The Big Ten conference has recently introduced its “Flex Protect Plus” scheduling model, which will be implemented when USC and UCLA join the conference in 2024. This new model aims to protect certain matchups and ensure that each school plays every other school at least twice over a four-year period. With these changes on the horizon, it raises questions about the possibility of Notre Dame, an independent football program, joining the Big Ten. In this article, we explore the potential annual matchups that Notre Dame should consider if it ever becomes a full-time member of the Big Ten.
Changing Times and Notre Dame’s Independence
In the early years of the 20th century, Notre Dame sought entry into the Big Ten but was denied the opportunity. However, as college football’s landscape undergoes significant transformations, the feasibility of Notre Dame’s long-standing independence is being reevaluated. Moreover, with the current head of NBC Sports Group, which holds the TV rights for Notre Dame football, potentially becoming the next athletic director for the Fighting Irish, a full-time membership in the Big Ten seems increasingly likely.
Embracing Notre Dame’s Midwest Rivalries
Before traditionalists dismiss the idea, it is essential to consider the historical opponents that Notre Dame has frequently faced, many of which are based in the Midwest. By joining the Big Ten, the Fighting Irish could revive annual or semi-annual rivalries that have been somewhat neglected due to their obligations to the ACC, which is primarily centered on the East Coast. While there is no disrespect towards the ACC, matchups against teams like Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech may not generate the same level of excitement among Notre Dame’s fan base.
Setting Parameters for Notre Dame in the Big Ten
In the event of Notre Dame’s membership in the Big Ten, certain considerations and parameters must be established. One of these is maintaining the annual game against Navy as a nonconference opponent. This tradition holds great significance, and any season without the Midshipmen feels incomplete. Beyond that, there are several opponents that should be scheduled annually or at least merit strong consideration. Let’s explore these potential matchups:
1. Ohio State
To be the best, you have to compete against the best. The Buckeyes have consistently ranked among the top-tier teams in college football, making them an ideal measuring stick for Notre Dame every year.
While Notre Dame may not have a strong historical connection with the Badgers, their relative proximity creates an opportunity for a new rivalry. Wisconsin has established itself as a reputable program, and the vibrant game-day atmosphere in Madison would make for a compelling tradition between the two schools.
3. Michigan State
Given that the region is referred to as Michiana, it only makes sense to continue the rivalry with Michigan State. Over the years, these two schools have engaged in memorable battles, and their close proximity further strengthens the case for maintaining this rivalry.
The discontinuation of the Notre Dame-Northwestern matchup remains a mystery. Many people in the Chicago area consider Notre Dame a local institution, and the rivalry would generate significant interest among college football fans. Bringing back this rivalry would be a win-win situation for both schools.
The rivalry between Notre Dame and Michigan is a natural one. Both programs boast rich histories, and their encounters have been highly competitive. The Irish should not have allowed this rivalry to fade away, and a Notre Dame-Big Ten membership would rectify this unfortunate situation.
Geographically, a matchup between Notre Dame and Purdue makes perfect sense. The proximity between the two schools minimizes travel requirements for both teams and their fans. With Indiana still establishing its presence in college football, reigniting this in-state rivalry would add excitement to the season.
Considered a protected matchup, the Notre Dame-USC rivalry must continue if the Irish join the Big Ten. The conference’s leadership would acknowledge the importance of preserving this historic rivalry. Failing to do so would defeat the purpose of the whole arrangement.
In conclusion, as college football undergoes transformative changes, the possibility of Notre Dame joining the Big Ten should not be dismissed. By becoming a full-time member, the Fighting Irish could revive their Midwest rivalries and create new traditions within the conference. Maintaining certain parameters, including the annual game against Navy, will be crucial. Ultimately, the decision rests with Notre Dame, but the allure of fierce competition and regional rivalries should not be ignored.