For all the real-world issues college football deals with daily — make sure to mask up, and maintain that social distance — some of the game’s power players still operate as if in the Land of Make Believe.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick apparently has a nice home on a hill in that Fantasyland. Executives at NBC Sports have a shotgun shack timeshare right down the road. It’s used exclusively for select weekends. Select Notre Dame football weekends like this one.
Swarbrick and NBC should be embarrassed with the decision to slot Saturday’s game between No. 5 Notre Dame (2-0; 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Florida State (1-2; 0-2) at night. It will run opposite the early game of the year — replaced by a certain ACC matchup from South Bend (and at night) next month — between No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami.
Night games at Notre Dame Stadium should mean something. They’re unique. They’re special. They’re happenings. In a normal world (remember that?) the buildup lasts all week. They’re unlike any other home games on the Irish schedule. Really, they’re sacred. Reserved for so few.
Sun setting on campus. Quality opponent in town. Football under the lights at a place that until the remodel in 1997 had to have portable stanchions trucked in from Iowa when days grew short and afternoon games ran long.
Night games should be reserved for unique opponents. Like Georgia, which visited for the first time in 2017. Reserved for rivalries. Like Michigan. Duh. And Southern California. Double duh. Those games scream night spots. Special game. Special night.
Then there’s Florida State 2020, which has been boat-raced by Miami (52-10) and had to scramble back last week at home to beat … Jacksonville (Ala.) State (41-24). The Seminoles seemingly cannot get out of their own way, on and off the field. But for its second consecutive visit to South Bend, the decision-makers (cough, cough, Swarbrick and NBC) deemed it worthy of a Northern Indiana night.
Put this one on at night, but at least make it tape delay. Maybe the fewer eyes that see it, the better. This one has all the makings of a noon kick on ACC Network, a channel that too few around these parts even get. But that’s not how the NBC contract is written. If it has to be on NBC, and every Irish home game since 1991 has been, then at least slot it during the day. Early. There’s really no reason to wait around all day for this one, especially given the uncertainty of the last two weeks around the Notre Dame program.
Get this game in, get out and (fingers crossed) get on with the rest of the season.
Brian Kelly did his head coaching due diligence this week paying proper respect to the opponent. In surveying the Seminoles, Kelly used words like “outstanding” and “talented” and “big-play.” Let’s not overdo it. He also claimed there might be as many as seven first-day draft picks on the FSU roster. He didn’t say what draft. NFL? XFL?
“This is a team that will continue to get better week to week,” Kelly said.
Yet likely not this one. Florida State’s a proud program, but one that’s seen way better days. This one has the potential to get ugly against a Notre Dame team that hasn’t played in seemingly forever. It’s been a looooong three weeks since the Irish were last on the field to play some real football. Closest they’ve gotten since was a Sunday scrimmage inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame looked to have found its footing Sept. 19 in a 52-0 thrashing of South Florida. Coronavirus then took over. It knocked the Irish on their heels and to the sideline for the last two Saturdays. Everything just stopped. No practices. No games. No anything. That means Notre Dame likely is starting from scratch with this one.
Remember the sputters in the opener against Duke? The defense looked slow and the offense looked uncertain. We’re sure to see some of that Saturday night. Remember how the Irish made it look easy at times against USF? We’ll likely see some of that as well. Just not right away.
“You can’t just think we’re going to roll it back out there,” Kelly said, “and all things will be good.”
In time, they will be. Especially against this opponent. Look up “mess” in the dictionary and it likely says, “see, Florida State.”
These aren’t the Seminoles of seasons past. The ones who would win at least 10 games every year from 1987 to 2000 and be a perennial challenger for the national championship. The ones who won it all as recently as 2013. The ones who lost only one game as recently as 2014. This isn’t about the infamous “pick” play the Irish were flagged for in 2014. This isn’t about former Irish wide receiver Derrick Mayes doing Derrick Mayes things in the 1995 Orange Bowl. This isn’t about the Game of the Century in 1993. It’s not about Bobby Bowden (get well soon, Coach) against Lou Holtz.
The Seminoles are on their fourth head coach in three seasons. They’re on their third quarterback in four weeks. They’re likely headed to a third straight losing season. That will be the first time since the program lost four straight from 1973 to 1976.
Even Notre Dame middle linebacker and Florida native Drew White is pressed to recognize this Florida State outfit. White grew up at a time when three state schools — Florida, Florida State, Miami (Fla.) — all were perennial college football powers. Living so close to the U — White’s from Boca Raton — he was first a fan of the Hurricanes. But the Seminoles were good. They had a yearly player pipeline to the NFL. They had cache. They had swagger.
Had being the operative word.
“Man, the Seminoles, Florida State, they have a great program,” White said. “The whole country knows. Everyone in Florida knows. They’ve got a lot of big, athletic, dudes. They’re a good team. They’re not coming up to South Bend expecting to lose.”
That translation in truth? Florida State stinks now.
Since Notre Dame started playing night games on NBC in 2012, opponents have arrived carrying losing records only twice — both times Florida State. In 2018, the last time Irish quarterback Ian Book didn’t start a game, the Seminoles were 4-5 and played like it in a 42-13 loss. Now, they’re not expected to give the Irish much of a game as 21-point underdogs.
Three-touchdown ‘dogs don’t play at night. Not here. Yet for some reason, the stadium lights will burn bright Saturday.