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February 12, 2010
Notre Dame doesn't have its 2011 football schedule exactly how it wants it.
But the Irish are getting closer.
The switch of South Florida from early October to the season opener means Brian Kelly's second campaign will begin in the same place his first one will: Notre Dame Stadium. With Notre Dame continuing to implement a 7-4-1 schedule with seven home games, four road games and an off-site game, opening at home figures to became standard operating procedure.
Considering the scheduling challenges facing Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick, don't look for the University to voluntarily erect a hurdle of opening on the road. In fact, Notre Dame had been working for nearly a year to avoid it in 2011.
"With seven home games in these future schedules it seems crazy to have two road games right off the bat," said Senior Associate Athletic Director For Media and Broadcast Relations John Heisler. "It's more about the road aspect than who we're playing. I don't think we'd want to have two road games to start any year. Jack's concern is that we ought to find a way to open at home."
Notre Dame began work on moving South Florida in May and finalized the deal in September. The Bulls, coached by Skip Holtz, come to South Bend on Sept. 3 with the road game at Purdue moving to Oct. 1.
The change lets the Irish avoid opening the 2011 season with back-to-back road games for just the second time in 30 years. The only time it's happened during that span was Charlie Weis' first season when Notre Dame won at No. 23 Pittsburgh and No. 3 Michigan.
Heisler said Notre Dame was "not too far away" from finishing the 2011 schedule.
Tentatively, the Irish will host South Florida (Sept. 3), Michigan State (Sept. 17), USC (Oct. 22), Navy (Oct. 29) and Connecticut (Nov. 5). Notre Dame will travel to Michigan (Sept. 10), Pittsburgh (Sept. 24), Purdue (Oct. 1) and Stanford (Nov. 26). Army (Orlando, Fla.) and Maryland (Washington D.C.) have been rumored as possible off-site games.
That would leave two open home dates to satisfy the 7-4-1 model.
"Mostly we're trying to solidify the off-site game and add a couple home games," Heisler said. "One thing we're finding is that for a variety of reasons we're doing more in the short-term than we used to. The perception that everything going into scheduling is done 10-to-15 years down the road, that's just not what everybody is doing as much as they used to."
That's part of the reason why Notre Dame doesn't announce future schedules until they're finalized. The "Future Schedules" link on the University's website doesn't list anything beyond next season.
To understand how fluid scheduling can be, consider that the South Florida move is the second with the Bulls since the contract was signed in July of 2007. The game was initially set for Nov. 19, but moved to Oct. 1 just six months later.
As for filling those remaining home dates in 2011, Notre Dame's challenge is finding opponents willing to get creative. While South Florida is coming to South Bend without a return date, many opponents want something back after playing a true road game. Notre Dame has discussed two-for-one contracts and deals where a home game in South Bend would be returned with a neutral site game.
"It's a mixture of people that have some interest," Heisler said. "I think it is safe to say, let's put it this way, we're not going to get Texas or Alabama to come to South Bend on a one shot deal. That doesn't make sense for them probably.
"That's why part of this as we get into this sequence is trying to figure out who is interested coming to South Bend. You get lots of things thrown into the mix."
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