Vanderbilt Serves As Notre Dame's 2018 SEC 'Marker'
Last week it was outlined here why Mid-American Conference opponents are becoming a regular staple of Notre Dame’s 12-game regular season, starting with Miami (Ohio) in 2017, Ball State this season … and continuing through at least 2021 with Bowling Green, Western Michigan and Toledo.
This week, the topic centers on the Southeastern Conference, generally considered the most prominent, talented and best college football league in the country.
Notre Dame’s national schedule as a football independent preferably entails having representation from each of the Power Five conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — to serve as a marker for the College Football Playoff committee.
• As a partial football member of the ACC, Notre Dame has that league taken care of with four to six games per season.
• With its geographic proximity and long history with the Fighting Irish, the Big Ten will have consistent presence on the schedule, including Michigan State (2016‑17 and 2026-27), Michigan (2018-19) and Northwestern (2014 and 2018) this year, plus Wisconsin (2020-21), Ohio State (2022-23) and Purdue (2021, 2025‑28) in the future.
• The Pac-12 is set with USC and Stanford joining Navy as annuals on the slate.
• The Big 12 is a little trickier, but still had its two biggest brands on the docket in 2012-13 with Oklahoma and 2015-16 with Texas.
However, where Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick has especially placed a premium on getting more consistent representation is the SEC.
From the turn of the century through 2016, Notre Dame's lone SEC regular-season foe was Tennessee (1999 and 2001, and 2004‑05). Getting southern schools to travel north is not a simple endeavor, but Swarbrick’s efforts have been met pretty well.
It began with a first-ever home-and-home versus Georgia (2017 and 2019), followed by first-ever meetings with Arkansas at home in 2020 and then at Fayetteville in 2025.
In addition, Texas A&M has been lined up in 2024‑25, while Alabama is signed for 2028‑29.
This year is unusual in that Vanderbilt agreed to a one-game series at Notre Dame without a return match in Nashville, which is generally unheard of if not unacceptable among Power Five schools. Nevertheless, it fulfills a Notre Dame goal of having a broad-based schedule that members of the College Football Playoff committee can use to assess how the Irish match up versus each league.
Vanderbilt is not the marquee matchup of a Georgia, but it still displays an intent to schedule Power Five teams as opposed to interspersing too many “gimmes,” which the SEC has turned into an art form to compensate for its arduous league schedule.
For example, Alabama, winner of five of the last nine national titles, has Arkansas State, Louisiana and The Citadel in 2018.
Auburn, to its credit, scheduled Pac-12 power Washington in its opener, but wisely followed with Alabama State, and then has Liberty the week prior to facing the Crimson Tide on Thanksgiving weekend.
Georgia, which is on the threshold of becoming a top-5 program after playing Alabama for the national title last season, had Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee sandwiched in between conference rival South Carolina last Saturday. The week before its in-state showdown with Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs host UMass.
Vanderbilt might be considered the bottom feeder of the 14-team SEC. However, as Notre Dame learned last week in its hard fought 24-16 win versus Ball State, taking any game for granted — particularly against the SEC — has the makings of a pitfall.