Seminoles athletic director Michael Alford didn’t understand the buzz around a college football game in Ireland until Florida State general counsel Carolyn Egan sent photos and messages about how Northwestern and Nebraska took over Dublin during her vacation there last year.
The more Alford and FSU looked into the idea of taking the ’Noles international, their choice was easy.
“This is something we need to do,” Alford said.
Alford spoke Tuesday along with other FSU officials and dignitaries from the Aer Lingus College Football Classic during a formal celebration and news conference in Tallahassee, six days after FSU and Georgia Tech announced they’ll open the 2024 season with a Week 0 matchup at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
Here are three thoughts about the event:
The exposure is real
FSU and event officials touted the domestic and international exposure to gain from the matchup. The numbers back them up.
Last year’s Northwestern-Nebraska opener drew 4.4 million viewers, according to Sports Media Watch, a website that closely tracks TV numbers. That audience:
• Featured the 34th-largest audience of the regular season and roughly double the size of other recent Northwestern-Nebraska matchups. It was the largest viewership of any Cornhuskers game last year. The only Northwestern game with a bigger audience was a 21-7 loss to Ohio State.
• Had about 1 million more viewers than last year’s FSU-Clemson game; the only three ‘Noles contests with a bigger audience were wins over LSU, Florida and Oklahoma.
• Was more than 30% higher than Nebraska’s Week 0 loss at Illinois in 2021 and the largest TV audience for a Cornhuskers game (that didn’t feature Ohio State or Michigan) in six years.
The most Google searches for “Northwestern football” in the past year came that week, and it was the second most-searched week for “University of Nebraska,” according to Google Trends.
The practical value of that exposure is debatable. Will FSU gain any more recruits or applicants because of a game in Ireland? But the visibility from a marquee spot on the calendar is clear.
The on-field impact is mixed
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Coach Mike Norvell said FSU expects its second game that season to be at home on Labor Day, nine days after the Aug. 24 opener. Its non-conference slate is full, so the Sept. 2 matchup will be an ACC game (Boston College looks like the most likely option).
The good news: Since these trips became relatively common in 2012, no team has lost the week after playing in Ireland. Norvell sees a competitive advantage because a Week 0 game gives his team an extra open date. FSU also isn’t giving up a home game; Georgia Tech is.
The bad news: Though Nebraska beat North Dakota a week after its Ireland trip, the game was tied 7-7 at halftime, prompting the Cornhuskers to get booed at home. Coach Scott Frost said his players “were just a little off” during practice. “I think you guys have all flown overseas and been kind of run down,” he told reporters afterward. “That’s just what it felt like …”
This is about the player experience
It’s easy to be cynical about big-time college sports, but this trip is a unique opportunity for the young adults playing in the game. The event’s founder, John Anthony, said three-quarters of previous participants didn’t have a passport before their game was scheduled. It’s reasonable to assume that this will be the first time most FSU players leave the country.
Norvell said he called Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to get a scouting report on the event as a whole. Fitzgerald raved about it.
“I didn’t want to go to Ireland just to play the game …” Norvell said. “We wanted the experience.”
And it’s one the Seminoles will likely remember forever — regardless of the final score.
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