If you’re like me, you’re already counting the days until the Notre Dame Fighting Irish start the 2022 football season. I can get excited about nearly any Irish game, and indeed nearly any college football game. But if we’re being honest, some of these are a lot more exciting than others. So over the next couple weeks, we’re going to rank each game this season by how hyped you can get for it. It should go without saying that these rankings are obviously entirely subjective, so let’s go:
12. Syracuse Orange
Yeah, I said it.
If there were a word in the English language that denoted the perfect intersection of utter futility and soul-crushing ennui, it would simply be “Syracuse.” This permanently mediocre program somehow manages to be both annoying (as in their inexplicably salty fan base, kicking coward’s field goals, constant whining about the unfairness of scheduling arrangements they agreed to) and irrelevant (their best team of this century still got crushed by an Irish squad pretending to be a baseball team) at the same time.
Great, these guys finally got us to play in their precious dome. Now they can all rejoice about watching a snoozefest three-possession loss in the college football equivalent of Tropicana Field. What a day. Good thing this one is on Halloween weekend, maybe the Irish can dress up as Liberty and scare these guys off the field before it starts.
11. UNLV Rebels
There really isn’t anything wrong with UNLV that makes this one less exciting. It’s just a classic payday cupcake matchup whose second half you are unlikely to remember.
What makes this one a little more of a bummer is that it takes place in Week 8, when there is likely to be some prime action going on elsewhere in the college football landscape, and the Irish will be a non-factor in that hype. Combine that with the fact that Notre Dame is actually playing a game in Las Vegas this year against another team, and it’s hard to get too amped about this one.
10. Navy Midshipmen
The annual Wookie life debt fulfillment ritual takes place at the home of the Baltimore Ravens, which doesn’t add a ton of pizzazz to what is far and away the least exciting of Notre Dame’s annual rivalries.
I will acknowledge that for a slice of Notre Dame fans, particularly those with ties to the Navy, this game is the one they look forward to more than any other. That’s great for them. But even those fans, if they’re being honest with themselves, will admit that that excitement revolves entirely around pageantry and tradition, “mutual respect,” etc. and not the action on the field. The Johnson-Niumatololo resurgence of the 2000s and 2010s seems to have peaked, with more recent Middies teams taking steps backward. Add in the fact that Notre Dame gets virtually no reward for beating even a good Navy squad and you have a recipe for a game that feels more like an obligatory slog than anything else.
9. Marshall Thundering Herd
This seems like a high ranking for a week two Sun Belt foe, but consider the following:
- One of Marshall’s coaches has been portrayed by Matthew McConaughey. Granted, he’s no Sean Astin, but that’s still pretty impressive.
- Marshall and Notre Dame’s destinies became intertwined in the Randy Moss affair. Moss more or less singlehandedly elevated the Herd to FBS status in the mid-90s after bouncing there by way of Notre Dame and Florida State, and one wonders how different Notre Dame’s trajectory would have looked from that point onward if things hadn’t gone sideways.
Regardless, this game shouldn’t be particularly competitive - although if last year’s experience is a guide, that’s far from guaranteed. But the Herd get some points here for the novelty factor, as well as their colorful history and strange connection to Notre Dame.
8. Boston College Eagles
This one is similar to Navy in that it means a lot to one segment of the Irish fan base - namely, those with friends and family who went to BC - but isn’t particularly exciting to everyone else. Not being Catholic and not having a ton of connections to BC (my closest friend who went to BC was an ND undergrad who shipped up to Boston for his master’s - you know where his loyalties lie), I fall into “everyone else,” so this has always been an underwhelming series for me.
This will be Phil Jurkovec’s last shot at vengeance against his former team, which is a somewhat compelling narrative - though less so than in 2020 when he was opposed by Ian Book. The game itself could end up being tough if Jurkovec and the rest of the Eagles take a step forward in 2022, and even a down Eagles team could come into this one with a chip on its shoulder, looking to spoil big brother’s season. The most likely result is probably a closer-than-it-should-be Irish win along the lines of the 2012 matchup in Chestnut Hill, but you can never be too certain about this one. With some decent storylines and a likely competitive game, this is where the hype starts to get a bit more serious.
7. Stanford Cardinal
During my years at Notre Dame, this matchup would have been at or near the top of this list, as high-ranking Irish and Cardinal squads traded epic victories from Manti in the rain to Ukropina at the buzzer. As it is, the Cardinal now top out the back six, having regressed to their pre-Harbaugh mean. Last year’s drubbing in Palo Alto was a landmark moment in that deterioration, as it was the first time in over a decade where it truly felt like the Cardinal posed no threat. That is likely to be the case again this year, and with a tough conference slate ahead of their trip to Notre Dame, the Irish will likely play host to an already-broken Cardinal squad.
That said, this rivalry definitely still has some things going for it. There is a reserve of hate within the Irish fanbase for the Cardinal, particularly among those of us with ties to California. I got a lot of exposure to Stanford during my Bay Area upbringing and attended several crushing Irish losses at their stadium while home for Thanksgiving breaks. Every two years I personally witnessed their atrocious band and its embarrassing “performances,” which cannot be unseen. I interacted with their blithely oblivious fair-weather fan base, which was undeserving of the 2010s renaissance and now has predictably slunk out of view, leaving half the stadium empty on mother-effing Senior Day. All this is to say - it won’t be the best game up on the schedule, but I can absolutely get up for this one even if Stanford is terrible. Their pain is my joy.
We’ll cover the bigger games on next week’s Friday Fire, so tune in then. In the meantime, let me know where you think these guys stand in the comments!