SOUTH BEND — For just the sixth time since 2000, Notre Dame football opens a season with a true road game.
It’s an atypical road opener for the Fighting Irish as well, as they play Labor Day night against Louisville. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Notre Dame, ranked No. 9 in the preseason Associated Press poll, is one of two top-10 teams opening with a true road game this year. No. 3 Georgia visits Nashville to take on Vanderbilt on Saturday.
While the Irish are currently a 20-point favorite over the Cardinals, playing true road games to start the season hasn’t always been great for Notre Dame. Here’s a rundown of how the previous five games this century have gone for the Irish.
SEPT. 8, 2001, at NEBRASKA
Final score: No. 4 Nebraska 27, No. 18 Notre Dame 10
This was Nebraska’s third game of the season, and it showed. The Cornhuskers were the more polished team in knocking off the Irish in Lincoln. Notre Dame committed four turnovers, including an interception thrown by both quarterbacks, Matt LoVeechio and Carlyle Holiday. Eric Crouch threw a touchdown pass as the Cornhuskers built a 17-0 lead early. Nebraska outgained the Irish 270-162 in total yards and edged Notre Dame 16-14 in first downs.
Nebraska finished the 2001 regular season 11-1, advancing to the BCS National Championship Game. The Huskers lost that title game, 37-14, to Miami.
Notre Dame finished the year 5-6. It was the last season under head coach Bob Davie. The Irish were 35-25 in five seasons with Davie as head coach.
SEPT. 4, 2004, at BYU
Final score: BYU 20, Notre Dame 17
In the final season for head coach Tyrone Willingham, the Irish lost the season opener on the road to the Cougars in Provo, Utah. After BYU opened up a 20-3 lead, the Irish fought back to make it a three-point game. Sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Rhema McKnight late in the third quarter, and Preston Jackson had a pick-6 in the fourth to make the game close. The Cougars’ defense shut down Notre Dame the rest of the way, though, to secure the victory.
BYU ended up finishing the 2004 season with a 5-6 record and not qualifying for a bowl game.
Notre Dame went 6-5 in the regular season before losing the Insight Bowl to Oregon State to finish 6-6 overall. Kent Baer served as the head coach for the bowl game following the firing of Willingham.
SEPT. 3, 2005, at PITTSBURGH
Final score: Notre Dame 42, No. 23 Pittsburgh 21
The Charlie Weis era started out on an emphatic note in 2005 when Notre Dame knocked off the Panthers in Pittsburgh. The win moved Notre Dame from unranked to 20th in the following week’s AP poll. After trailing 10-7 to end the first quarter, the Irish outscored the Panthers, 28-3, in the second quarter. Notre Dame put up 502 yards of offense, including 227 passing from Quinn. Rashon Powers-Neal rushed for three touchdowns, and Darius Walker had 100 yards rushing and two total touchdowns.
Pitt had a disappointing year, finishing 5-6.
Notre Dame finished the season 9-3, ending with a loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Quinn finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, and Weis won coach of the year honors from the Football Writers of America.
SEPT. 2, 2006, at GEORGIA TECH
Final score: No. 2 Notre Dame 14, Georgia Tech 10
The Irish had high expectations following a breakout 2005 season, and they got off on the right foot by defeating the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. Once again, Notre Dame went down early, as Calvin Johnson caught a touchdown pass to make it 7-0. The Yellow Jackets led 10-7 at halftime, but a Darius Walker touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Irish the lead for good.
Georgia Tech finished the season 9-5, including losses in the ACC Championship Game against Wake Forest and in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia. Notre Dame finished 10-3, including a loss in the Sugar Bowl to LSU.
No. 2 was the highest the Irish reached all season.
SEPT. 4, 2016 @ TEXAS
Final score: Texas 50, No. 10 Notre Dame 47 (2OT)
This opener is known as the “Texas is back!” game. After Notre Dame blew out Texas, 38-3, in the 2015 season opener in South Bend, the Longhorns won a dramatic, back-and-forth contest to start the 2016 season. After Justin Yoon made a field goal to start the second overtime, Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes scored on a 6-yard touchdown run to win the game for the Longhorns. This prompted ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore to proclaim “Texas is back!” given Texas’ unranked status and Notre Dame’s No. 10 ranking at the time.
In actuality, Texas wasn’t “back.” The Longhorns finished 2016 with a 5-7 record, losing their final three games of the season to miss out on bowl eligibility. Head coach Charlie Strong was fired following the season.
2016 ended up being the worst season so far for Notre Dame under head coach Brian Kelly, as it finished 4-8. Since 2016, Notre Dame is 22-4 and made an appearance in the College Football Playoff in 2018.