Here’s Why The ACC Won’t Leave Notre Dame Out To Dry

When news broke days ago that Notre Dame would likely be joining the ACC for a year, it provided the perfect setting for Irish-haters to unleash all their frustration regarding the most prominent Independent program. Whether they took to discussion forums, Twitter, or smack-talk groups, the complaints, rants, and general whining flooded the Internet. 

“Why would the ACC bail out Notre Dame?” 

“Make them join a conference, it’s their own fault” 

“They need to join in every sport or get out”

Whatever the complaint was, the pending agreement to let the Irish play in the ACC for a year caused all the outrage regarding what many perceive as special treatment for Notre Dame to spill out of all corners of the web. And quite honestly, the ignorant hysteria was hilarious to take in.

Because nobody gets it.

The ACC needs Notre Dame; they did when they entered their contract with the Irish in 2014 (more on that later), and they do now, more than ever. The ACC is at an all-time low in popularity, and the presence of Notre Dame has been the driving factor in increasing their revenue over the past half a dozen years. In the last ten years, the conference saw just two different football champions, with Florida State dominating the first half of the decade, and Clemson’s dynasty taking over the second. Last year’s ACC championship, featuring the Tigers’ 62-17 demolition of the Virginia Cavaliers, was far and away the least watched Power-5 championship. The game, a primetime kickoff on ABC, drew just 3.97 million viewers, nearly two million less than the Pac-12 championship. They were more than doubled in views by a noontime kickoff Big 12 clash, and they were more than tripled by the Big 10 (13.55 million) and the SEC (13.7). The TV ratings for ACC games not involving Notre Dame are at an all-time low, and outside of their FSU and Clemson dynasties, the ACC has offered the college football world little exciting material over the past ten seasons, and the numbers agree.

So what is this deal between Notre Dame and the ACC?

Essentially, when the Irish and ACC put pen to paper and made this contract official in 2014, it entitled the Irish to full membership in every sport except football (where they remained independent) and hockey (which the ACC doesn’t have). Notre Dame, in return, agreed to play an average of five games per season against ACC opponents (always between 4-6 games) for the duration of the contract, which is currently set to expire in 2037. The Irish were a coveted program by virtually every Power-5 conference, with the Big 10 offering Notre Dame a conference slot, ND being linked to the Big 12, and SEC at least exploring the possibility of adding the Irish to their ranks. The ACC scored about as good of a deal as could have been expected, as even though they didn’t get the full membership of the iconic Notre Dame football program, they got a 20+ year guarantee that the Irish would be engaged on the gridiron with ACC opponents for nearly half of each season. The deal was signed prior to the 2012 season and took effect in the 2013-2014 season. Ultimately, Notre Dame chose the ACC over other conferences because it was good for their basketball program and Olympic sports such as swimming and fencing, the latter being a sport which consistently sees the Irish near the top of the rankings. Why did the ACC go along with this? And why do they continue to do so?

TV Ratings

This is easily the biggest reason. Money talks, and Notre Dame both has money and brings it to the table wherever they play. In the first four seasons with the Irish as their 15th team, the ACC’s guaranteed television revenue increased 48.6%. Because Notre Dame earned 6.2 million off this shared revenue in 2016, whereas ACC programs earned more than four times that, pocketing 26.21 million dollars on average. The financial flexibility stabilized membership within the conference and helped end a period of turmoil and change. In 2019, Notre Dame’s cut of the ACC Network revenue was still under 2 million dollars, ‘costing’ each program under 500,000 dollars. And Notre Dame makes up for that with the national footprint and following they bring with them. Just look at the 2019 season opener in football. Louisville, a 2-10 team in 2018 was given the ACC’s guaranteed Labor Day primetime game on ESPN. Why? Because Notre Dame was visiting. And that game was the 2nd-highest rated game of the weekend, drawing in 5.6 million viewers. No other ACC game, including Duke’s trip to Alabama, attracted that many viewers. By the end of the year, ND’s season-opening trip to Louisville remained the most-watched game involving an ACC team on the year. Not only did the whole conference benefit from the higher TV ratings, but Louisville drew a record crowd of 58,187 for their season opener, outdrawing any of their home games from the Lamar Jackson era which included a top 5 clash with Clemson. 

