Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Challenging openers par for the course

In the last 49 seasons, the Irish have opened with an opponent that went on to have a winning record 32 times, including 15 teams that won at least nine games.

If the College Football Playoff committee has to make a choice between Notre Dame and some other teams vying for a spot in the four-team playoff, strength of schedule should favor the Irish, especially as it relates to the challenge out of the gate in September. 

Notre Dame has never played an FCS team, and although openers have loosened up in recent years with non-Power 5 opponents such as Rice, Temple, Nevada and San Diego State, the Irish have a history of facing challenging competition from the get-go.

The Irish are one of just three teams nationally – along with South Carolina and Texas-San Antonio – to open the season with three Power 5 conference opponents.

The Irish take on the Texas Longhorns Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium with a 105-16-5 all-time record in openers and a 100-20-5 mark in the first home game of the season.

The recent blemish to South Florida in 2011 stands out because the Bulls would go on to win just four more games the rest of the season. But by and large, the Irish have taken on all comers in the first game of the season and have won 85.3 percent of the time.

Very few patsies – or at least non-Power 5 opponents -- have been handpicked to open the season, and despite the Texas’ 6-7 mark in 2014, the Longhorns enter ’15 with 881 career victories – one shy of Notre Dame’s total – at No. 4 on the all-time list. 

Since Ara Parseghian’s national championship season in 1966 – a total of 49 seasons – the Irish have played an opening-game opponent that has finished with a winning record 32 times, including 15 that have gone on to win at least nine games.

Notre Dame took on Michigan in the season-opener eight times during a 20-season span (1979-98). Five of those openers came in seasons in which the Wolverines won at least nine games.

Other quality first-game opponents included 9-5 Georgia Tech in 2006, 10-3 Washington State in 2003, 11-3 Maryland in 2002, and 11-2 Nebraska in 2001. The 1985 Michigan squad finished 10-1-1. The 1976 Pittsburgh team went 12-0 and won the national title.

In Notre Dame’s undefeated ’66 national championship season, the Irish handed Purdue one of just two losses on the season. Season-opening losses include setbacks to 11-2 Michigan in 1986 and 10-2 Northwestern in 1995. 

Notre Dame enters the ’15 season with a three-game winning streak in lid-lifters with wins over Rice (48-17) last year, Temple (28-6) in 2013 and Navy (50-10) in 2012. The trip to Dublin to play the Midshipmen is the only opener away from Notre Dame Stadium since 2007.

Notre Dame’s longest streak of season-opening victories is an unreachable 31 from 1903-32. The Irish won nine straight from 1943-51 versus teams such as Pittsburgh, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana and North Carolina.

Parseghian started a 12-game season-opening winning streak in ’64, which Dan Devine added to against Boston College in ’75 before ’76 national champ Pittsburgh ended the skein.

Lou Holtz won eight straight openers from 1987-94 against three top 10 Michigan teams, Virginia, Indiana and Northwestern before the Wildcats snapped the streak in ’95.

Brian Kelly has a 4-1 mark in season-openers. Charlie Weis and Bob Davie also were 4-1. Tyrone Willingham won two-of-three season-openers with the Irish.

The last Notre Dame coach to go undefeated in season-openers was Parseghian (11-0). Others include Jesse Harper (5-0), Frank Leahy (9-0-2), Hunk Anderson (2-0-1), Ed McKeever (1-0) and Joe Kuharich (4-0, 13-23 in his other 36 games).


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