After the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Iowa State Cyclones in the 2019 Camping World Bowl - the first and only game between the two programs - I wrote one of my first articles on this site exploring what other teams Notre Dame had never played, and which ones we’d like to see next.
With the 2023 season in the books, the dead of winter setting in and several first-time opponents crossed off the ledger since then, I thought I’d revisit that premise - what teams have been crossed off the list, which remain, and which do we want to see next?
Crossed Off the List
There were a handful of teams the Irish had not yet played in January 2020 that they have in the years since, and we’re going to talk about each of those games. Not all of these will be fun to revisit, so prepare yourself.
Notre Dame 32, Toledo Rockets 29 - Sept. 11, 2021
Brian Kelly’s last home opener at Notre Dame featured the heavily favored Irish squeaking out an unexpected nail-biter against an upset-hungry Toledo squad. In fact, had Rockets quarterback DeQuan Finn taken a knee at the goal line with 1:35 left, the Irish would almost certainly have suffered an earth-shattering G5 upset a year earlier than it eventually came.
Instead Finn scored, the Irish got the ball back down five and Jack Coan - in the first instance of a recurring pattern in 2021 - suddenly became unstoppable in the game’s final minutes, leading a ruthlessly efficient drive and finding Michael Mayer for the go-ahead touchdown. The long-awaited trick play pass from Avery Davis put two points on the board to give the Irish a field-goal lead, which they held after a game-ending fumble recovery. Crisis averted.
Oklahoma State Cowboys 37, Notre Dame 35 - Jan. 1, 2022
The latest installment of the Fiesta Bowl curse, this game saw the Irish race out to a 28-7 lead in the first half before coughing the game up to a resilient, veteran Cowboys squad. The Irish defense eventually caved as the Cowboys adjusted to Mike Elston’s frequent linebacker blitzes, while the lack of balance in the offense made its early production unsustainable. The Irish ended up losing the shootout despite Coan setting Fiesta Bowl records for passing yards (509) and touchdowns (five).
By far the highest-profile of these first-time clashes, this would have been a massive win but instead became a brutal heartbreaker. It was Marcus Freeman’s coaching debut, with the fanbase still in the shadow/rapture of Brian Kelly’s departure and Freeman’s ascension. It gets sadder in retrospect when you realize that this was also Notre Dame’s last crack at breaking the BCS/NY6 bowl drought before the dawn of the 12-team playoff. But hey, at least it couldn’t get worse in the games to follow, right?
Marshall Thundering Herd 26, Notre Dame 21 - Sept. 10, 2022
Notre Dame 44, UNLV Rebels 21 - Oct. 22, 2022
UNLV ended up on Notre Dame’s schedule as a result of a three-team agreement also involving the California Golden Bears. The Irish scheduled the Rebels to free up the Bears, who were previously set to play UNLV in September of that season, to instead travel to South Bend for another absolute classic of a game that we all remember very fondly. This ironically happened in a season where the Irish also played a game in Las Vegas, against another team. Welcome to the wild world of scheduling as an independent, folks!
In any case, this game actually proved fairly significant in the course of the 2022 season as it allowed an Irish team reeling from a still-inexplicable loss to the Stanford Cardinal work out its kinks in a slow-moving blowout. The Irish carried their newfound momentum into big wins against the Syracuse Orange and Clemson Tigers, eventually winning five straight and rescuing the season from total ignominy.
Notre Dame 41, Central Michigan Chippewas 17 - Sept. 16, 2023
The last game of the Sam Hartman honeymoon! Audric Estime had impressive two hurdles on big-time runs while Hartman racked up 330 yards through the air, and this game had us all feeling really good about Notre Dame’s offense taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes the week to follow. And then we all lived happily ever after.
Not listed above are the Tennessee State Tigers, who were obviously a first-time opponent but were not included in the original list because they are an FCS program. At that time Notre Dame had never scheduled an FCS opponent, and I had not considered that they would. I still don’t like that the Irish played an FCS team and I certainly hope it doesn’t happen frequently enough that we have to start tracking the ones they haven’t played, but we can nonetheless take note of Notre Dame’s 56-3 victory in that game as well.
All in all, the Irish were 4-2 against first-time opponents over the last four years. That record is a little bit deceptive as the losses were extremely painful and the wins underwhelming, but we shouldn’t let those results deter us from continuing in this quest.
Moving on - let’s go back to the teams Notre Dame still has yet to play and highlight the ones we still want to see. Teams that have been scheduled, but not played, will once again appear with an asterisk. Let’s do this.
For purposes of both practicality and principle we are still going to exclude FCS teams from consideration here, even if Notre Dame’s athletic department doesn’t feel the same way. The following teams have still never met the Irish on the gridiron:
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
FIU Golden Panthers
Middle Tennessee St. Blue Raiders
UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
UL Monroe Warhawks
UNC Charlotte 49ers
*Notre Dame will be taking on the hogs in Fayetteville on Sept. 27, 2025
**Notre Dame’s home opener will take place on Sept. 7, 2024 against the Huskies
When I did this the first time I listed out in great detail a bunch of programs I wanted to see next for various reasons. A lot of that reasoning no longer holds up, so I’m just going to highlight a small number of teams that still deserve attention here and then leave it to you to fill in the rest.
A quartet of SEC teams remain strangers to Notre Dame. While Arkansas is on the schedule for a home-and-home (and in fact was meant to be crossed off the list in 2020), the Irish still have no plans as yet to meet Auburn, Mississippi State or Kentucky. Although these all represent the second tier of the conference, any of them would nonetheless be a fun addition. I would likely put Auburn at the top of the list compared to the other two, but your preferences may vary.
Additionally, a trio of Big 12 members (both old and new) are out there in Kansas State, Texas Tech and UCF. UCF is far less interesting/annoying than they were at the time of my original article’s writing so I wouldn’t really be that excited about seeing the Irish play them, but either of the two legacy Big 12 members would be a ton of fun.
Lastly, you have a handful of frisky G5 programs out there like the Fresno State Bulldogs, Boise State Broncos, Appalachian State Mountaineers, etc. that have interesting histories and would bring fun narratives to the table. More newly emerging programs like UTSA and Texas State should be monitored to see if they become exciting over the long haul. For most of these teams though, the novelty of the Irish playing them for the first time would be the most interesting thing about them.
If I missed any teams you would like to see, let me know in the comments!