Last year saw only two weeks past Week 5 in which an ACC game cracked the top-5 most watched games of the week, one of which was Virginia Tech at Notre Dame in Week 10. If it hadn’t been for their Orange Bowl contract, no one besides Clemson would have come close to a New Year’s 6 bowl-game berth. At it’s best, the ACC provides one good team beating up on mediocrity, and at it’s worst, it simply provides unwatchable football. To put this case in point, 12 of Notre Dame’s 13 games last season fell into the top 25 most watched game of the week or bowl season, with many cracking the top 10. The only one that didn’t was Notre Dame’s clash against the Duke Blue Devils. The ACC is so uninteresting to the college football world that even the golden allure of the Irish couldn’t pull in viewers. And how willing are viewers to tune into Notre Dame games? The Irish’s Week 6 game was the 12th most watched game of that particular week. Their opponent? Bowling Green. 

Let me say that again: Bowling. Green. 

The Bowling Green Falcons finished the 2019 season with a 3-9 record and their trip to South Bend ended in a 52-0 defeat. It’s the type of game that even Notre Dame fans don’t particularly enjoy watching after a certain point. And that game was watched more than any single game involving an ACC team that week. 1.28 million people watched that contest, while under 900,000 tuned into a key divisional clash between Virginia Tech and Miami, televised on ESPN. That’s about as embarrassing as it gets. 

Off the Gridiron

Notre Dame does not only provide an impact on the gridiron, having experienced plenty of success away from the football field. The soccer team won a title in the first year of the partnership, the lacrosse team made it to consecutive Final Fours, their men’s basketball team won the conference once and qualified for back-to-back Elite Eights, and most notably the women’s basketball team won four straight conference titles before a national title in 2018 and national runners-up finish in 2019 punctuated their highly successful run. Overall, Notre Dame brings far and away the most well-rounded athletic program to the table within the ACC, which only benefits the conference in terms of strength of schedule, which helps with NCAA Tournament appearances, and it helps elevate the play of other teams in the conference – seen in the rise of Louisville to challenge the Irish for ACC supremacy in women’s basketball, among other areas. For a conference floundering in many areas, the ACC has been saved by the international allure and fanbase of Notre Dame, and they’d be foolish to throw that away for the sake of proving some petty point about Notre Dame being independent. 

Breaking it down

Let’s wrap this up and make it clear: The ACC needs Notre Dame right now. Ever since the initial deal was struck, the Irish have had an open invite to join the conference and are contractually obligated to do so if they opt to eventually surrender their independence permanently. The ACC never expected Notre Dame to accept this invite, and the boys in the blue and gold have never expressed an interest. Quite frankly, the ACC deal hurts Notre Dame in football, as the growing irrelevance of the conference outside of Clemson destroys Notre Dame’s strength of schedule, wasting prime game slots that could have been used to schedule better programs. Notre Dame has been able to fit some of those better programs into their schedule in this upcoming decade, with home-and-homes against Ohio State and Alabama among the most prominent, but they’ve given up chances to have more of those clashes in favor of this ACC deal. Sure, Notre Dame might be in trouble for a year if the ACC didn’t throw them a lifeline. But make no mistake, if the conference ruins that relationship, there’s little incentive for the Irish to stick around.

Whether they join the Big 10, or maybe even switch back to the Big East, which has become a much more competitive program in basketball since Notre Dame left, or retain their independence all the way around, Notre Dame has both the resources and the allure to attract high level opponents wherever they go. Is this “statement” that crazed Notre Dame haters want the ACC to make even close to worth it? The answer is a resounding no. Plus, don’t think Notre Dame is an institution that doesn’t notice when you help them. You can ask Navy about that; after the Naval Academy saved the Notre Dame institution during World War II, the Irish paid the favor back by playing them every year since on the football field, a series which has greatly benefited Navy, who plays their home games at various naval bases around America, even taking the series to Dublin on multiple occasions. The ACC has slowly watched their financial status improve throughout Notre Dame’s tenure as a limited partner with the conference, and if the Irish ever join as a full-time member, including football, the conference’s revenue would skyrocket. Now is not the time to force Notre Dame into anything. To do so would be shortsighted and harmful. Rather, look for the ACC to be accommodating and assist the Irish in whatever they need to make this season work. It’ll strengthen the relationship, and it would be a move that Notre Dame is unlikely to forget. 

