The Tigers are the consensus favorite in the ACC. With Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne returning, their offense is loaded. Their defense lost a lot of pieces, but Dabo Swinney’s program usually reloads, rather than rebuild. The arrival of Notre Dame in the ACC gives them a stiffer challenge in-conference, but Clemson is certainly the team to beat here.
- Notre Dame
Notre Dame should be shooting for a conference championship appearance in what is likely their only year – for now – in the ACC. They are widely assumed to be Clemson’s top challenger. Ian Book enters this third year as starter and 2nd complete one. They’ll need to rebuild their wide receiver corps, but the freshman playmakers have looked good in practice early for the Irish.
- Florida State
I’ll give the Seminoles a little of respect here. I think they’re not necessarily a championship contender, but I think FSU will put forth a better team than many expect. Cohesiveness has seemingly been the issue as of late, as they continue to rake in impressive recruiting classes. Next to Clemson, they have the 2nd-best recruiting in the ACC (including Notre Dame) over the past five years. They’ve had on-field struggles recently, but their talent is too tantalizing not to bet on.
Much of what was said for Florida State can be said for Miami as well. The Hurricanes have disappointed on the field, but they continue to rake in pretty elite recruiting classes. With transfer quarterback D’Eriq King under center, the Hurricanes might be able to inject some life into their offense and put together a solid season. Prior to the merging of the divisions and addition of Notre Dame, Miami was my pick to reach the ACC Championship as a token sacrifice to Clemson.
- Virginia Tech
In my opinion, there’s a pretty decent drop off in talent after the top four teams in these rankings. Virginia Tech is a solid program, but their recruiting just does not compare with that of the aforementioned teams. They return arguably the most production of a defense that was pretty good in 2019. The Hokies looked very good for a 7-game stretch last year, that saw them go 6-1 with a one-point road loss to Notre Dame. I think this is a 7-8 win team if they play to their full potential.
Count me in as a UNC-doubter. This ranking has little to do with Sam Howell. I think he leads an absolutely lethal offense, one I would probably rank 2nd to Clemson in the conference. Their defense should be pretty good, although maybe not the strength of their roster. I don’t think they’ll be bad by any stretch, and if a few bounces go their way, I could see the Tar Heels being a darkhorse challenger for a berth in the ACC Championship. But ultimately, I’m not positive this is UNC’s year just yet…it feels too early.
Placing the Panthers smack in the middle of the power rankings feels about right. They are always pretty good and rarely terrible, but Pitt will rarely wow you with starpower. That being said, they can generally be counted on to be a feisty underdog, which makes them an undesirable opponent. I see this Pitt as exactly that – a solid roster with a defense I would argue may be a top-3 unit in the conference, and an intriguing offense led by NFL Draft prospect Kenny Pickett. 5-6 wins sound about right for Pitt, but you can be sure nobody will be exactly thrilled at the prospect of matching up with the Panthers.
This may be a tad low for the Cardinals, but I’m just not seeing Louisville take another big step forward after greatly improving their 2-10 mark in 2018 to 8-5 and a Music City Bowl victory last season. I don’t think they’ll be bad necessarily, but I think the Cards peak at around 6 ACC wins this season. Malik Cunningam is a talented quarterback, but I have questions elsewhere on the roster. The Cardinals avoid Clemson and face Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, and Wake Forest to end the season, but the first half of their schedule involves a road trip to Notre Dame and clashes with Miami and Florida State. It’ll be tough road, and I’m thinking it’s a 5 or 6-win season in ACC play for Louisville.
Some ACC rankings have Cuse as the worst team in the conference, and I don’t see it. They’re a year removed from a 6-2 ACC record, and while that may have been a one-off, I don’t see last year’s 2-6 record as a new normal. They lost two games by one score and one of their wins was an absolute slaughter of Duke in Durham, 49-6. I think Syracuse at least comes close to .500 this year. They’ll need Tommy Devito to play better under center, but the Orange look average, but not horrifically bad on both sides of the ball, so I’m seeing 4 or 5 wins for Syracuse in 2020.
This won’t be a season to remember from the Blue Devils. Last season, they started 4-2 but then dropped five straight conference games last season, winning their Senior Day game over a floundering Miami team. I think it’s another tough road for the Blue Devils, who start with a road trip to Notre Dame on September 12. They have possibly the worst offense in the conference, as they still haven’t found answers in the post-Daniel Jones era, so it’s hard seeing much more than 2 or 3 wins from Duke in 2020.
- Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is a team that I think may be sneakily good in a few years. But not this season. The Yellow Jackets are still moving on from the triple option, and they don’t have the playmakers to compete with many of the spread offenses that are taking over college football. Much like Duke, Georgia Tech should be happy if they exceed three wins in 2020, particularly with clashes against Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida State and Miami – three of which come on the road.
The Cavaliers became the 7th different ACC Coastal Champion is as many seasons last year, finally toppling archrival Virginia Tech en route to a 9-3 regular season. They finished with a ACC title game loss and Orange Bowl loss, but it was still their most wins since 2007, and first appearance in a major bowl game since a 1998 loss in the Peach Bowl. This year, however, with do-it-all quarterback Bryce Perkins off to the NFL, there’s a lot of questions about Virginia’s offense, and I’m not sure their defense has enough pieces returning to make up for it. I could potentially see Virginia stealing 4 wins, but I don’t think they’re better than Tech or Duke – they just have an easier schedule.
- NC State
With Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia, and Georgia Tech all on the schedule, it seems unlikely that NC State can’t scratch out a win in 2020 – even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. But I don’t see the Wolfpack getting much more than that. After five straight winning seasons, NC State regressed to 4-8 last season, and I’m seeing another step back. They have a case for having the worst defense in the ACC, and their offense doesn’t raise any eyebrows. 1, maybe 2 wins for the Wolfpack in 2020.
- Boston College
I’m a believer in Jeff Hafley and that he can turn around the BC program. But not in Year 1. A team that has been mediocre at best returns a quarterback that had a 48% completion rate in 2019 in Dennis Grosel, and they lost A.J. Dillon to the draft in the 2nd round. Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec may take the starting reigns under center, but I’m reserving judgement as he as only thrown 17 meaningless passes in his career. BC also were a huge loser of the ACC schedule expansion, as Wake Forest was taken off their schedule, taking away a potential victory for the Eagles. Maybe Jurkovec plays better than he ever did in trying to win the QB battle at Notre Dame, but I’m not seeing many Ws on this schedule for the Eagles.
- Wake Forest
Losing Jamie Newman to the transfer portal is a brutal loss for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons will struggle to replace their star dual-threat quarterback, and much like Boston College, they were disappointed to see their fellow cellar-dweller removed from the schedule. If I had to bet the house on 1 ACC team going winless, it would definitely be the Demon Deacons.
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.
Death, Taxes, and Notre Dame Football remaining independent. They used to be the certainties of life, but 2020 can no longer get any weirder. There had been lots of speculation regarding the fate of Notre Dame football this coming season, as after the Pac-12 and the Big 10 moved their schedules to conference-only, three Irish games were cancelled. As easily the highest-profile independent program – and a CFP hopeful in 2020 – rumors regarding Notre Dame football have been common headlines. Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said he wanted a delayed start to the year with an 8-10 game season, but just one day later, it’s become apparent that, for the first time in their storied history, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be joining a conference.
This is nothing short of groundbreaking news, both simply within the Notre Dame program, and in the college football world. Let’s break down exactly what this is going to look like.
The Terms of the Deal
Notre Dame will be temporarily joining the ACC in football for one season. As of now, there is no further commitment between the two sides in this deal, although their previously structured agreement granting Notre Dame ACC membership in all sports but football and hockey will continue to be in effect through 2037. Joining the conference long-term has never been a real interest for either the Irish or the ACC, so there’s no reason to believe this is anything but a short-term solution to what will be avery unique season.
What about conference championships and bowl games?
As of now, this appears to be a gray area. Notre Dame’s current deal with the ACC grants them access to all of the ACC’s bowl tie-ins, minus their New Year’s 6 commitment to the Orange Bowl. If Notre Dame plays in the conference for 2020, it seems logical they would – at minimum – get access to that bowl bid.
How Notre Dame’s games will count in the ACC standings also seems ambiguous at best. Initial reports said that Irish games would count in the conference rankings, but that whether Notre Dame would compete for a conference championship was still up in the air. If the Irish are blocked, or choose not to play for a title, would their ‘conference’ games only count in the standings for the opponent. It’s a strange concept, but not much stranger than imagining Notre Dame lifting the ACC Championship trophy after 132 years of their cherished independence. So to answer this in short form: we don’t know yet.
