SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was extremely diplomatic on Tuesday when asked about the impending end of his team's rivalry with Michigan.
Kelly said there are some benefits to not having Michigan on Notre Dame's schedule every year, but said those pluses are a "silver lining" to the end of an intense rivalry game after Saturday's contest in South Bend.
"I will say this: Given the complexities of our schedule, in not being able to play Michigan, it opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us," Kelly said. "… We understand the great tradition and the rivalry of the Michigan game, and if it could have worked, it would have worked, but it does open up some pretty exciting games in the future."
Notre Dame viewed dropping Michigan from its schedule as a necessity when it inked a deal to play five ACC opponents per year back in 2012. The decision set off a firestorm of rhetoric — Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Notre Dame was "chickening out" of the series, while Kelly said a year ago he didn't view the Michigan game as a historic rivalry.
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But dropping Michigan — as well as Purdue, which Notre Dame won't play again after this year until 2020 — opened the door for the Irish to schedule a home-and-home with Georgia in 2017 and 2019. It also alleviated the pressure on Notre Dame in 2015 and 2016, with a home-and-home series against Texas to be played then.
What's important to note here is where Notre Dame will play these future games. Over the next six seasons, Notre Dame will play an annual game in California (either vs. Stanford or USC) while playing in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
In 2014's recruiting class, those eight states averaged 23 1/2 Rivals four- or five-star recruits, with California, Florida and Texas pacing the group. By comparison, Michigan only produced one five-star recruit and three four-star recruits in 2014.
So for Notre Dame to stay relevant on a national stage, they'll have to keep recruiting players from regions outside the Midwest.
"If there's a great player in the Midwest, we're certainly not going to miss out on him," Kelly said. "But here at Notre Dame, we're going to recruit the entire country."
A number of Notre Dame's stars and key players were recruited from outside the Midwest: Everett Golson and Chris Brown (South Carolina), Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston (Florida), Cam McDaniel and Corey Robinson (Texas), Cole Luke (Arizona), Ben Councell, Matthias Farley and Romeo Okwara (North Carolina), Isaac Rochell (Georgia) and Max Redfield (California).
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Of course, Notre Dame's top two defensive players — Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day — are both from Indiana. Nick Martin, Christian Lombard and Steve Elmer are all Midwestern guys. The guys in line to succeed Golson at quarterback -- Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer -- are both Ohio natives. There's certainly talent in the Midwest, there's just less of it than in, say, the South.
But Notre Dame doesn't necessarily need added exposure in the Midwest — it's already an entrenched program here, like Ohio State and Michigan. Playing Michigan doesn't do anything for Notre Dame in building national recruiting connections, whereas playing Georgia does. Consider what Kelly said about playing in Texas a year ago prior to Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game against Arizona State at AT&T Stadium:
"Certainly getting some recruits locally to come to the game — we certainly can't see them but we can provide tickets, that helps in that respect. A bump would probably be a good word. Is it going to seal the deal for us in a lot of these instances? Probably not, but it certainly helps to have the kind of exposure there."
Notre Dame needs the added boost to pull recruits from the South or Texas or California. If that means playing games in those states, Notre Dame will schedule games in those states to help strengthen the program — even if it means ditching one of college football's most intense rivalry games for the time being.