Notre Dame Clash Presents A New Challenge For Clemson’s Dynasty

If the 2020 football season is played as scheduled, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s their first regular season meeting since 2015, and their first clash since the 2018 CFP. Going back to that 2015 game, many regard that Tigers-Irish battle as the starting point of the Clemson dynasty. Off to a 3-0 start, Clemson welcomed #6 Notre Dame to Death Valley. Dabo Swinney infamously called it a BYOG game – “Bring Your Own Guts”. (If you want to get fired up, watch the video below). Clemson denied Notre Dame’s late two-point conversion and won a 24-22 thriller. They dominated the rest of their schedule and eventually lost in the national championship to conclude a 14-1 season. After such a painful finish in Death Valley, and a pretty embarrassing loss in the Playoff, the Irish are chomping off the bit to get another shot at Dabo Swinney and Co. 

Early projections for that game give Clemson an 87% chance to win – their lowest chances of their regular season slate. However, amidst Notre Dame’s struggles against highly ranked opponents and Clemson’s recent dominance is hidden a fact that may be a little uneasy for Clemson fans to face. In all of their dominance since 2015, and their consistency for most of the past decade – Clemson has not won a true road game against a top 10 team since 2009. That’s not to take away from what Clemson has done or accomplished, but this is a task that Trevor Lawrence has never even had to size up – the last time Clemson even faced a top-10 team in the regular season was when they hosted #3 Louisville in 2016. That and the Notre Dame game are their only top-10 games since 2015. They lost in road games to  #1 FSU in 2014, #10 South Carolina in 2013, and  #4 FSU in 2012. Those games may have been before Clemson truly took off, but they went just 3-3 in regular season games against top-10 teams in this past year, and they were 0-3 on the road. Their last such victory on the road came at #8 Miami in 2009. They thrived in conference championships and the Playoff, but those true road games have been a rare and difficult task for Dabo’s Tigers. 

But Notre Dame chokes right? Can’t win big games? Well, to some extent, that has been true. Notre Dame went 3-7 against top-10 teams in the 2010s, with two of those wins coming in 2012. The kicker? The Irish have had essentially the reverse set-up as Clemson, playing 9 of those 10 games away from Notre Dame stadium. They won their lone home contest, went 2-4 on the road, and 0-3 on a neutral field. They haven’t hosted a top-5 team since 2005. Facing one of the team’s from USC’s dynasty of the early 21st century, Notre Dame almost defeated the top-ranked Trojans, losing on the infamous and controversial “Bush Push”. 15 years later, and the Irish may have another shot at the #1 team in the country – if Clemson maintains their preseason ranking. 

Notre Dame hasn’t lost at home since a one-point loss to Georgia in Week 2 of 2017. 87%? That’s a lot of confidence for a lot of things happening that haven’t happened in a long time? And with Clemson’s weak schedule, they’re not making the CFP with a loss in South Bend. I’m not saying an upset will happen. 

But I’m not saying it’s not going to happen either. 

Top Returning ACC Guards: #5 – Prentiss Hubb, Notre Dame

There are few things scarier to an ACC basketball team than playing Notre Dame and seeing Prentiss Hubb make a couple of shots. Because when he’s hot, Hubb rarely misses, and he can change the complexion of a game in a hurry. Called “My Patrick Mahomes” by head coach Mike Brey, Hubb may not have been the highest scorer on the court, but he is a difference-maker for the Irish, and his presence in the backcourt will be relied on heavily with star forward John Mooney graduated. Kicking off our latest countdown, Hubb comes in at #5 of our top returning guards to watch in the ACC. 

Hubb has been a starter since stepping foot on campus, averaging over thirty minutes per game in each of his first two seasons, and his efficiency on offense took a step up last season, as he increased his scoring average by four points to 12.1 points per game, while distributing the ball well –  his 5.1 assists per contest ranked fifth in the conference. And whether it was at the charity stripe (71%), beyond the arc (34.4%) or from two-point range (45%), Hubb’s numbers increased across the board, and he showed flashes of his elite talent during red-hot in-game surges. 

