Hadley: Shamrock Series presents wasted opportunity for ND
Greg Hadley | Monday, November 23, 2015
BOSTON — Well that was … something.
No. 4 Notre Dame played a sloppy, messy and downright ugly game against Boston College on Saturday night. By almost any offensive measure, the Irish should have lost.
And yet they won, thanks to a strong defensive performance against the worst offensive unit in the country.
Where that leaves Brian Kelly and his squad heading into the final week of the regular season is unclear.
That’s the beauty (or problem, depending on your rooting preferences) of the College Football Playoff committee. Notre Dame is not guaranteed a spot in the playoff if it wins out. Heck, it might not be in the top four in Tuesday’s rankings.
But there’s no point in trying to read the committee’s mind, as it has shown a willingness to shake things up on a weekly basis before. What is undeniably clear is that Notre Dame did itself no favors Saturday.
The venue was perfect, the atmosphere electric. The fans in Fenway, most of whom seemed to support the Irish, were ready to see a team in contention for a national title blow out an opponent with one win against an FBS team and the nation’s weakest offense. BC’s campus may be closer to Fenway than Notre Dame’s, but the Eagles were very much in hostile territory.
And then the Irish turned the ball over five times.
Any statement that can be derived from that performance is not one Notre Dame wants the selection committee to receive. Now, the Irish have only one more chance to show they are among the top four teams in the nation, while other contenders will have conference championships to add to their résumés.
The issue of conference championships and whether Notre Dame needs one to be considered for the CFP heated up over the summer, with a number of coaches across the Power 5 conferences saying the Irish needed a 13th game to compare to the rest of the squads.
Since the season began that discussion has died down, but with circumstances playing out as they are, it’s becoming increasingly clear Notre Dame would benefit from another game against a highly-ranked opponent.
Jack Swarbrick knows that, and he’s moved aggressively to add some premier programs to Notre Dame’s schedule down the road, including Georgia, Ohio State and Texas A&M.
But the program is also obligated to play five ACC games each year, and with all due respect to Clemson and Florida State, that conference seems unlikely to provide too much of a challenge. Add that to the rest of Notre Dame’s rivalries that it has to honor, and some of those marquee matchups won’t come for another seven or eight years.
Notre Dame doesn’t need to join a conference or add a 13th game to its schedule to solve this problem. The answer is obvious after this weekend: the Shamrock Series.
This seventh, “home away from home” game would be ideal for a matchup with a top-ranked foe. As with this weekend, the Irish could travel to a city nearby the opponent, thus making the site relatively neutral.
And while Fenway was limited to 38,686 fans, a high-profile game between two top programs could fill almost any stadium. Or the Irish could continue to explore alternative venues and draw even more hype that way.
Reflecting Swarbrick’s stated desire to delve into the southeast, Notre Dame could visit Charlotte, North Carolina, Miami, New Orleans or Atlanta. And if the SEC was unwilling to play, the Irish could instead reignite its rivalry with Michigan or go west and challenge a new power such as Oregon.
Through six games, the Shamrock Series has been, for the most part, dreadfully boring. A perfect 6-0, Notre Dame has only seriously been challenged twice — including last night — and played a ranked squad only once: Arizona State in 2013. The venues have been exciting and historic, but what should actually matter — the games — has been lackluster. So when the Irish struggle to put away a 3-7 squad such as Boston College, it looks especially bad.
At the very least, if Notre Dame struggles or loses to a program like Michigan, Oregon or any of their ilk, it would be somewhat understandable.
In Boston this weekend, Notre Dame was already promoting next year’s game in San Antonio against Army, who has not had a winning season in half a decade. Beyond that, the series is undecided, giving Swarbrick the chance to get a good team on the schedule relatively quickly.
Look, I get it. Teams like Boston College and Army are historic rivals for Notre Dame and draw broad interest from alumni and fans. But playing squads far out of their talent pool will not get the Irish to the CFP, especially if they cannot even blow them out.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.