Looks like we might finally have some positive news on the scheduling front! We won't know that this game is for sure until the ink dries on a contract, but I think this rumored Notre Dame-Maryland game at FedEx Field in DC would be a solid addition to the schedule. Even though Swarbrick has faced a lot of heat for his early stances on scheduling, I am more than happy to give him credit where credit is due. Hopefully this is a sign of more to come.
This Maryland game is a step in the right direction if you ask me. Maryland is not an elite opponent or anything, but they are a solid, mid-level ACC team that will at least look decent on the schedule, especially in November. I'd rather play someone like Maryland than just about any midmajor team out there.
Here's Maryland's history in the last five years
2005 Maryland 5-6 3-5 T-3rd (Atlantic)
2006 Maryland 9-4 5-3 T-2nd (Atlantic)
2007 Maryland 6-7 3-5 T-5th (Atlantic)
2008 Maryland 8-5 4-4 T-3rd (Atlantic)
2009 Maryland 2-10 1-7
Ok, so not exactly stellar there and the bottom really fell out this year, but the Terps are basically a .500 type team in the ACC. Then again, I said something similar about Washington State when we scheduled that game a few years back, and they completely went into the tank after that. Guess you never know how these teams will turn out. Hopefully Maryland will at least be respectable in 2011.
Some other thoughts on this move:
1) Opens the door to the ACC -- If this game ends up being in November, it's at least a reasonable opponent compared to the Tulsas and Western Michigans of the world that we've been lining up in the second half of our recent schedules. Maryland isn't exactly a marquee opponent, but it's the kind of game that a typical conference team would play. Last year, Maryland played FSU, NC State, Virginia Tech, and BC in the month of November. No one looks at Maryland and says "man, that's a joke of a game." It's a respectable, reasonable game.
The other thing that appeals to me is that at least it's a little variety. Other than BC, we don't really have any regular games with ACC opponents anymore. Personally, I would love to play more ACC teams. I think we should make it a goal to play at least one a year and two if it's a year when we're playing BC as well. The mid-level ACC teams are perfect for a quality tier two type game on the schedule, especially in the years when we can't find a third heavyweight to play. The Georgia Techs and North Carolinas and Clemsons of the world. I would love to play home and homes with any of those schools or even 1-1-1 home-away-neutral series. Sign me up for a Clemson road trip right now.
So Maryland is a good start to maybe break the ice with the ACC on playing us more regularly in October and November. If this Maryland game goes well, maybe these other ACC schools will perk up about playing us. And if the game is well-received by ND fans, Swarbrick and the collars might see some future value to ACC opponents and reach out as well.
We should try to play one ACC team every year in November. Some years, it would be a heavyweight (FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech), and some years it could be a Georgia Tech/Clemson/UNC type game. And if you want to squeeze in the Marylands and Wakes of the world, I can live with that.
2) Legitimate neutral site game -- I think another part of the appeal for this game is that it's a substantially better neutral site option than what we've arranged with the first two scheduled "neutral" site games. The Washington State game was ok in theory, but completely fizzled in terms of opponent and ticket sales, and this Army game in 2010 in New York City is a glorified exhibition. Not saying you can't have a good time at either game (I probably will end up going to both), but there's nothing about those games that redeems the whole "barnstorming" concept. If we're going to just play cupcakes and junk teams, then scrap the idea.
At least the Maryland game shapes up to be a legitimate neutral site game. The game is in DC right in Maryland's breadbasket. I would expect them to bring out 30,000+ fans to this game. Throw in 50,000-60,000 fired up DC/Baltimore/Philly area ND fans, and it should be a good neutral site type atmosphere.
If we're going to play a neutral site game, this is the type of neutral site game I'm ok with. A decent BCS school in an area where there's a strong ND fanbase and a nexus with our opponent. It gives us some exposure in an area outside the Midwest, and it allows us to schedule a decent opponent without having to do a home and home. I can live with that.
The other thing I like is that it sounds like this game might replace the rumored Army game in Orlando. Fine by me!! There was no reason to play that game against Army when we're already playing them in 2010 and possibly 2012. And I especially don't want to play Army when we already have 2-3 other "buy games" on the schedule.
So if this Maryland game replaces the Army game, at the very least it's a substantial upgrade to the 2011 schedule.
3) So what else is coming for 2011??