Hubb made his presence known from the get-go of his sophomore season, dropping 22 points in a road season opener at UNC, shooting 5-9 from deep. Hubb was relatively quiet for most of the Irish’s non-conference slate, chipping in where necessary, but against a bevy of weak opponents, he didn’t need to do much for Notre Dame to emerge victorious. In a massive January contest against Syracuse, one of the many teams that clogged the middle of the ACC standings all season, Hubb poured in 22 more points and facilitated the offense, notching nine assists. He also posted huge performances against a top-ten Florida State team – twice scoring 24 points against the Seminoles. 

With John Mooney and fellow senior TJ Gibbs gone, Hubb is the top returning scorer for the Irish, so he will get plenty of chances to put up big numbers. One concern is whether Hubb can be a little less streaky  – he had a one month stretch where he shot just 25% from three-point range, but if he can play to his full potential for a majority of the season, Hubb will be a scary player to face in the ACC this coming season. 

Daily Headlines: Bowling Green Baseball Saved By Alumni Donations

Many universities across the country have been facing financial hardships in their athletic department, with the lack of a spring sports season, and potential cancellation or delay of the fall sports season, threatening budgets and forcing college to make tough decisions. One such tough decision came from Bowling Green, who had announced that they, in response to a 2-million dollar shortfall in their budget, would be cutting the baseball program, whcih, by their estimates cost $750,000 a year to run. However, the Falcons were saved by an impressive donation campaign by their alumni and fanbase, which committed about 1.5 million dollars over the next three years, giving Bowling Green a temporary respite to their crisis. The Bowling Green athletic department officially reinstated the baseball team, and they’ve said they are currently pursuing potential long-term funding solutions, working with a select group of baseball alumni. The Falcons last made the NCAA Tournament in 2013, as they’ve struggled in their past few years in the MEAC. 

ND-Navy Dublin game moved to Annapolis

For the first time in the lengthy history of the Notre Dame vs. Navy football rivalry, their annual clash on the gridiron will take place at Navy’s home stadium. Although the game has been played in Maryland on several occasions, it has always taken place at various naval bases. The 2020 match-up was originally scheduled to be their second ever meeting in Dublin, but the COVID-19 concerns caused those plans to be scratched. Long assumed to be moving stateside, it was announced on Tuesday that the Irish and Midshipmen will play in Annapolis for the first time ever. This makes the most sense as programs, and the NCAA as a whole, scramble to try and set up a feasible way for the season to proceed as scheduled. 

Mountain West cuts several postseason tournaments

As part of an 18% reduction in their operating budget, the Mountain West Conference announced that they would be eliminating the postseason tournaments for baseball, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s soccer, meaning that the regular season champions for those sports will represent the school in the NCAA Tournament. Swimming, Diving, Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field, and Golf were among the other postseason tournaments modified or shortened. Other cost-cutting methods included shortening baseball and softball series to two days, with a doubleheader, while the volleyball conference slate was reduced by two games.

Daily Headlines: Notre Dame and Kentucky Schedule 3-game series in Basketball

Notre Dame and Kentucky set up 3-game series

Two of college basketball’s most historic programs set up a three-game series for the next three seasons, as Kentucky, who has the most all-time wins as a program, and Notre Dame, ranked #9 in that same category, will meet on the hardwood in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Kentucky is, as they usually are, a powerhouse, while Notre Dame is a program back on the rise. The Irish suffer the loss of John Mooney this season, but they have a strong sophomore class and some promising upcoming recruits. Next year’s contest at Kentucky sets the Wildcats up as heavy favorites, but the following two years, at a neutral site and then at Notre Dame, promise to be entertaining clashes. Kentucky leads the overall series 43-19, but the two teams have four contests since 2009. Non-conference battles like this are good for college sports, so it’s great to see this rivalry renewed. After all, who else remembers the last time these two teams met? (Also, if ND could bring back these uniforms along with the rivalry, that would be cool)

Notre Dame will get three chances at avenging this painful memory

Oklahoma sweeps the Big 12 Athlete of the Year Awards

The Big 12 announced some postseason honors on Thursday, and Oklahoma swept the Athlete of the Year awards, with quarterback and Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts taking the male award, and gymnast Maggie Nichols taking it home on the female side. 

