Notre Dame Football: How Week One Will Influence Notre Dame’s Season

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Notre Dame has a marquee match-up with Michigan on the docket for their first game of the 2018 season. How will that game change the trajectory of their season?

For college football fans, opening weekend is a big deal. Expectations are high, slates are clean, and optimism abounds. By the end of the first weekend of marquee matchups, some fan bases are on cloud nine, while some feel like the sky is falling. Notre Dame football fans have experienced this gamut of emotions often.

Scheduling marquee opponents in the first weekend of the college football season seems to be the new, trendy way to go for many schools. This September boasts a few high-profile games opening weekend. LSU and Miami Tango at Cowboys Stadium while Auburn and Washington square off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

In the Midwest, the marquee matchup takes place in South Bend where Michigan will visit Notre Dame Stadium.

How much does the game actually matter?

Certainly, every college football game carries a certain degree of importance. But precedence indicates that an early-season toe-stub can be overcome for a team with College Football Playoff aspirations. In 2014, Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in week 2 before making the playoff and winning the title. In 2015, Oklahoma even lost a mid-season match-up with arch-rival Texas before sneaking in to the playoff.

Additionally, one week usually is not long enough to create an accurate portrait of a team. Notre Dame fans should know that all too well.

In 2016, Texas topped Notre Dame in overtime. The proclamation was made: “Texas is back, folks!” Neither team finished the season above .500. Texas fired Charlie Strong.

It’s nearly impossible to establish context after one or two weeks. Another such example was Notre Dame’s week two date with Georgia last season. At the time, who knew that the two teams would both be College Football Playoff contenders well into the late stages of the season? The answer: No one.

Establishing context for either the Irish or the Wolverines will be impossible by the time the dust settles on the night of September 1st. Put another way, a recent article from Sports Illustrated made this note:

"“The problem is we won’t know the answers to any of these questions when we wake up the morning of Sept. 2. All we’ll know is what happened in that one game. Without other data points to provide context, we may not be able to draw any accurate conclusions.”"

For both Notre Dame and Michigan, questions abound. The bottom line is that a game in September likely won’t paint an accurate picture of either team. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

It’s Different for Notre Dame

Though the Irish could overcome a potential loss and still make the College Football Playoff, that scenario isn’t particularly likely. The Irish have a grueling schedule–one that would make any type of 11-game winning streak highly improbable. If the Irish want to compete for a title, the game against Michigan is essentially a must-win.

Additionally, aside from potentially dashing their playoff hopes, week one carries another significant importance for Notre Dame.

For the Irish and Coach Brian Kelly, it’s important that the Irish buck the trend of coming up short in big games. The Irish have been just good enough to be considered a pretty good team many times in recent memory. What they haven’t done is win the big game to tip the scales. The Irish have been unable to get over the metaphorical hump.

If the Irish drop week one, Kelly and his team will carry the familiar burden of not being quite good enough to truly be considered one of the nation’s best. It’s a burden they can’t afford to carry if the goal is for College Football Playoff.

Related Story: Know your enemy: Michigan Wolverines

While a win or a loss in week one won’t completely dictate success or failure throughout the rest of the season, Notre Dame fans have waited long enough for a team that performs well on the biggest of stages. It’s a game they simply cannot afford to lose.