Notre Dame is a member of a football conference – for at least one season.
The Irish will play a full 10-game ACC schedule in 2020. Notre Dame is also eligible to participate in the ACC Championship game, creating interesting dynamics that may affect future seasons.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com explored the idea of Notre Dame becomes a member of the ACC as a full member in the future, and he writes that “it may not be as far-fetched as it once sounded.”
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The release of the ACC schedule raises even more questions.
What if the Irish win the ACC Championship this season? Would that prompt Notre Dame to revise its independent status? Would the ACC lean on Notre Dame to fully participate in the conference?
Those questions take on new meaning when Notre Dame wins the ACC this season. You look at that relationship – past, present and future – to see the answer.
Would the status quo return?
Sporting News spoke to ACC Commissioner John Swofford at ACC Media Days last season, and the issue of Notre Dame football was the main topic of discussion.
“If Notre Dame reached a point where they were interested in playing football, we would love to have that conversation,” said Swofford. “I don’t expect that to happen. When we made the appointment with Notre Dame, some people thought, “Well, it’s just a matter of time in football. “I never really thought that. ‘
Notre Dame started playing a rotation of ACC schools every season in 2014 – and the Irish are 22-9 in those games. That included a 5-0 record last season. The big games are a different story. Notre Dame is in that trajectory 0-3 in the top 10 matches against ACC schools. That includes losses for No. 2 Florida State (2014), No. 7 Miami (2017) and No. 2 Clemson (2019) in the College Football Playoff.
It seemed that the relationship – ESPN’s contract with the ACC runs until 2036 – would have stayed that way for the foreseeable future.
That was before the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Will this change this year?
The ACC and Notre Dame are helping each other this season amid the planning mess created with COVID-19 as the backdrop. The Irish are playing a full schedule, and the ACC is getting some of the NBC television money from Notre Dame’s contract with the network.
It is a one-year experiment that the rest of college football will follow with great interest. Notre Dame made the BCS Championship game in 2012 and the College Football Playoff in 2018. The Irish finished 12-0 in both regular seasons, but did not have to play a conference championship.
That opportunity finally exists in 2020.
Can Notre Dame win the ACC in 2020?
The schedule includes a number of exciting matches against Preseason Top 25 opponents.
The major road race on the program is a trip to No. 22 North Carolina – an emerging program under sophomore coach Mack Brown. The quarterback match between Ian Book and Sam Howell should also be fun. Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest, and Pitt are also on track.
The home schedule has more intrigue. The match with Louisville No. 22 should be more difficult, and Florida State, Louisville and Duke all visit Notre Dame Stadium.
However, it comes down to the home game with number 1 Clemson. Sporting News has declared it Game of the Year this summer and the stakes for both teams will be high in the College Football Playoff race.
However, the agreement changes that bet a bit. What if Notre Dame and Clemson split the regular season match-up and a conference championship match? What impact will this have on the relationship with the conference in the future?
Last summer, Swofford was asked who he was rooting for when Clemson met Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl Classic semifinal.
“You’re pulling for the ACC team,” Swofford said. “With all due respect to Notre Dame if you are a football game, in this case you lean to Clemson or the ACC team because it is technically a non-conference game. Notre Dame against everyone else, I pull for them.”
So what happens if the Irish win that championship game match and represent the ACC in the College Football Playoff?
What happens now?
That debate can be forced if the Irish make the ACC championship game.
If Notre Dame doesn’t make it to Charlotte, the decision to remain independent in 2021 is much easier. It was a one-year experiment that benefited both sides, and the Irish can stick to independence during the College Football Playoff era and play a traditional schedule of rivalry games with USC, Navy and others.
However, if the Irish win the conference in a year, it might warm up the alumni and drivers to the idea of staying in a conference. Notre Dame has done well in the ACC and their brand enhances a conference in which Clemson is 38-2 over the past five seasons. Notre Dame can breathe new life into the rivalry with Florida State and Miami dating back to the ’80s and’ 90s, eventually winning college football.
What if Notre Dame wins the conferences and decides to remain independent? That could tax the relationship with the ACC. Coaches from other programs within the conference would likely rave about the idea of being used, and more than ever Notre Dame would be called upon to participate in a conference on the Power 5.
All those scenarios are playing when there is a college football season, and it’s another reason to get there as soon as possible.