Hurts was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this past season, denied a Heisman by Joe Burrow’s all-world season. He put up over 5,000 yards of all-purpose offense and accounted for 53 touchdowns. He led the Sooners to a Big 12 title and the College Football Playoff, and he was drafted by the Eagles in the 2nd round this past April.
Nichols, meanwhile, earned her second Big 12 athlete of the year award, having claimed the hardware two years ago as well. She’s won back-to-back NCAA all-around titles in 2018 and 2019, adding to her trophy case of 11 NCAA trophies she accumulated over her time with Oklahoma. 

JT Daniels Transfers to Georgia

In a decision that made waves across the sporting world yesterday, former USC quarterback JT Daniels elected to transfer to Georgia. The starting job under center in Athens was presumed to belong to Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, but now he’ll be competing with Daniels for playing time. Newman is the presumed favorite, but Kirby Smart’s quarterback room just got a lot better, and the competition got a lot tighter. 

Brown drops 11 varsity sports, adds two

Brown dropped eleven varsity sports, lowering their total to 29 D1 teams. However, the move is unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the administration; rather, they say the decision was made to make the Bears more competitive in the Ivy League. From ESPN: “Varsity sports dropping to club status are men’s and women’s fencing, men’s and women’s golf, women’s skiing, men’s and women’s squash, women’s equestrian and men’s indoor and outdoor track and cross country. Coed sailing and women’s sailing will be elevated from club to varsity status.” 

It’s time to start respecting college soccer

Football and basketball will always be king of the college sports world. Baseball is a national pastime, while postseason hockey tends to thrill even casual sports fans. Soccer has been the newcomer, at least in terms of fan interest, in American college athletics, but with the games’ popularity beginning to explode, it’s time to start respecting the sport. 

Soccer has always been a tough sell in America. With the more violent and action-packed game of football being played in the fall, the low-scoring contests on the soccer pitch have been largely disregarded. Over the past decade, the game’s popularity has begun to increase. In 2014, 5.1 million people tuned in to watch USA take on Belgium in the Round of 16. However, the US national team has been declining since that game, struggling to even attain international relevance, and the MLS has not gained a lot of traction among American soccer fans, who tend to prefer the more competitive European leagues. 

College soccer is by far the best non-international option to grow the game in America. Many people prefer college sports to professional sports, and soccer is no different. The MLS game is played at a slower pace, with too many 0-0 draws, and it’s slowly becoming a place for aging European stars to enjoy one last ride, but the collegiate game is played dynamically, with the speed and offense that make the game a little more entertaining. Yet, ESPN and other major sports channels would rather televise football preview shows and old reruns than a high-octane ACC soccer clash. If you Google “top college soccer games of 2019”, about half of the top results are about college football. While there are still some low-scoring games, the natural collegiate rivalries in soccer make games more exciting than the MLS, and parity is increasing rapidly.

This past year, ten top-5 teams lost to unranked opponents, many in high-scoring battles. Underdogs often build their teams to survive sustained attacks from more skilled opponents, but they feature dynamic playmakers on offense that can turn a game in an instant. UCLA outlasted #3 Akron in a 3-2 thriller this year, and unranked Memphis stunned a top-five SMU team with a 4-3 overtime victory. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, unranked Wright State, making their first ever tournament appearance, took down perennial powerhouse Notre Dame 3-2. The Raiders featured a fast-paced attack and clinched the game on a curling 25-yard blast into the upper right corner. The game was televised only by the ACC Network. The national championship between Georgetown and Virginia saw a 3-3 tie in regulation with two lead changes in the final five minutes, as well as a thrilling 7-6 penalty kick shootout to decide the title. The sport has the storylines, the upsets, the action and plenty more, so what else can be done to improve the popularity of the game? 

Improve the Scheduling
The NCAA could do a much better job of scheduling when it comes to soccer, as they often put games at inconvenient times for their target audience – college students – to watch. One example of this was the 2019 ACC Tournament. The ACC Tournament has teams host their first round games, which is a great idea to get student crowds, but their execution of this idea is less than ideal. When Notre Dame hosted Boston College in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the game was scheduled for 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. Why go through the effort of allowing teams to host postseason contests, only to schedule games at a time when the majority of college students can’t attend. The ND-BC game turned out to be a 2-1 overtime thriller, but only a few dozen students were able to watch the game unfold live. Such a scheduling catastrophe would never happen in basketball or on the gridiron, but in soccer? Who cares right?

