Among the 131 teams referred to as “Division I football” teams, only Notre Dame, USC and UCLA have never played an opponent from a lower division in the modern era. UCLA will do so this September, and now the Irish will join them in facing an FCS foe in 2023 after announcing a matchup against Tennessee State for early next season.
Notre Dame and the historically Black university based in Nashville, Tenn., will meet on Sept. 2, 2023 at Notre Dame Stadium, a week after the Irish face Navy in Dublin to open the season.
The Tigers are coached by former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George.
“We’re excited to bring a pair of great academic institutions that are steeped in tradition together in 2023,” Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said. “None of this would be possible without [Tennessee State director of athletics] Dr. (Mikki) Allen and coach George’s vision for what this game can represent to our Universities. I’m thrilled we’re able to bring the Tigers and the Irish together for a weekend that will feature programs with over 20 combined national titles, the Aristocrat of Bands and the Band of the Fighting Irish.”
By scheduling an FCS opponent the week after a trip abroad, Notre Dame avoids an idle week early in the season and thus will have two off weeks in the thick of the fall calendar. (From the Aug. 26 matchup with Navy to the end of November is 14 weeks to fit 12 games.)
Tennessee State went 5-6 in 2021, ending it with a 55-10 loss at then-No. 25 Mississippi State in November. George’s first season as head coach featured a one-win improvement in conference play compared to the Tigers’ pandemic-shortened 2020 season, going 3-3 under George and 2-5 the year prior.
“We are setting the foundation for long-term success under coach George’s leadership,” Dr. Allen said. “The goal is that TSU will be a destination program for the next generation of student-athletes to come.”
USC nearly became the first of those three schools to face an FCS team, scheduling UC Davis as its 2021 opener. Fans’ outcry led to the Trojans canceling the game and paying UC Davis $725,000 instead.
“I have to give our donors and fans a lot of the credit,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said upon canceling the game, scheduled before he joined the Trojans administration. “When I arrived, I committed to listening and learning, and the feedback from our fans was clear. Preserving our history is critically important to us and to our fans, so we worked to make that happen.”
UCLA since scheduled a Sept. 10, 2022 date with Alabama State, also a historically Black university.
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— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) April 5, 2022
Notre Dame’s 2023 schedule as known thus far:
Aug. 26 — vs. Navy in Dublin
Sept. 3 — vs. Tennessee State
Sept. 10 — TBD
Sept. 16 — vs. Central Michigan
Sept. 23 — vs. Ohio State
Sept. 30 — TBD
Oct. 7 — TBD
Oct. 14 – vs. USC
Oct. 21 — TBD
Oct. 28 — vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 4 — at Clemson
Nov. 11 — TBD
Nov. 18 — TBD
Nov. 25 — at Stanford
Of those six dates to be determined, four of them will be at Duke, at Louisville, at North Carolina State and vs. Pittsburgh. The other two will be idle weeks for the Irish.