I’m generally not a fan of the Shamrock Series. While I understand the desire to play in cool venues and reward Notre Dame’s national alumni network and fan base, it often comes at the expense of better on-campus matchups. Additionally, the series tends to impose undue travel during key stretches of the season.
All that said, the Shamrock Series can work. The sweet spot here is a team good enough to be an exciting matchup but lacking a particularly vibrant or interesting home venue, paired with a location that is genuinely cool and/or (preferably and) strategically important for recruiting. The upcoming matchup with the BYU Cougars in Las Vegas checks those boxes, which is why it has enjoyed a more positive reception among Irish fans than previous entries.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some potential matchups that would really work.
VS SMU Mustangs at the Cotton Bowl
SMU home games are boring. How do I know this? I have been to them. The primary (awesome) pregame ritual of boulevarding has been under threat in recent years for the sole reason that students routinely do not trickle into the stadium when the game starts. The typical destination is a nearby bar, there to view the Texas Longhorns or Alabama Crimson Tide or some other team they - often quite loudly - care more about than their own. That combined with a weak local fanbase - most Dallas residents are also fans of other Big 12 or SEC teams - often results in quiet stadiums with lots of empty seats.
That’s a shame, because the Mustangs have quietly put together a solid run of seasons. Add their colorful history, very cool uniforms and the importance of Dallas as a recruiting hotspot and you have a worthwhile road trip. While many might prefer AT&T Stadium as an alternate location, I’m more interested in the venue it replaced. The Cotton Bowl is currently hosting only a couple football games a year, but it is still a classic venue with great history. You could follow the pattern of the Red River Shootout and schedule the game during the State Fair of Texas’ open season, creating a lot of buzz around the game. You’ve got a fun matchup, a classic college football venue better than that of the ostensible host, and proximity to a treasure trove of talent. It’s a perfect use of the Shamrock Series, and spoiler alert - it doesn’t get better from here.
VS Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium
This has a lot of the advantages of the SMU matchup, but is slightly less appealing. Houston does not have nearly the same problems in terms of its gameday experience as SMU - from what I hear, it’s actually a pretty fun place to see a game - and the Cougars’ recent invitation to the Big 12 will only enhance that. NRG Stadium also isn’t as cool a venue as the Cotton Bowl during the State Fair.
On the other hand Houston is a team that could be on the rise, located in a great recruiting territory. They also have a fun history with Notre Dame revolving around Joe Montana and the Chicken Soup Game. So while it’s questionable that playing the Cougars in NRG does anything to elevate the game over one in TDECU, this has enough other upsides that I’d be fine if it happened.
VS Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
This is a variation on a classic Shamrock Series formula: taking a “meh” ACC matchup and moving it to the nearest major city to the opponent. It has a little more upside because Atlanta, unlike Boston or New York before it, is an intensely competitive recruiting battleground. The ACC has the Irish seeing a lot of the Yellow Jackets these days, so you wouldn’t lose out on the novelty of visiting the opponent’s stadium. Is this exciting? Not really, but it’s a better application than most, and I’m already starting to run out of ideas.
In past years I might have said Bobby Dodd is an exciting home venue that would make this not worth the move, but given Tech’s performance in recent years I think it is more likely that this game would get the noon kickoff treatment and see most of the students leave by halftime. The Jackets have lost their home-game privileges. Maybe this slight will provide the wake-up call they need to actually compete in the ACC.
VS Navy Midshipmen at Caesars Superdome New Orleans
Notre Dame never plays Navy at its true home stadium. That has made this annual rivalry fertile ground for exploring new locales, from San Diego to Dublin. New Orleans has a naval presence and has been the site of great naval battles in its history, and a prime recruiting territory that the Irish have struggled to reach. It is also just a really fun city with a longstanding connection to Catholicism, which all adds up to a natural fit for a road Middies matchup.
My opinions on the Navy series are more or less the same as my opinions about the Shamrock Series - it should be rolled back, though not eliminated - but it’s going to keep happening, and we might as well pick a good spot for the away games. And while these neutral site games against Navy historically have not been included in the Shamrock Series, they do meet its adjusted-for-Wisconsin definition, so I’d say it’s fair game.
VS Army Black Knights at Lincoln Financial Field
Similar to Navy, Army is a team that Notre Dame wouldn’t play at its home venue anyway. Unlike Navy, these neutral site games have been defined as Shamrock Series games, so this is really just a matter of where we want the next game in this long-running series to be. Why Philadelphia? It’s the site of the U.S. Army’s official creation in 1775, and I really want to see Under Armour try to make helmets that look like gold tricornered hats. I’m reaching at this point, people.
Sarcastic Bonus Round: VS California Golden Bears at the Oakland Coliseum
The Irish don’t currently have a return date with Cal scheduled, but if they did it would be a prime candidate for the Shamrock Series treatment. Despite their proud history, the Bears do not have an especially motivated fan base and it shows when you watch their games.
If this were to actually happen, Levi’s Stadium or Oracle Park would almost certainly be chosen as the alternate venue. But this is a hypothetical, and in this hypothetical I’m going to stand behind my team, the East Bay and the decrepit, vermin-ridden mass of concrete and green tarp in which I nonetheless spent many glorious, delightful, seemingly endless summer afternoons as a fiercely loyal and baseball-obsessed child.
Funnily enough, this would actually work under a surprising number of typical justifications for the Shamrock Series. That probably says more about those arguments than anything else, but behold:
- The East Bay has strong recruiting potential for Notre Dame owing primarily to the presence of De La Salle High School. The Catholic powerhouse is the alma mater of Isaiah Foskey and 2023 commit Cooper Flanagan, and once beat my high school on homecoming night in a game in which their running back rushed for nearly 400 yards.
- The Bay Area has a large Notre Dame presence with a very active alumni club. The only games they get to see the Irish play locally are at the Stanford Cardinal, which doesn’t count. Among other things, this means a Notre Dame game at the Coliseum would be better attended than any sporting event held there in some time.
- The Coliseum is a historic venue, having been in operation for over half a century and hosted champions of four World Series and two Super Bowls. Aside from the titles, it has also witnessed some truly incredible sports moments. The Streak. The Flip. The Sea of Hands and the Heidi Game. This:
If you include their former next-door neighbors at Oracle Arena, you have one of the most dominant runs in the history of the NBA. It’s a gem, people!
What do you think? What matchups would you like to see in the Shamrock Series, if any? Great answers welcome, wrong answers preferred.