Notre Dame and Navy will not be the only NCAA football teams to open the season across the Atlantic Ocean this weekend.
The day before the Fighting Irish and Midshipmen clash at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, a pair of Division III opponents — John Carroll and St. Norbert — will give American football fans a taste of what’s to come when the Blue Streaks and Green Knights meet at Donnybrook Stadium in the heart of Dublin on Friday.
The game between John Carroll and St. Norbert is the first time in 20 years an Division III regular-season game will be played in Europe, and it is a part of the Global Ireland Football Tournament. Ten American high school teams will also participate in the showcase organized by Patrick Steenberge, the president of Global Football, a company that sets up international games for high school and college teams.
JCU head coach Regis Scafe had gotten know Steenberge, a former Notre Dame quarterback, through exhibition game trips the company had helped arrange for the Blue Streaks program through the years. About two years ago, Steenberge told Scafe of an American football showcase he wanted to put on during the same weekend of the Notre Dame-Navy match-up.
Scafe presented the idea to his administration and eventually — on St. Patrick’s Day of this year — the school announced its’ plan to play across the pond.
“It sounded like a great idea for our school because we’re a Jesuit university and they have contacts all over the world,” Scafe said. “I believe traveling is a great educator learning about different cultures and places.”
The only real question was who JCU’s opponent would be, but as fate would have it, less than two weeks after the announcement the St. Norbert athletic director was looking for a game to add to the 2012 schedule.
“I said I’d love to play them, but how about playing in Dublin?” Scafe said.
St. Norbert was happy for the opportunity, and agreed to a Dublin-and-home series.
And, the trip will involve much more than just playing a football game. After the Blue Streaks and Green Knights are finished with their business on the field, they will get the chance for a role reversal and be fans at the Notre Dame-Navy game on Saturday. During their trip, the teams will attend various alumni festivities and a Gaelic football game. Gaelic football is played with a ball that looks like a volleyball, but is a cross between soccer and basketball.
Planning and logistics of taking a team across the ocean to a foreign country is a bit overwhelming for both Scafe and SNC head coach Jim Purtill.
“It does present challenges,” Scafe said. “There is going to be jetlag, but both teams have to deal with that. The challenge is going to be getting them focused for the game. We’ve been talking about it, but until we go through it we won’t know how they respond.”
Unlike Scafe, Purtill has never traveled overseas with any of his teams. “It is very daunting,” he said. “There’s a reason why I’m running on five hours of sleep for the last three weeks.”
There has been a lot of interest in Dublin, and the two coaches are hoping for a packed house on Friday.
“There’s a curiosity about American football,” Scafe said. “They do play it there, but it is more of an alternative sport. I think we’ll get a nice crowd.”
“They’re selling this like the Super Bowl,” Purtill said. “As big as it is for us and John Carroll, I think it is even bigger for Dublin.”
• Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of an epic upset in college football history. On Sept. 1, 2007, Appalachian State became the first Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team to defeat a nationally-ranked Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team when the Mountaineers defeated fifth-ranked Michigan 34-32 before a sellout crowd at Michigan Stadium. Appalachian State went on to win its third consecutive FCS title that season. The No. 5 Mountaineers will open the 2012 season with a FBS opponent when they travel to unranked East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., on Saturday.
|FCS VS. RANKED FBS IN WEEK 1|
• Murray State at No. 7 Florida State
• Jacksonville State at No. 10 Arkansas
• Northern Iowa at No. 12 Wisconsin
• Savannah State at No. 19 Oklahoma State
• Missouri State at No. 22 Kansas State
While the Mountaineers will not have the opportunity to knock off a nationally-ranked FBS foe this weekend, a few other FCS squads will as there are five meetings between FBS Top 25-ranked teams and FCS programs. Will one of those FCS squads pull off the seemingly impossible once again? We’ll see.
• Four of the premier DI women’s volleyball programs will converge in State College, Pa., this weekend for the Nike Big Four Tournament hosted by Penn State. The No. 4 Nittany Lions will host No. 2 Texas, No. 9 Stanford and No. 18 Florida for the tournament at Rec Hall. The group is steeped in volleyball tradition as Stanford (6), Penn State (5) and Texas (1) have combined to win 12 NCAA titles. Florida, which has advanced to the NCAA semifinals seven times, was the national runner-up in 2003. The Penn State-Stanford match will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET Friday (Big Ten Network).
