It was a whirlwind ten minutes to be covering the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Waiting on a pending announcement regarding the commitment of the Irish’s top 2021 running back recruit Logan Diggs, news broke that Notre Dame would officially be competing in the ACC, becoming eligible for their first ever conference championship and the ACC’s bid in the Orange Bowl. It is strictly a one-year arrangement for now, as the ACC also dropped a revised schedule that follows a “10 +1” scheduling module involving ten conference clashes and one non-conference game played in an ACC home state. The schedule will be played over 13 weeks, allowing for two bye weeks, which may be arranged to abide by quarantine rules as much as possible. In the midst of that bombshell dropping, the awaited announcement from Diggs came, and the 3-star running back is headed to South Bend, making it a contender for the most exciting 10 minutes in the sports world in the past 5 months.
But now that everything is official, let’s break it all down, and what it means for both the ACC and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame to compete for ACC title, Orange Bowl bid
This is one of the biggest parts of the new addition to the existing partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC. Although just for one year, the Irish will have access to both a conference championship and the ACC’s guaranteed Orange Bowl bid, should they qualify. Quite frankly, Notre Dame becomes instant contenders for both. They’ll be given the 2nd best odds to win the ACC behind Clemson and gives the conference a 2nd viable Playoff contender. Given that they won’t be favorites to beat Clemson – and definitely not twice – it does seem likely that the Orange Bowl is a somewhat likely destination if Notre Dame holds serve against the rest of the ACC. In exchange for this, Notre Dame will share their NBC contract revenue with the rest of the conference.
The ACC will – as of now – shoot for a pretty ambitious 11-game schedule in 13 weeks, allotting two open weeks per team. The season is slated to start during the second week of September, and ten conference games will be played. The ACC is allowing one non-conference game, as long as it is played in the home state of the ACC school. This makes logical sense for the natural Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Louisville-Kentucky, and FSU-Florida rivalry weekend clashes, but it leaves some questions elsewhere. UNC and NC State and Duke will all have to find separate opponents to come to North Carolina, while Virginia and Virginia Tech face the same challenge. Notre Dame has a difficult situation, being so much further west than the rest of the conference, in that their array of opportunities for regional opponents is completely different. If the Big 10 remains strictly conference-only, the Irish are left with just Ball State as a non-conference match-up. Not ideal for strength of schedule, but a potential two games against Clemson should mitigate that concern. As of now, Notre Dame remains committed to their attempts to play Navy this season. It would at this point likely involve switching the venue to Notre Dame Stadium, as Annapolis isn’t an option under the new ACC guidelines.
The ACC schedule looks different for everyone now, with the conference slate expanded by two games. The most notable change in set-up is that there will be no divisions – no ACC Atlantic and ACC Coastal. Both were merged into one 14-team mosh pit of a conference, much like the 10-team Big 12. Ultimately, this set-up is a nice add-on in that it allows the two best teams to play for the title. Imagine the TV ratings for a Clemson vs. Notre Dame rematch in the ACC championship, rather than last year’s horrific Clemson-Virginia manslaughter. This may have been done to alleviate concerns about arbitrarily placing Notre Dame in one of the conferences. Putting them in the Coastal would have made them an instant favorite in the ACC’s inferior division, while slotting them into the Atlantic would have angered both Clemson and Notre Dame, as the clear two best teams would be competing for one spot in the championship. This avoids any disagreement regarding Notre Dame’s placement, and gives a struggling Power-5 conference the opportunity for their best championship game in years.
How does this affect Notre Dame and Clemson
For the game schedule, the ACC released everyone’s opponents, although no dates attached to the game. Notre Dame added contests against UNC, Boston College, Syracuse, and Florida State. A notable omission was a clash with the Miami Hurricanes, who many wanted to see come to South Bend after Miami ended Notre Dame’s playoff hopes in beatdown fashion in 2017. There will be no resurrection of the Catholic vs. Convicts rivalry in 2020. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s schedule probably got a touch easier from their original slate. Florida State is a tricky game, as is UNC, but neither match the difficulty that USC or Wisconsin would have posed. Syracuse and BC are expected to be near the bottom of the conference so they add little to nothing to the resume. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s season should still come down to the Clemson game – or games – as, if the Irish play to their capability, they should beat everyone else on the schedule, especially with a tricky rivalry game and brutal road Big 10 clash out of the way.
Meanwhile, conference favorite Clemson’s schedule – somewhat detabably – got harder, as they dropped a pretty bad NC State team from the schedule, as well as a Louisville team that is good but very unproven. In exchange, they added Pitt, Miami, and Virginia Tech to the docket, all of which have trap-game potential. Notre Dame’s addition to the conference likely gives Clemson some breathing room. Losing in South Bend may not end their season if they rebound with an ACC championship victory over the Irish, but their conference slate added a few more tricky contests to navigate, so things definitely got tougher for Clemson with these announcements. They’ll still be the favorites entering 2020, but in what’s sure to be a unique year, they’re far from a lock to cruise to a title.