Like it or not, Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame teams will continue to play a high percentage of its games at night.
It’s not something Kelly prefers. At least once a year, Kelly mentions the grind that is playing night games, particularly on the road when the team returns to campus in the wee hours of the morning.
The recent news that the Irish will be playing two night home games in 2016 – Michigan State on Sept. 17 and Stanford on Oct. 15 – continues the trend under Kelly.
In the first 78 games under Kelly as head coach at Notre Dame, the Irish have kicked off after dark 35 times (44.8 percent). No other Irish head coach came close to that percentage.
In many respects, Kelly is a victim of his own success. Three of Kelly’s first six Irish teams remained in the hunt for the national title heading into November. He’s averaging nine victories per season compared to the seven averaged by Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie.
Their lack of success was commensurate the number of night games played by those coaches, along with, of course, the recent trend in general to shift games to nightfall.
Only 16 of Weis’ 62 games were played at night (25.8 percent). Eight of Willingham’s 36 games came under the lights (22.2 percent). Just 11 of Davie’s 60 games were at night (18.3 percent).
Of course, Notre Dame bypassed night games at home during much of that time. The Irish did not host a night game from 1991-2010.
When Notre Dame hosts Michigan State and Stanford at home this season, it will mark the seventh and eighth night home games since 2011.
Had Lou Holtz coached at Notre Dame today with the same success rate – a 100-30-2 (.765) mark in 11 seasons – the Irish would have been a much more frequent participant in night games, particularly on the road.
Holtz’s arrival began the modern-day move to more night games by Notre Dame. Still, only 27 of the 132 games he coached for Notre Dame (20.4 percent) were under the lights.
Prior to Holtz’s arrival, and beginning in 1951 when Notre Dame played its first-ever night game against Detroit University in Briggs Stadium, only 28 Notre Dame games were played after dark through 1985.
Under Kelly, Notre Dame played four night games in 2010, seven in 2011, six in 2012, another seven in 2013, five in 2014 and six in 2015.
There’s a chance Notre Dame could have its fewest games or tie the Kelly era for the fewest night games in 2016. Texas, Michigan State and Stanford are set. The Irish catch a break with the Shamrock Series game against Army in San Antonio kicking off at 3:30. Navy in Jacksonville begins at 11:30 a.m. ET.
Other possible night games include Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J. on Oct. 1, at North Carolina State on Oct. 8 and at USC in the regular-season finale on Nov. 26, although the last afternoon kickoff between the Irish and Trojans in ’14 broke a string of six straight night games in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
If there’s much at stake when Notre Dame and USC square off as there was for last year’s regular-season finale at Stanford when a playoff spot remained in play, look for those two combatants to return to a night tilt.