• Defending field hockey champion and top-ranked Maryland isn’t taking it easy when the Terrapins open their home schedule this weekend. The Terps will play host to No. 3 Old Dominion on Friday in a rematch of last year’s NCAA semifinal game, which Maryland handily won 4-0. Not only did the Terps move on to the championship game, but they also avenged two regular-season losses to the Lady Monarchs. In addition to the tilt in College Park, the two storied programs will meet again on ODU’s home field on Oct. 12.
• Winning five consecutive national titles was unprecedented in DII women’s volleyball before Concordia-St. Paul accomplished the feat (2007-11) and the Golden Bears have every intention of keeping their dominating win streak intact. The Golden Bears were voted No. 1 in the AVCA Preseason Poll as they return four All-Americans, including AVCA National Freshman of the Year Katie Habeck. CU hosts their own tournament beginning Friday to open the season, and the field includes two other ranked squads — No. 10 Hillsdale and No. 20 BYU-Hawaii.
• After winning his second DIII men’s soccer title and becoming the all-time leader in men’s soccer victories on the same day last season, Ohio Wesleyan head coach Jay Martin has the Battling Bishops ready for another season of success as the preseason No. 1-ranked squad. Martin enters his 36th season at the helm of OWU, and boasts a 608-115-49 record in 35 years. Despite the hype and tradition, victory No. 609 may not come that easily. Martin’s team will open the season Friday against No. 13 Christopher Newport, which went unbeaten in the 2011 regular season before falling in the NCAA Tournament.
• The Florida State women’s soccer team claimed the No. 1 spot in the NSCAA DI Poll for the first time in program history after previous No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Duke fell in the second weekend of action. Meanwhile, the Seminoles jumped up from the No. 3 spot after a shutout against No. 9 UCF. The new lofty ranking comes at a perfect time. The Seminoles will open their home schedule with instate rival Florida at 7 p.m. Friday (espn3.com). The Gators are coming off an upset win against Duke, and are currently ranked No. 22. FSU won last year’s meeting in Gainesville 3-2, but the Gators lead the all-time series 11-8.
• In case you missed it, check out the Emporia State football team cutting loose with a zany water balloon fight on Aug. 19. Head coach Garin Higgins was the instigator as he and his staff surprised the players with the bombardment while doing up and downs. The whole escapade was videotaped and has attracted more than 21,000 views on YouTube. The Hornets play host to Fort Hays State to open the season on Thursday, but I’m guessing water balloon fights will be discouraged on the field and in the stands.
• Fairfield men’s soccer goalkeeper Michael O’Keeffe experienced a summer he will cherish forever as he served as member of New Zealand’s Olympic Team in London. O’Keefe served as the starting keeper for all three of New Zealand’s matches, a draw against Egypt and losses to Belarus and Brazil. A three-time All-MAAC goalie, O’Keefe will look to build on the world-class experience as he tries to help the Stags defend their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship. Last season, O’Keeffe posted a 1.17 goals against average. The Stags open the 2012 season at Columbia on Friday.
• DIII’s Richard Stockton hired 2012 Olympian Marina Muncan as the school’s new women’s cross country coach. The former Villanova runner competed for Serbia in the 1,500-meter run in the London Olympics. She also represented Serbia at the World Championships and European Indoor Championships in 2009, and won the 1500 at the 2009 World University Games. At Villanova, she garnered 11 All-America honors in cross country and track & field from 2002-06.
• Speaking of Serbian Olympians, California sophomore men’s water polo player Aleksa Saponjic brought a bronze medal back to Berkeley, becoming the first Golden Bear to win a men’s water polo Olympic medal since 1988. Saponjic was Cal’s third-leading scorer last season with 30 goals in 22 matches, along with 22 assists and 18 steals. He garnered ACWPC Honorable Mention All-America honors in 2011. The No. 3 Bears will play host to the Golden Bear Invitational on Sept. 1-2 to open the season.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy