If you are a traditionalist and never want to imagine independent Notre Dame being confined to a conference, you may just want to close your eyes this season. With Power 5 conferences being forced to make decisions as summer camps for football ramp up, most, like the Big 10, SEC, and PAC-12, have determined to hold in-conference games only. Notre Dame already saw their games against Wisconsin, Michigan State, USC, and Arkansas disappear with this news, so it was time the Fighting Irish abandon the “independent” stance for a season so one of the most legendary college football programs can toss the pigskin in a competitive manner.
Under the new stipulations with joining the ACC, Notre Dame will play 10 “in-conference” games, meaning, of course, ACC games. Then they will play one additional game hosted in the home state of an ACC team (unknown at this time, but probably Navy?). Crazy, I know.
So first, let’s break down what this means for matchups with the ACC. Assuming the season can start and there aren’t any major hiccups along the way, Notre Dame will start the season at Boston College and their new transfer and former Irish quarterback, Phil Jurkovec. They will continue an early-season road trip by visiting Georgia Tech, before finishing their 3-game trip with a matchup in Chapel Hill against up-and-coming North Carolina. Finally, Notre Dame will come home. But the homecoming party will be brief, because the Fighting Irish’s 5-game homestand will be quite the mountain to climb. The steepest part of that mountain is their first game matchup with powerhouse Clemson. Following their toughest game of the season will be games against Duke, an improving Florida State, a talented Louisville, and Syracuse. Then Brian Kelly’s club will hit the road for one more 2-game stretch against Pitt, which is always a challenge for Notre Dame for some reason, then season will conclude in Winston-Salem, NC against Wake Forest.
If anyone thought joining a conference would be easy for the Irish, I’d caution you by saying, “not so fast.” Upon further reflection, not only will there be tough games against Boston College, North Carolina, Louisville, and Pitt, but you have to play Clemson. And for anyone writing Notre Dame as an ACC Championship Game finalist, feel free to, but remember who will presumably be their opponent: that’s right, Clemson. In other words, if Notre Dame wants to reach CFP glory, they will need to beat Clemson not once, but twice. All we can hope for is an improved Irish attack against Clemson. At least something better than the 30-2 shallacking Notre Dame faced in the 2018 CFP.
You may be wondering, will Notre Dame remain a part of the ACC? And that future remains to be seen. There are benefits and detriments to the Irish becoming a permanent fixture of the Atlantic Coastal Conference. The benefits include having a seemingly “easier” path to the playoffs with a championship game that gives you an extra game a year to add to your record. The detriments include abandoning the tradition that is such an iron strand of DNA in Notre Dame lore. They also lose the flexibility to organize their schedule how they choose, and you lose intriguing matchups with the Big 10 and USC. Either way, be happy that we get to have Notre Dame football however that may come. Until the school or athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, or a figurehead from the football program says they are a part of the ACC for the future, don’t plan on it. In the meantime, let’s take advantage of this unique opportunity to play in a conference as an independent program and let’s take it to the ACC and Clemson and remind the NCAA that Notre Dame is no joke! Go Irish!
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