ARLINGTON, Texas — Notre Dame chose to play a “home” game in North Texas long before Cowboys Stadium was picked as the first venue for the national championship in the new playoff system.
Now it just so happens that the Fighting Irish will play Arizona State in the $1.2 billion showplace of the Dallas Cowboys about nine months after losing to Alabama in the BCS championship game — and about 15 months before the first College Football Playoff title game that will cap the 2014 season.
“Although it might have been after the thought in terms of putting this together, it now becomes just that much more of a game that people will pay attention to,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Thursday, May 2, before getting his first tour of Cowboys Stadium.
Notre Dame’s game against the Sun Devils on Oct. 5 is the latest in the so-called “Shamrock Series” — home games away from storied Notre Dame Stadium. The series started in Texas in 2009 at the Alamodome in San Antonio before going to Yankee Stadium and the home of a Cowboys rival, the Washington Redskins.
Last year, the Irish played Miami in Chicago, a huge recruiting hub for them, and now they’re coming to the stadium that always has players and coaches looking skyward for replays on the giant video board that hangs over the field.
Just four years old, Cowboys Stadium has already hosted a Super Bowl and an NBA All-Star game, and gets the Final Four next year.
“There’s no question that when you talk about playing here at Cowboys Stadium, that gets every recruits attention,” Kelly said. “They know that venue. They want to play here. And with it being announced that it’s the destination for the first national championship game, all eyes are on this geographic area, in particular this venue.”
Alabama started its second straight championship season — and third in the past four — with a 41-14 victory against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium last year. The Crimson Tide lost to Texas A&M and went into the BCS game ranked second to Notre Dame before blowing out the Irish 42-14.
The four-team playoff will have a rotating system of semifinal sites with existing bowls — including the Cotton Bowl, which is played at Cowboys Stadium. The championship game is open to bidding every year, and Cowboys Stadium edged Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., for the title game on Jan. 12, 2015.
The next question for Kelly is whether — or maybe when — the playoff field expands.
“I like where we’re starting,” Kelly said. “I think the focus is going to be on the format and the format being the four teams playing it off and getting to a championship game. I think that’s going to be the focus and moving forward, it will be on whether it’s eight (teams), 16, whatever the number is.”
After leading the Irish to the BCS title game, Kelly has seen it all when it comes to the postseason. He won consecutive Division II national championships in a 16-team playoff at Grand Valley State. He was denied a chance to play for the BCS title with unbeaten Cincinnati in 2009. He waited more than a month to play Alabama, and the Irish promptly fell behind 28-0 before halftime.
“I’ve played every week, and I’ve had 42 days off,” Kelly said. “I do not like 42 days off. Our football team didn’t like 42 days off. Now, Alabama played very well in the national championship game. We needed to play the next week. If there is a break of seven to 10 days, that’s fine.”
That’s almost exactly what it will be when the title game comes to Cowboys Stadium.
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler