an opponent with whom the Irish wouldn’t need to schedule a home and home, as they would likely be willing to travel to South Bend with no strings attached.
An early-season date with the Mountaineers could be a lot of fun and could very well be seen as a quality win at the end of the season. It would also be an elaborate way of trolling Michigan, which is always a worthwhile endeavor.
Not long ago, UCF was the standard bearer for all G5 teams, riding a win streak that stretched back to the first game of 2017 and racing to their second straight undefeated regular season and AAC title, all the while toting a farcical national championship claim.
Even after a humbling loss to LSU in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, the Knights still had high expectations coming into 2019. But then they stumbled upon something horrifying, an ancient demon that has ensnared even the most powerful and fearsome warriors in this sport: Pitt.
Notre Dame and its fans, who have survived many a brush with this accursed team, know never to take the Pittsburgh Panthers lightly; they know Pitt is a graveyard of college football empires. But UCF, with its newfound success and cock-of-the-walk attitude, was a sitting duck for the Panthers. On September 21 of this year, they struck. Only now, chastened at 10-3 and holding only a Bad Boy Motors Gasparilla Bowl Trophy, does UCF understand: Pitt is never to be underestimated.
It would be great to see the Irish get matched up with this insufferable program and put another nail in its coffin.
Most Irish fans can think of one time they wish Notre Dame had played Kansas State, specifically on January 7, 2013, which could very well have ended in an Irish national title. Instead, the previously-undefeated Wildcats fell short late in the regular season against the Baylor Bears, opening the door for the Alabama Crimson Tide to get to the championship game. We all know the story from there.
In the years since that almost-title-bid season, K State has mostly been a solid program, with Bill Snyder a steady winner and his successor Chris Kleiman so far performing up to expectations. This matchup doesn’t have a ton of upside - it’s not sexy, we wouldn’t get a lot of credit for winning, the Wildcats are prime upset candidates, etc. - but it is interesting because of that what-could-have-been aspect.
Despite being the red-raider-stepchild among Texas programs, Texas Tech has provided some great gifts to the football world: Patrick Mahomes, Mike Leach, the 2008 Texas game, and a host of brilliant offenses with no defensive support whatsoever. Their mascots are ridiculous and amazing, consisting of the Masked Rider, a Zorro-looking character in a red cape who rides around the field on horseback; and Raider Red, who looks like what would happen if Yosemite Sam switched teams to play for the Monstars and started taking a lot of steroids.
I really can’t make much more of an argument for playing these guys than that: they’re just a lot of fun.
Before making this list I thought for sure the Irish and Razorbacks had played each other at some point. Perhaps I just thought of Lou Holtz’s association with both programs and assumed they had shared history beyond that connection. It’s a moot point anyway, as the Hogs will be in South Bend for the home/U.S. opener on Sept. 12, 2020.
Arkansas had some really fun teams when I was a kid, blowing defensive coordinators’ minds with the Wildcat formation and racking up rushing yards with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Although recent years have been rough for the Hogs, it will still be fun to see the Irish play them for the first time.
Win one for Arike!
Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick has actually stated his desire to get the Bulldogs on the schedule at some point, so this game may be happening soon. Similar to Kansas State, they are a normally-solid program where a win would be respected, but would not have the “statement” factor associated with a win over a better-known team. It would still be a challenging opponent that would help prepare this team for high-pressure games in hostile environments. As long as everyone keeps the celebrations under control, the Irish should have no problem sweeping a home-and-home with these guys.
Category 4: PUT THEM ON THE SCHEDULE NOW
By itself, Okie State probably doesn’t make this category. But they have an important differentiating factor, and his name is Mike Gundy.
Gundy-Kelly is an incredible coaching matchup. The mullet vs. the visor. “I’m a man, I’m 40,” press-conference antics vs. purple-faced sideline antics. A matchup of Camping World Bowl champions. This game needs to happen.
I also want to see the Irish play Mike Leach’s Washington State Cougars for similar reasons, but couldn’t include them on this list as the Irish and Cougars have already played each other twice.
The narratives going into this game would be incredible. Blue field vs. blue blood. A program that was born yesterday matched up with an ancient power. Newfangled high-flying offenses and trick plays vs. hard-nosed defense and (comparatively) traditional football. A battle for the future of the sport.
And a battle, I think, the Irish should expect to win. Although the Broncos are a reliably ranked, solid program, they have not returned to their full former strength since the departure of Chris Petersen. Nonetheless, they remain the most well-known and accomplished outsider program in the sport, and the allure of a game between them and Notre Dame is too much to resist.
We’ve already written a whole article here at One Foot Down discussing how surprising it is that Notre Dame and Auburn have never run into each other on a football field, and the insane series of events that have conspired to make that possible.
I am ambivalent about the Tigers, who have primarily made history by ruining things for other teams. However, that tendency to play screwy games (particularly in marquee matchups) could also make it a lot of fun to watch Notre Dame play them. I’m also a fan of the Irish playing prominent games in the South and hosting SEC teams in South Bend for recruiting/exposure purposes. So let’s do it, Savvy Jack: get Gus Malzahn and his guys on the docket.
Which of these teams do you want to see the Irish play the most? Is there a team you think got short shrift here? Let me know in the comments below.