Market the star players
Joe Burrow. Chase Young. Justin Fields. Trevor Lawrence. Those are just a few of the top college football names, and they are names that almost every casual sports fan would recognize. How many people would recognize the names Joe Bell, Robbie Robinson, or Dylan Nealis? Those were the three finalists for the Hermann Trophy, soccer’s Heisman, but nobody but avid fans of the game would know those names. ESPN is always posting insane graphics about record-breaking Burrow stats – post a damn soccer highlight here and there. The game has the potential to be popular, but it doesn’t help when you don’t market the players at all. 

Televise More Games
This works in tandem with point #1, but the NCAA, and colleges themselves, could do much better with making a TV-friendly schedule. Many schools play their soccer games on Friday nights and Saturday, and quite frankly, when you’re competing with football for television time, that’s not going to work. Saturday and Sunday belong to football, and so do Friday nights to an extend. Whether it’s afternoon games on Friday, or shifting games to Thursday nights, there’s got to be a better way to balance the schedule with football. NCAA Tournament games shouldn’t only be available regionally, and with major conferences like the ACC engaging in ranked clashes every week, there should be far more nationally televised games.

Interest in soccer is finally growing, and the collegiate game is the way to take advantage of that interest. It’s time for major sports channels and the NCAA to figure that out and giving soccer its fair share of respect. 

Daily Headlines: Kentucky gets a big commitment, SEC schools make a big announcement

The world isn’t strictly dominated by college football, as NCAA Basketball made some big-time waves yesterday. Olivier Sarr made a huge announcement, declaring that he would be transferring from Wake Forest to Kentucky. Sarr is a 7’0 center who was one of the centerpieces of the Wake Forest offense, and he’s moving from the basement of the ACC to the top of the SEC, filling a big void inside the paint for the Wildcats. Duke, Baylor, Florida State, and Gonzaga were just a few of the powerhouses hoping to obtain Sarr’s services. He averaged 13.7 points and 9 rebounds per game last season.

In recruiting news, Notre Dame is working to rebound from their recruiting loss on Will Shipley. While they continue to search to add a running back to that 2021 class, they landed another four-star commitment from cornerback Phillip Riley. Riley had 38 offers, and he turned down most of the ACC, including Clemson, in favor of the Irish.
Another big commitment came from 4-star inside linebacker Easton Mascarenas, and the California product is going out of state, committing to Oregon State, where he will try to lift the Beavers back to Pac-12 relevancy. He chose Oregon State over ten other offers, mostly from Pac-12 schools, although his only in-state offer was San Diego State. 

And now for your regularly scheduled “we hope and are optimistic sports will return soon” programming: In some exciting news, which should be taken with a grain of salt, a bevy of schools, including many SEC schools, announced their intention to open their doors this coming fall. The list of schools making this announcement included LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina. It’s not anything definitive, but it’s definitely a nice hope for the future. 

Thomas: Michigan State, opponent of many, rival of none

Rivalry weekend is an amazing weekend to be a college football fan. Across the country, college football teams line up against their biggest rivals. Some of these contests are more lopsided recently, with the Georgia-Georgia Tech or Clemson-South Carolina games coming to mind, but the hate is still strong between the two teams. And in most of these regular season finale contests, the records simply don’t matter. Minnesota-Wisconsin, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Alabama-Auburn, the rivalries are fierce, the games are classics, and the college football fan is content to sit on their couch and watch some of the most intensely contested games of the season.

Of course, there’s the greatest rivalry of them all as well. Often the site of College Gameday that weekend, Michigan and Ohio State do battle at the end of each regular season. The hate between these two teams is unmatched, so much that Ohio State, and indeed much of the state of Ohio, replaces the letter “M” with a giant ‘X’ in all signs and tweets leading up to the game. But then what about the hate between Michigan and Michigan State? Well, as much as the Spartans would like you to believe this is a true rivalry, it quite simply has not been, and it likely never will be. Michigan States’ rivalry-weekend match-up? It varies; last year it was Maryland, the two years prior it was Rutgers – a couple of cellar-dwelling Big 10 teams for Michigan State to beat up on while their hated rivals goes and plays their biggest game of the year with someone else. 

