Notebook: Notre Dame-OSU series draws range of reactions

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —The national reaction to Notre Dame’s and Ohio State’s joint announcement Thursday of a future football series ranged into the extremes.

You had the “isn’t this great for college football?” camp that trumpeted the 2022 and 2023 home-and-homes as a byproduct of the new four-team college football playoff and its emphasis on strength of schedule.

Then you had the cynics who viewed the timing of the disclosure as, well, Notre Dame’s counter to the Chicken Dance, given that this is Michigan week.

The 16th-ranked Irish (1-0) clash with Ohio State’s current arch-rival, Michigan (1-0), in the last scheduled meeting in the series on Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium.

Irish coach Brian Kelly played it straight and vanilla Thursday after practice when discussing the first meeting between the two schools since the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2005 season, won by OSU 34-20.

“I think they were probably equally as excited to have Notre Dame on their schedule,” Kelly said of the Buckeyes, who lead the series, 3-2.

“We’re looking for those high-profile programs across the country. We added Georgia. We’ve added Texas. I think we continue to look at the kind of programs that have that national appeal, and certainly Ohio State has that as well.”

The teams will play Sept. 3, 2022, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, and Sept. 23, 2023, at Notre Dame Stadium.

ND and Ohio State first met in Columbus back in 1935, an 18-13 Irish victory that was labeled “The Game of the Century,” and then back in South Bend in 1936, with Notre Dame prevailing 7-2.

The 1995-96 home-and-homes were reportedly first discussed in the late 1970s, when icon Woody Hayes was still the Buckeyes’ head coach — but reportedly behind his back. With coach Lou Holtz, a former Hayes assistant, at the helm, the Buckeyes swept the Irish, 45-26 and 29-16.

But during the 1996 game in South Bend, the two athletic directors at the time, OSU’s Andy Geiger and ND’s Mike Wadsworth, started to build momentum for another series between the two schools.

''We both feel that the series is a great one and we'd like to reschedule it again,” Wadsworth said at the time. “We haven't discussed specific dates. Both of our schedules are pretty well filled right through 2005. But sometime after that, we'd like to do it.''

Two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, now president and CEO of the Ohio State University Alumni Association, endorsed the move back then.

''When you look at the excitement it's generated in both states, how could you not want it?” he said. “Heck, I would have liked to play them when I was in school.''

Current Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and OSU counterpart Gene Smith apparently concurred.

“I am excited we are able once again to bring these two programs together on the football field,” Swarbrick said via prepared statement. “Football games between Notre Dame and Ohio State make great sense from a strength-of-schedule standpoint.

“In addition, with Gene Smith having both played and coached football at Notre Dame—and with (Ohio State head coach) Urban Meyer having served as an assistant football coach at Notre Dame—there are some obvious, high-profile connections between our two institutions.”

Meyer was a first-year Notre Dame assistant coach on Holtz’s staff in 1996 when the two teams last played during the regular season.

Holtz returns

Speaking of Holtz, he's been on Brian Kelly's speed dial ever since he took over at Notre Dame.

Kelly still considers the last man to take the Irish to a national title in football (1988) a valuable resource, even though the calls and meetings aren’t as frequent as in the early years.

“He’ll talk to the team tomorrow,” said Kelly, in his fifth season with the Irish. “It’s always good to see Coach. He’s great. He never is somebody that’s going to call you and ask you for anything, but you call him and he gets right back to you.

“I had a couple of questions during the summer, and he got right back to me about a couple of things that I wanted to ask. I asked him a couple of questions about some things that we were doing internally. He’s that kind of guy. We’re excited about having him back on campus.”

Holtz is scheduled to speak at the pep rally Friday night before attending a sold-out function for Lou’s Lads, which will also be attended by dozens of players from the Holtz Era (1986-96) as well as 1964 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte.

Lou’s Lads, inspired by Leahy’s Lads, consists of former ND football players who played during the Holtz Era. Among the group’s most visible functions is raising money for scholarships for underprivileged students and legacies.

Among their other charges are providing funds for the surviving families of passing members. That includes somewhat recently the family of the late Mirko Jurkovic.

The pep rally is scheduled to take place in front of the Hesburgh Library at 5:45 p.m. EDT. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the rally will be moved to the north dome of the Joyce Center.

Personnel matters

• Sophomore wide receiver Torii Hunter’s progress was so encouraging this week coming back from a groin injury, Kelly is hopeful the son of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter Sr. can finally make his collegiate debut Sept. 13 against Purdue.

Hunter suffered a torn groin Aug. 5, the second day of training camp, and hadn’t been cleared to work out until this week. The Prosper, Texas, product missed the entire 2013 season while recovering from a broken leg suffered before he enrolled at ND.

“I really like the way he moved around this week,” Kelly said. “We’ll see, but he’s ahead of schedule and he was in full gear on Wednesday and did a lot (Thursday). So we’re very optimistic that next week that he gets released.”

• Kelly said there were no other new injuries in practice this week that would affect availability for the Michigan game.

Night moves

• Saturday is the 11th night game in Notre Dame Stadium history. The Irish are 8-2 overall, and 4-0 versus Michigan.

• Notre Dame played a school record-tying seven night games in 2012 and six more in 2013. There is the potential for eight in 2014 if you include a bowl or playoff game.

• Notre Dame has played 114 night games, with an overall record of 72-40-2 (.640). Here is the individual win-loss breakdown of ND’s coaches under the lights: Frank Leahy 1-0, Terry Brennan 1-1, Joe Kuharich 0-1, Ara Parseghian 10-2-1, Dan Devine 5-0, Gerry Faust 4-2, Lou Holtz 20-5-1, Bob Davie 2-9, Tyrone Willingham 5-2, (Interim coach) Kent Baer 0-1, Charlie Weis 9-7 and Brian Kelly 15-9.

• Notre Dame has played more night games against Miami (13) than any other opponent. The Irish are 7-5-1 (.577) at night against the Hurricanes.

Former Notre Dame defensive end Ronald Talley (99) chases Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith during the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. The two teams announced Thursday they have scheduled a home-and-home series for 2022 and 2023. (SBT File Photo)