For the fifth time in the last seven seasons, No. 9 Notre Dame (3-0) will host a member of the Mid-American Conference today with Central Michigan’s visit. The Chippewas (1-1) and the Irish have never played before, a common theme for these MAC visits with the only one of those five that Notre Dame had previously played being one game against Miami of Ohio in 1909.
The Irish won that game 46-0, for the record, part of being 9-0 against current MAC teams.
Why the recent influx of MAC opponents? Logic suggests threefold reasoning.
First of all, Notre Dame has needed more one-off opponents since it added five ACC games per season in 2014. Add in the annual games against USC, Stanford and Navy, and the Irish schedule has only four openings each year. Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick has always added at least one more Power Five conference, if not two, to each schedule — think No. 6 Ohio State out of the Big Ten next week or Georgia from the SEC and Michigan from the Big Ten in 2019 — narrowing the pool of available Saturdays to just three.
The University prioritizes home games, hosting at least seven games in every season since 2009’s implementation of the Shamrock Series, including eight in 2009 and 2010. (This excludes 2020 for obvious reasons, with six home games.) With those eight annual games presumably split four home and four away, the Irish need to tilt the remaining four games toward three home and one on the road, meaning one-off “buy” games are a necessity. Home-and-home series would not allow Notre Dame to keep tilting its schedule toward its own ticket office.
Secondly, MAC programs can theoretically help with those ticket sales. With nothing but common sense backing this up, more Bowling Green fans presumably visited South Bend in 2019 than New Mexico fans did.
In broad strokes, ticket sales across college football have fallen over the last decade. Boosting liquid income by a couple thousand ticket sales to MAC fans helps a bottom line that probably requires more scrutiny than is widely-assumed.
Lastly, and Central Michigan-specific, this game was announced in March of 2021. Notre Dame was still coached by Brian Kelly at that point, as in, former Chippewas head coach Brian Kelly.
“My hat’s off to their administration,” current Central Michigan head coach Jim McElwain said this week. “I think Brian was actually there when it was scheduled. I’m sure, looking out for us a little bit.
“Being able to not only be in such a great place but obviously being able to take that payday so we can support the whole athletic department and all the other sports, as well. It’s something that keeps a lot of us alive in this conference and at other places. That is kind of how it is.”
None of that may matter on the field today, not even the seven-figure check Central Michigan University will receive, but understanding the logic to this matchup holds its own value.
TV: This game will be available exclusively on Peacock. Signing up for Peacock is as easy as signing up for any streaming platform, and to make it a bit easier, click …
Jac Collinsworth will return to the ND on NBC booth to provide play-by-play alongside analyst Jason Garrett.
TIME: 2:30 ET, meaning this game should end just as No. 8 Washington ends the first quarter at Michigan State, kicking off at 5:00 ET, also available exclusively on Peacock.
For any ND fans not in the US (don't have Peacock), you don't need a VPN to watch the Central Michigan game. Just go to Fighting Irish TV and set up an account.
It's free https://t.co/YVx0BhxR3k
— Jamie Uyeyama (@jamieuyeyama) September 15, 2023
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PREVIEW: Central Michigan is overmatched today. There is no need to sugarcoat that. But the Chippewas may have the most entertaining player on the field in quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr. More a runner than a passer, Emanuel should be counted on for one play surprising the Irish stands, perhaps finding the end zone on that play.
But otherwise, Central Michigan will struggle to move the ball, so terrible at passing the ball that it leans into the ground game, hence Emanuel being described as “more a runner than a passer.” Against a veteran Notre Dame defensive front seven, though without fifth-year linebacker and two-time leading tackler JD Bertrand, the Chippewas leaning on the ground game will not be a recipe for success. Just ask Navy.
To some degree, McElwain may recognize this coming reality. He spent three years as the Florida head coach, he knows both sides of this talent disparity.
“Enjoy the moment has really been [the week’s approach] for us,” he said. “Don’t get scared when you see those shiny helmets.”
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 14, 2023
PREDICTION: Gamblers, psychologists and everyday fans all look at a game like this the same way. With the Buckeyes pulling into town in a week, Notre Dame may be prone to look ahead, short its attention on Central Michigan.
That likelihood is reflected in the spread favoring the Irish by 34.5 points, as of Saturday’s earliest hours. If Notre Dame was ready to unload on Emanuel & Co., a 40-point margin would be the expectation, not a mere five touchdowns.
The real moment of looking past the Chippewas may not come until the coaching staff does so in the second half, presumably pulling quarterback Sam Hartman once the Irish enjoy a 30-plus point lead in the second half. Now, that suggestion will worry some Notre Dame fans who remember the consternation provided by Toledo (exclusively on Peacock) in 2021 or Ball State in 2018. Well, the latter trailed 24-6 entering the fourth quarter and never had possession with a chance to tie, and Toledo was only a three-touchdown underdog, not five.
The Cardinals were able to come within one possession because Brandon Wimbush threw them three interceptions. Maybe Hartman makes one mistake this afternoon, which would be his first pick of the year, but three? Such paranoia is unbecoming.
Furthermore, Irish junior running back Audric Estimé should find some running lanes against the Chippewas, ones opened up by Hartman picking apart a vulnerable secondary.
The duo should dazzle the scoreboard until they are sent to the sideline before the fourth quarter, the combined point total Over/Under of 51.5 most threatened by Emanuel’s late snaps, picking up yardage against Notre Dame reserves that should be able to contain him if — and this is a big if for some underclassmen in their first prolonged action — they can remain disciplined.
Notre Dame 45, Central Michigan 7.(Straight-up: 3-0; Against the spread: 3-0; Over/Under: 0-3)
SOME OTHER NUMBERS
10: Touchdown passes through three games this season for Hartman.
17: Touchdown drives Hartman has led.
20: Drives that ended with scoring chances (one field goal, two missed field goals) led by Hartman.
27: Total drives led by Hartman this season.
32: The number worn by 1947 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack, which will adorn the back of the Irish helmets today.
As in, Johnny Lujack, the 1947 Heisman Trophy winner who passed away in July at the age of 98. https://t.co/BMr1h4A126
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 15, 2023
120: Career touchdown passes by Hartman, No. 10 in NCAA history, one behind No. 8, a tie between former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer (1988-91) and former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (2010-13).
13,698: Career passing yards for Hartman, No. 11 in NCAA history, 381 yards behind former Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato (2011-14).
INSIDE THE IRISH
— How and when to watch Notre Dame vs Central Michigan on Peacock on Saturday, or Fast X, Rudy and John Wick
— Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s seeming failure to get to the QB partly by design, likely this weekend
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Kyle McCord, Leonard Riley and Cade Klubnik all star against FCS opponents
— On hot dogs, Notre Dame’s injuries and not looking ahead to No. 6 Ohio State
— Things We Learned: ‘Staying in the moment’ aside, Notre Dame’s ceiling may reach Playoff, raised by Hartman
— Central Michigan vs Notre Dame odds, picks and predictions: Irish waste no time dispatching Chippewas
— Alabama turning to Tyler Buchner at QB? Notre Dame transfer expected to replace Jalen Milroe vs. USF
— Quenton Nelson questionable, Zack Moss set to play for Colts
— Matt Eberflus on possibly deactivating Chase Claypool: Looking at all options