The northeast U.S. is now a desert of big-time college football...

...but it was not always that way.  The game's roots are in the northeast.  The first college football game was played between Rutgers and Princeton in New Brunswick, New Jersey, way back in 1869, just four years removed from Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.  In 1876 in Springfield, Massachusetts (the same place where, sixteen years later, Dr. James Naismith would invent the game of basketball) representatives from Columbia University in New York, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale met to formalize the rules of football.  The new rules were based loosely upon the game of Canadian rugby, which had been introduced to Harvard by a group of students from McGill University in Montreal in 1874.  The chief difference was the importance of scoring “touch downs” as the primary way of earning points, as opposed to kicking the ball, with points for a “touch down” only being earned if the goal line was crossed and the ball was touched to the ground in the end zone (hence the name “touch down”).

Just as importantly perhaps, around that same time a student from New Britain, Connecticut by the name of Walter Camp enrolled at Yale.  Camp played halfback on Yale’s football team, and eventually served as team captain.  After graduating he took to coaching Yale, and later Stanford, all while serving on the rules committee for intercollegiate football.  Among the innovations that Camp devised: the line of scrimmage, eleven men to a side, signal-calling, and the creation of the quarterback position.  Furthermore, he came up with the idea of the offensive team needing to gain a certain number of yards in a proscribed number of chances, known as “downs.”  These changes evolved football from the rugby-style game of its early days into the unique sport of American football.

With Camp's influence Yale and other northeastern schools like Harvard, Princeton, and others dominated the early days of college football.  As a loosely formed group of "Ivy League" schools banded together, from the 1880s through the 1910s members of what later came to be known as the Ivy League conference owned the sport.  As the sport’s popularity spread to other regions of the country, other programs rose to prominence including Michigan, Minnesota, the University of Chicago, Army, and most noteworthy of all, Notre Dame.  As the game continued to evolve, it became increasingly difficult for Ivy League schools to compete.  Even still, as late as 1981, Yale ranked well ahead of Michigan in all-time wins, and ranked only behind Notre Dame in all-time winning percentage.  After 1981, however, the NCAA demoted the members of the Ivy League to its Division I-AA (now FCS), bringing to a close the run of Camp's alma mater and other Ivy League teams from the northeast in big time football, leaving only a handful of programs in the northeast to compete at college football’s highest level.

Enter the University of Massachusetts, a school with a football program that pre-dates Notre Dame’s program by eight years, but only has been a participant a college football’s highest level for the past few years.  Massachusetts moved into Division I-AA when the NCAA divided college football into different divisions in 1978, before moving into the FBS (formerly Division I-A) in 2011.  Massachusetts’s move into the FBS gives New England only its third major college football program along with Boston College and Connecticut.  Notre Dame and Massachusetts are playing for the first time on Saturday.

The Massachusetts Minutemen are the 144th different opponent in the 127 seasons of Notre Dame football, and Notre Dame’s first "new" opponent since Louisville, which the Irish met for the first time in last year’s home finale.  Louisville won that game.

Other notes:

-#8 Notre Dame’s win over #14 Georgia Tech was the first win for a ranked Irish team over a ranked opponent since last year’s Stanford game (a 17-14 win for #9 Irish over #14 Cardinal).  It was only Notre Dame’s second win in its last seven in games between ranked teams (dating back to 2012).

-Notre Dame is 3-0 for the second consecutive season.  The last time the Irish had 3-0 starts in back to back seasons came in four straight seasons between 1987 and 1990.  Overall, this is only the eighteenth 3-0 start for Notre Dame in the past fifty seasons (dating back to 1966), but the third in the last four seasons.

-This season is Brian Kelly’s third 3-0 start at Notre Dame.  As a point of comparison, Charlie Weis and Bob Davie never started 3-0, while Tyrone Willingham had only one 3-0 start (2002).  Lou Holtz’s teams started 3-0 six times in his eleven seasons at Notre Dame (1987-90, 1993, 1996).

-Irish RB C.J. Prosise’s 91-yard touchdown run in last Saturday’s game was the longest run in the history of Notre Dame Stadium.  Only Bob Livingstone’s 92-yard run in the 1947 game at Southern Cal ranks ahead of Prosise in the history of Notre Dame football.

-Undoubtedly, the most famous Notre Dame football player to hail from the Bay State was “The Springfield Rifle,” Angelo Bertelli.  A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Bertelli led the Irish to the 1943 national championship before being drafted into the Marine Corps during the season.  He was Notre Dame’s first of a record seven Heisman Trophy winners.

-Notre Dame and Massachusetts are not scheduled to meet again at this time.

-In the ongoing competition between Notre Dame and Michigan for college football’s all-time best winning percentage, here is where things stand after last weekend:

Notre Dame won at home over ranked Georgia Tech, moving its record to 885-310-42 for an all-time winning percentage of .7324.  This week, the Irish host Massachusetts.

Michigan won yet another home game, defeating Nevada-Las Vegas, moving its record to 917-329-36 for an all-time winning percentage of .7293.  This week, the Wolverines play host yet again, facing Brigham Young (the university, not the religious leader) in Ann Arbor.

Notre Dame’s lead stands at 31/10,000ths of a point.

The Irish look to push their record to 4-0 in their first-ever meeting with Massachusetts.  The game kicks off on NBC at 3:30 p.m. EDT.

Go Irish!  Beat UMass!

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