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“What If” Week: Playing The Leaked Notre Dame Football Schedule, Part 1

Does this alternate reality improve our happiness?

League Championship Series - New York Mets v Chicago Cubs - Game Four Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Twelve years ago, a NDNation.com poster leaked a Notre Dame Fighting Irish football schedule that he or she purportedly obtained during on-campus meetings.

John Heisler, then the university’s senior associate athletics director, told the Chicago Tribune that the leaked schedule was a “working document” that was subject to change.

“If these were done, we’d announce them,” said Heisler. “Will all those come to fruition? Maybe. Then again, maybe they won’t.”

Twelve years is a eternity in the ever-changing landscape of college football scheduling. This story actually starts in 2005, however.

That year, Notre Dame announced a new scheduling philosophy that included seven home games, four road games and one neutral site game per year.

The Irish, according to Heisler, would prioritize Florida and Texas for the site of those neutral site games — although it was also interested in playing at least one game per year at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford. The opponent for that game would always be a Big East squad, after the Irish agreed to play at least three of those conference’s teams in football annually. (The Irish were a Big East member in all sports except football and hockey.)

“The Big East has been interested in having us make more of a concrete consistent commitment,” Heisler told the Tribune. “(But) we can’t get to that until 2011” because of the agreements already in place.

Heisler also told the publication that rivalries with the USC Trojans, Michigan State Spartans, Purdue Boilermakers and Navy Midshipmen would continue, but told the Associated Press that regular games between the Irish and the Boston College Eagles would cease following the 2010 season. (Those guys had just departed the Big East for the ACC.)

2008 Schedule Leak vs. Reality

Date Opponent Site Actual opponent Actual site Correct opponent? Correct site?
Date Opponent Site Actual opponent Actual site Correct opponent? Correct site?
8/30/2008 OPEN OPEN YES YES
9/6/2008 San Diego State Home San Diego State Home YES YES
9/13/2008 Michigan Home Michigan Home YES YES
9/20/2008 Michigan State Away Michigan State Away YES YES
9/27/2008 Purdue Home Purdue Home YES YES
10/4/2008 Stanford Home Stanford Home YES YES
10/11/2008 North Carolina Away North Carolina Away YES YES
10/18/2008 OPEN OPEN YES YES
10/25/2008 Washington Away Washington Away YES YES
11/1/2008 Pittsburgh Home Pittsburgh Home YES YES
11/8/2008 Boston College Away Boston College Away YES YES
11/15/2008 Navy Neutral (Baltimore) Navy Neutral (Baltimore) YES YES
11/22/2008 Syracuse Home Syracuse Home YES YES
11/29/2008 USC Away USC Away YES YES

Since the memo was leaked in February, it’s no surprise the Irish’s 2008 schedule on “working document” was the same as its actual schedule. The 2008 slate featured six home games, five away games and one neutral site game. It also had two Big East opponents: Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

The 2009 schedule on the leaked memo was the same as what was played as well.

2009 Schedule Leak vs. Reality

Date Opponent Site Actual opponent Actual site Correct opponent? Correct site?
Date Opponent Site Actual opponent Actual site Correct opponent? Correct site?
9/5/2009 Nevada Home Nevada Home YES YES
9/12/2009 Michigan Away Michigan Away YES YES
9/19/2009 Michigan State Home Michigan State Home YES YES
9/26/2009 Purdue Away Purdue Away YES YES
10/3/2009 Washington Home Washington Home YES YES
10/10/2009 OPEN OPEN YES YES
10/17/2009 USC Home USC Home YES YES
10/24/2009 Boston College Home Boston College Home YES YES
10/31/2009 Washington State Neutral (San Antonio) Washington State Neutral (San Antonio) YES YES
11/7/2009 Navy Home Navy Home YES YES
11/14/2009 Pittsburgh Away Pittsburgh Away YES YES
11/21/2009 Connecticut Home Connecticut Home YES YES
11/28/2009 Stanford Away Stanford Away YES YES

Now we’re at seven home games, four away games and one neutral site tilt as Heisler predicted four years prior. The neutral site game is in Texas, which the associate AD identified as a priority. And the schedule features two Big East teams: Pittsburgh and Connecticut.

The alternate reality where Heisler is right — and the Irish keep all of the games on the “working document” — is so far matching the actual reality. Therefore, it’s safe to assume Charlie Weis is fired following the 2009 season and Brian Kelly is hired to replace him.

Now let’s look at 2010, when the paths begin to diverge.

2010 Schedule: Leak vs. Reality

Date Opponent Site Actual opponent Actual site Correct opponent? Correct site?
Date Opponent Site Actual opponent Actual site Correct opponent? Correct site?
9/4/2010 Purdue Home Purdue Home YES YES
9/11/2010 Michigan Home Michigan Home YES YES
9/18/2010 Michigan State Away Michigan State Away YES YES
9/25/2010 Stanford Home Stanford Home YES YES
10/2/2010 Boston College Away Boston College Away YES YES
10/9/2010 Pittsburgh Home Pittsburgh Home YES YES
10/16/2010 Army Neutral (Chicago) Western Michigan Home NO NO
10/23/2010 Navy Neutral (Baltimore) Navy Neutral (East Rutherford, N.J.) YES NO
10/30/2010 OPEN Tulsa Home NO NO
11/6/2010 *BUY GAME* Home OPEN NO NO
11/13/2010 Rutgers Home Utah Home NO YES
11/20/2010 *BUY GAME* Home Army Neutral (Bronx, N.Y.) NO NO
11/27/2010 USC Away USC Away YES YES

The first six games — during which Kelly’s squad went 3-3 — remain the same. Instead of playing the Army Black Knights at Soldier Field, Kelly’s seventh game is at home against the Western Michigan Broncos. In reality, Kelly and the Irish beat Army later in the year on a neutral field (Yankee Stadium). So, either way, this is a win.

In 2010-A, the game with the Navy Midshipmen game is played in Baltimore instead of East Rutherford. I don’t think this changes the outcome.

The 4-4 Irish head into an open week instead of playing the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. On the “working document,” Nov. 7 — the week following the bye — is labeled “BUY GAME.”

This is generally assumed to be a game against a lesser opponent who comes to Notre Dame without expecting a return trip.

Honestly, Tulsa fits that definition. I think they could have easily flipped their Nov. 6 game against the Rice Owls to Oct. 30 and played Notre Dame on Nov. 6 in 2010-A. (The Owls were off on Oct. 30 that year.)

Does an extra week of rest make Tulsa a winnable game? Sure. (It also may be worth noting that Declan Sullivan died Oct. 28, which would have been an off day if Notre Dame kept its bye week routine.)

Now the Irish are 5-4 heading into a home game against Rutgers, which would have been 4-4 at that time. (The Scarlet Knights finished 4-8.) I count this as a win.

Notre Dame is now 6-4, heading into another “buy game.” This gets tricky, because the Western Michigan Broncos aren’t available on Nov. 20 — so it’s not as simple as putting Army where Western Michigan actually was and vice versa.

It still makes sense to grab a MAC team here, probably the Temple Owls, Miami-Ohio Redhawks or Ohio Bobcats. All are winnable games, with Miami-Ohio seemingly the most difficult (and also most likely because Mike Haywood had left the Irish to coach in Oxford, so you could help him out).

The Irish beat Southern Cal in Los Angeles, and finish the regular season 8-4 in this alternate universe. (They were 7-5 in reality.)

In Part 2: Dodging the Bulls, but getting the Bears. I’ll look at 2011, 2012 and 2013 Tuesday.