Ok, so assuming that this Maryland game comes about, here's what we got right now for the 2011 schedule:
S10 @ Michigan
S17 MICHIGAN STATE
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O22 SOUTHERN CAL
N19 SOUTH FLORIDA
N26 @ Stanford
Maryland (neutral - Washington DC)
First, this schedule has apparently been reconfigured. That Purdue game was supposed to be the opener, but that has now been pushed back to October 1. I like that move. No reason to open the season at Purdue. The South Florida game also got moved from October 1 to November 19. No problem for me on that game either. We'll get USF late in the year when they probably will want nothing to do with the South Bend cold weather.
The placement of the Maryland game will be interesting, and could have a major effect on how the rest of the schedule shapes up. I'm seeing three different spots:
1) Opening game -- Since the Purdue game got moved into October, we now have an open spot for the first week of the season. Maybe the plan is to play Maryland in DC for the opener. This actually could be kinda cool since we could probably get the game scheduled at night on NBC. There are never too many attractive matchups on the first weekend of the college football season, so we could get a little spotlight game to start the year and maybe build some buzz for this Irish team. Reminds me of what we did against Maryland before the 2002 season in Ty's first year. After that game, everyone was buzzing about the Irish.
Now that I think about it, I really like that idea. Kelly is going to be looking to make a statement in his second year. Why not do it on national tv on opening night?? If we go out and smoke Maryland, that could set the tone for the whole year. Only downside is that we'd have a gauntlet in those first five games, and Kelly/Swarbrick might prefer to get a cupcake in here to play in the opener before the Michigan game.
If we play the Maryland game in week one, then I'd say play a cupcake on October 15 before the USC game. Just line up some Nevada type team, so that the team can stay fresh coming off the bye before the SC game. Get a win and build some momentum. Actually, if we wanted to keep Army in that October 15 spot, I'm ok with that.
2) October 15 -- This is where the Army game in Orlando was originally scheduled. Assuming that game is off (and that hasn't been announced so maybe it's still on), maybe this Maryland game could slide into that spot. Then we can play a tomato can in the opener and not have to risk a tricky opener with Maryland in an unfamiliar venue.
Only concern for me on that front is that we'd be playing two "marquee" games in a row with the neutral site game on October 15 followed by the SC game on October 22. Then again, maybe a great performance against Maryland would have this team brimming with confidence heading into the USC game. I don't mind being tested prior to USC. In the past, we've had too many situations where we played a bunch of dogs prior to the SC game and weren't ready for their speed and talent. The 2006 game was probably the best example of that. We ran through all the service academies, and then looked completely overwhelmed when the USC game rolled around. You want to be peaking heading into that game. That's something that has rarely occurred for us in recent years.
3) November 12 -- Maybe Swarbrick and company think of this Maryland game as a truly "marquee" event and want to showcase this game in November. To be honest, I'm not as crazy about that idea. The November schedule really needs a "heavyweight" to anchor that month. Closing down the season with Navy, UConn, Maryland (neutral), South Florida, Stanford is not exactly a championship level test for this team, especially since we aren't in a conference and wouldn't be playing a conference championship game. Pollsters like to see that you've beaten a quality team in a big rivalry game or a championship game setting. If we run through the Big East, Maryland, and Stanford, we're not going to get a whole lot of love for doing that.
Now is Maryland in DC in November better than playing Tulsa or Western Michigan or some other chump team?? YES!! Absolutely, and if that's the choice, then by all means play Maryland instead. But if we're really trying to put together a high-quality schedule that tests our mettle (which Coach Kelly specifically mentioned that he wanted), then I would save that November spot for a quality home and home series. It doesn't even have to be a "heavyweight." Play someone like Georgia Tech or Arkansas or Texas A&M if you want. We'll play them at home in 2011 and then play them on the road in 2014 when we have an available spot. We could even schedule an additional neutral site game to sweeten the pot. This schedule needs a third big game to balance out the second half of the schedule.
Here would be a hypothetical 2011 schedule:
S04 Maryland (DC)
S10 @ Michigan
S17 MICHIGAN STATE
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O22 SOUTHERN CAL
N19 SOUTH FLORIDA
N26 @ Stanford
Insert Tennessee or some other big name if you're feeling frisky, but I could live with someone like Clemson or Georgia Tech while our program is still finding its footing.
I think that schedule would be fantastic and not even that nasty. It would have four true road games, good balance, two well-placed cupcakes before and after the SC game, a quality neutral site game on opening day that would make for a great road trip, and two really good home games with USC and Clemson. Suddenly, that November schedule would not be that bad with UConn, Clemson, USF, and Stanford. You can probably assume that 1-2 of those teams would be ranked. That's about all I can ask for.
Hope Swarbrick and Heisler can get this game done.