What’s the financial terms of the contract?
Some of the answer to both this and other such related queries depend on whether Notre Dame is a full member competing for the ACC’s bowl bids. The ACC receives 6 million for each team placed in the semifinals and 4 million for each team placed in a New Year’s Six bowl game, but they don’t currently receive that money if Notre Dame qualifies. The Irish receive 3.19 million dollars from the CFP, regardless of whether they qualify. If Notre Dame is indoctrinated as a full conference member for 2020, expect that 3.19 million dollars to be retracted; rather, Notre Dame will receive a share of the 66 million received by the ACC – from the CFP – to divy up among its members. If the Irish do not have full ACC membership, then the financial terms of their contract should hold up as previously structured.
How about the NBC contract?
One of the financial pluses that comes with Notre Dame’s independence is their TV contract with NBC. Since 1991, the television network has been the exclusive provider of Irish home games, a right that no other team in the country has. Given the temporary status of Notre Dame’s quasi-membership in the ACC, it seems unlikely that the NBC contract is a problem. Frankly, the ACC is bolstered by the Irish joining the conference and receive more money, so they shouldn’t want to raise any problems over their TV contract. The ACC has never received any money from the NBC contract, but Notre Dame’s road clashes against ACC opponents draw higher ratings and often national networks. In an effort to make this wild transition work seamlessly, it seems unlikely that any change to the television contract will be made.
So what’s the schedule?
The ACC hopes to release a newly minted schedule by the end of the week. Their current hopes rest in a slightly ambitious “Ten plus One” plan, which would see their conference members play ten conference games and one non-conference game. Obviously that one non-conference game is contingent on other conferences allowing out-of-conference play, but it would allow for four ACC teams (Louisville, Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech) to play their final-weekend rivalry games against SEC opponents. The SEC has remained open to that possibility, and it would leave the Irish with an open date on their schedule. As of now, Notre Dame has an SEC game scheduled against Arkansas, so that game could potentially be flexed to the end of the season to fill out their slate for the year. Alternatively, they could try to make their visit to the Naval Academy work, keeping that annual tradition alive. The Western Michigan game – the other non-ACC game yet to be cancelled on Notre Dame’s schedule – appears to be the odd team out here, and it seems likely that game will not be played at this point.
Notre Dame is currently scheduled for games against Wake Forest, Pitt, Duke, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Louisville. Miami and Virginia Tech also lost non-conference games due to the Big 10 and Pac-12 announcements, so those two teams would likely be added to the schedule, leaving two more open conference dates to be filled. A Holy War clash with Boston College would be an enticing game to add, although adding games like UVA and UNC might make more sense from a geographical perspective. There’s still plenty to figure out, but with this recent news, the seemingly limitless possibilities have narrowed considerably.
How does this affect college football outside the ACC?
This news has massive implications around the football world, and the most obvious is that, if Notre Dame is competing for an ACC title, Clemson’s road to a sixth consecutive conference championship just got a lot more difficult. While Clemson is undoubtedly the better team, they had very little to worry about regarding their ACC opponents. UNC – a promising up and coming team – and a rebounding Louisville team were among their top threats. However, now Notre Dame may stand in the way of a breezy undefeated conference slate. The Tigers and Irish were already scheduled to meet, but that game will now count, at least for Clemson, in the ACC standings, endangering their chances at a third straight year with an unblemished conference record. If Notre Dame slots into the Coastal division, they could also find themselves clashing with Clemson on championship Saturday. While Clemson certainly remains the favorite in their regular season match-up and a potential postseason battle, there’s no doubt this adds complications towards Clemson’s march towards a conference title and sixth consecutive CFP. On the flip side, however, Clemson may also have some wiggle room now. If they lose a regular season game but bounce back with a conference championship victory over what figures to be a highly ranked Notre Dame team. This announcement definitely shakes things up and gives the floundering ACC some much needed firepower. Time, and results, will tell how this ultimately changes the football scene, but finally, after 132 seasons, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be affiliated with a conference.
I’m starting to wonder if even death or taxes are certain anymore.