If you’ve been with us a while, you may remember the inaugural ranking of Notre Dame away games in 2015. While I won’t give myself too much credit, the top three games listed (Clemson, Stanford, UVA) were incredible games, even though they featured two Irish losses and the season-ending injury to Malik Zaire. Looking back the most controversial choice was probably ranking the Shamrock Series at Fenway as the fourth best trip, and I feel pretty validated by that selection as well – it was a slog of a game in cold weather that would likely have cost you double a normal game to attend.
So if this luck/wisdom continues (and hopefully the top games this year are Irish wins), what road games are the best trips in 2017? I will be geography-agnostic in these rankings since we have a national fanbase, but obviously proximity to home usually weighs heavily in individual choices as well. The criteria remains the same as last time – a refresher below:
- Opponent Quality: The better the opponent, the bigger the game.
- Stadium Experience: Combination of stadium itself and game day atmosphere
- College town: How are the surrounding attractions, sights, campus, and food? Bonus points for on-campus stadiums and location in a true college town where everyone will be focused on the game.
- Logistics: How easy is it to get there? Will the weather be decent? What are ticket prices like?
With no Shamrock Series game there’s only five games away from Notre Dame Stadium this year. So without further ado…
#5 – at Boston College, September 16
Opponent Quality: 4
Stadium Experience: 3
College Town: 6
If you live in the northeast, I completely understand picking a trip to Boston. Otherwise, this game has a serious lack of appeal. It’s a game with little to gain and much to lose for Notre Dame, and comes the week after a gigantic night game against UGA. Oh, and did I mention it’s a noon start? Woof.
The Eagles are going to be bad again in 2017, and not even exciting-bad like Purdue or Iowa State could be. BC’s defense will be pretty solid, and the offense will once again be dreadful. The recent contests against Notre Dame have been ugly affairs, with the Irish winning five straight since 2009 but with an average final score of 21-13.
I have no personal experience at BC Alumni Stadium, but it’s one of the poorer venues for a power five program in terms of both capacity and attendance. Boston is great destination and easy to get to, but the “campus” piece of our ranking will probably be lacking as most visitors would rather spend their time in the city versus Chestnut Hill.
#4– at Michigan State, September 13
Opponent Quality: 5
Stadium Experience: 7
College Town: 7
The next week the Irish travel to East Lansing in what should be a much better game environment. The Spartans will probably not be very good next year either, but beating MSU on the road will at least feel like a much bigger accomplishment because of their recent seasons under Mark Dantonio.
Night games are always a plus in my book, although I’ll have to make reservations for a very early fine dining experience in Chicago to make it to the game on time. Spartan Stadium provides a perfectly good stadium atmosphere without many exceptional qualities or weaknesses. East Lansing is a true college town, is easily accessible through Detroit for travel, and you could make a day trip to Grand Rapids before or after game day for some excellent breweries. Four out of five away games are pretty appealing this year – not bad!
#3 – at Stanford, November 25
Opponent Quality: 9
Stadium Experience: 4
College Town: 8
This game has endless possibilities – could it be a game with potential playoff implications like in 2015? Will it be the last game of the Brian Kelly era if things go poorly? At the very least, recent history indicates this will be a close game. The last five meetings between David Shaw and Brian Kelly have all been one-score games, with just six points separating the two teams (total score Stanford 109, ND 103).
The Cardinal are projected 12th in S&P+ and are likely to be the best team the Irish will face away from South Bend. The stadium experience at Stanford Stadium generally lacks intensity, but the good news is that there will be easy tickets available and a good percentage of Irish fans. The Stanford campus and Palo Alto are ridiculously beautiful, and proximity to San Francisco makes for easy travel and lots to do. The only real negative is timing – it’s Thanksgiving weekend, so airports will be a zoo and you’ll have to navigate a quick exit from potential family gatherings.
As the final game of the year, it’s also a high-risk high-reward game – it could be a matchup with national attention, or you may be extremely tired of this season if it bears any resemblances to 2016. By points this game tied with the next game (at Miami), but I’ll give the tiebreaker to a destination we play at less frequently and that will have better weather.
#2 – at Miami, November 11
Opponent Quality: 8
Stadium Experience: 5
College Town: 5
Depending on how much you believes in the Hurricanes, this gave could have national consequences as well . Miami is 18th in preseason S&P+ (ND 17th, if you were wondering) and the preseason favorite in the ACC Coastal. The Canes have a favorable schedule – 8-1 heading into this contest wouldn’t be shocking – and will be eager to avenge last year’s loss at home.
Miami has been ridiculed over the years for half-empty (or more) home games, but Miami fans will turn out for a big game with a quality team. Attendance increased 23% in Mark Richt’s first year, and unless the team struggles out of the gate I’d expect it to increase again. Hard Rock (formerly Dolphin) Stadium seems to be a much better venue post-renovations than it was the last time the Irish played there in 2012 (I cannot recall what happened after kickoff in that game, but we won the tailgate).
Like Boston, this game won’t feel much like the perfect game-day experience – 99% of visiting fans won’t step foot on Miami’s campus – but do I really need to sell you on visiting south Florida in November? Tickets should be reasonable, the weather will be fantastic, and there’s plenty to see and do in the city. The only downside is that the stadium is in a pretty isolated area outside the city, so the tailgating scene has more separation from other activities than would be ideal.
#1 – at UNC, October 7
Opponent Quality: 6
Stadium Experience: 6
College Town: 9
This game might be a slight upset in the top slot – North Carolina isn’t as much of a marquee program as the last three teams. But it’s a quality opponent, features a gorgeous on-campus stadium, and is located in a fantastic college town in Chapel Hill.
The Heels are projected as the 38th best team in 2017 per S&P+’s preseason rankings, and have been consistently competitive and fun to watch under Larry Fedora. The last meeting between these two teams was a shootout (and one of the first big uh-ohs of the BVG era when the defense had no answer for tempo). Per usual UNC should be much better offensively than defensively, so a high-scoring and competitive contest seems likely.
Keenan Memorial Stadium is an underrated venue – . I’ve seen it compared to a smaller Sanford Stadium with a less intense atmosphere – that’s still pretty good! With Notre Dame visiting you’re probably getting the best showing of the year though both from an attendance and intensity standpoint. Chapel Hill is one of the best college towns in the Southeast, with great weather and great restaurant/bar scene on Franklin Street right across from campus.
This will likely jinx and come back to haunt me, but it seems like a favorable away slate for Brandon Wimbush. Stanford and Miami will field strong defenses, and Spartan Stadium will get loud at night, but there’s no opponent that checks all the boxes of a strong team, huge stadium, and loud crowd. Sneaking a peek ahead, 2019 will be a different story, featuring trips to Louisville opening weekend, UGA three weeks later, and second-half contests at Michigan and Stanford.