When Notre Dame opens its 2016 season in Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium against the Longhorns Sunday night, it will mark the first time in the Brian Kelly era that the Irish have begun a football season at an opposing team’s home venue.
In Kelly’s first six years with the Irish, Notre Dame played five home games – wins over Purdue (2010), Temple (2013), Rice (2014) and Texas (2015) with a loss to South Florida (2011) -- and a neutral site game against Navy in Dublin (2012).
Road openers have been uncommon occurrences for Notre Dame through the years. This will mark just the 31st time in 128 seasons that the Irish have traveled to an opposing team’s home field for the first game of the campaign.
Since the start of the modern era of Notre Dame football – defined by the 1964 season when Ara Parseghian began an 11-year reign in South Bend – the Irish have opened at a road site just 15 times (12-3 record), the last two of which came in the first two years (2005-06) of the Charlie Weis era.
Weis won both of those games – 42-21 over No. 23 Pittsburgh in ’05 and 14-10 over Georgia Tech in ’06 – to join Lou Holtz (2-0 in true road openers), Dan Devine (2-0) and Parseghian (5-0) among Irish head coaches unscathed in lid-lifters away from home.
Since 1985, however, the Irish are just 4-3 in such games with Tyrone Willingham falling at Brigham Young (20-17) in ‘04, Bob Davie losing at No. 5 Nebraska (27-10) in ‘01, and Gerry Faust succumbing at Michigan (20-12) in ’85. Amidst those slow starts came Holtz’s 14-7 victory at Vanderbilt to open the ’96 season and a 26-7 win at No. 9 Michigan in ’87.
Notre Dame won 10 straight road openers from 1957-83 with Parseghian beating up on five unranked teams while Devine knocked off the No. 7 Panthers in Pittsburgh (19-9) out of the gate in ’77 and No. 6 Michigan (12-10) in the first game of ’79.
In addition to the 30 previous times the Irish have begun a season at a true road venue, there have been seven neutral site lid-lifters, all of which came since 1975.
Notre Dame’s first neutral site game was Devine’s first as the head coach of the Irish when they claimed a 17-3 season-opening victory in ’75 over Boston College in Foxboro, Mass.
Faust’s ’84 team fell 23-21 to Purdue in the old (but then new) Indianapolis Hoosier Dome. Holtz won three straight -- one in Giants Stadium over Virginia (36-13) in ’89, and a pair over Northwestern in Chicago’s Soldier Field in ’92 (42-7) and ’94 (42-15).
Willingham made a spectacular debut as Notre Dame’s head coach in ’02 with a 22-0 win over Maryland in Giants Stadium. Kelly added to an overall 6-1 record by the Irish in neutral site openers with a 50-10 triumph over Navy in Ireland four seasons ago.
Although the Longhorns won’t be ranked in the Associated Press poll when they take on the Irish Sunday evening, it’s easily Notre Dame’s most difficult first-game excursion since Davie’s loss the No. 5 Cornhuskers in ’01 when Nebraska went on to finish 11-2.
Road games are difficult enough. Playing in front of 100,199 diehard Longhorn fans will be a challenge Kelly and his squad will face for the first time in his seventh year at the helm.