Michigan States’ inability to get a true rivalry-weekend match-up, or even a rivalry with anybody, goes well beyond the Michigan saga. If you look up Michigan State rivals, you get a list of just four teams: Michigan, Notre Dame, Indiana, and Penn State. Not an inspiring list, especially considering every single one of these teams has bigger rivals.
The Spartans’ biggest hope comes in Penn State, another team who may lack a true rival. But the Nittany Lions don’t care, often proclaiming themselves as their biggest rivals, competing against the premier Penn State teams of previous decades. Plus, Penn State has big games closer to home in Pitt and Maryland, a more historic rivalry in Nebraska, and a budding rivalry with Ohio State. They don’t need Michigan State. 

How about Notre Dame? There’s been some big games, and there is no doubt about that, but Michigan State has tried to fuel this rivalry far more than Notre Dame, and it’s hard to do that when you have a .373 winning percentage against them. The Spartans’ planted their flag at Notre Dame’s home stadium after a 2005 win, and they won in 2010 on the infamous “Little Giant” fake field goal. But, Notre Dame has their rivalries with USC and Michigan, their uninterrupted series with Navy, and the Holy War with BC. In a recent survey of their student body, Notre Dame didn’t even vote for the Spartans as one of their top-6 rivals. Ouch. They clearly don’t need Michigan State. 

Indiana? To be honest, even if Michigan State could consider Indiana a rival, it wouldn’t be saying much. The Hoosiers are far more known for their basketball prowess, and they have not ever really been particularly relevant in football. They have never eclipsed nine wins in a season, and they haven’t even reached that mark since 1967. Plus, Indiana has their own in-state rivalry with Purdue, so even they’ve got bigger fish to fry than the Spartans. If that’s Michigan State’s best rival, it’s a pretty sad one for a big-name program with six national championships. 

And that brings the list full circle to Michigan. The Wolverines will call Michigan State “Little Brother” and for good reason. Despite some recent success in the series, the Spartans are just 36-71 against Michigan, good for a .344 winning percentage. It’s embarrassing, and it’s more embarrassing because they’re not even Michigan’s biggest game of the year. They sometimes aren’t even second, as you can debate whether the Notre Dame versus Michigan rivalry is a bigger one too. 

Michigan State has had success on the field, and under current coach Mark Dantonio, they’ve been in the Top 5 in four different seasons. But seemingly no success will make Michigan State relevant unless something drastic changes. 

They can plant a flag at Notre Dame Stadium. They can fuel their hatred for Michigan. They can claim that Penn State hates them, or maybe, if they’re desperate, fall back on their ‘rivalry’ with Indiana. But come rivalry weekend, Michigan State will be in Maryland, or hosting Rutgers, or playing some other low-level Big 10 team, desperately searching for a team that will hate them back. 

Daily Headlines: Will Shipley commits to Clemson, Irish left scrambling

One of the most anticipated commitments from the Class of 2021 occurred on Tuesday afternoon, as 5-star All-Purpose running back Will Shipley, ranked #1 in 247sports running back rankings and #2 in ESPN’s, announced his intention to play for the Clemson Tigers, joining Dabo Swinney’s dynasty in South Carolina.

The Tigers had been among the favorites, and in the end they edged out Notre Dame for Shipley’s commitment. The North Carolina Gatorade player of the year was known to also be considering NC State, where both his parents attended, UNC, Duke and Stanford.

Shipley will be joining a loaded backfield at Clemson, who have a stream of talented running back recruits headed their way. Shipley may be the best of the bunch, but he said the Clemson coaching staff made it clear he would have to earn his playing time, appealing to his “ultra-competitive” nature. Notre Dame spent a lot of time recruiting Shipley, but ultimately the coronavirus pandemic lost them a chance to get the Clemson commit back on campus, which may have been a necessary visit to wrangle him from his comfort area in the Carolinas.

Shipley heading to Clemson does put the Irish in a tight situation, as they truly went all-in for the feature piece of their 2021 class. That recruiting class is ranked twelfth in the country, and pairing Shipley with 5-star quarterback Tyler Buchner could have made Notre Dame instant national title contenders. Instead, they’ll have to try to fill a vacant spot in their class, as to try to earn Shipley’s commitment, they had not offered any other backs. Notre Dame is already looking for other options, as they extended an offer to three-star running back Alton McKaskill. McKaskill would be a solid addition and soften the devastating blow of losing Shipley, but the Texas product does have 26 offers, including USC, Michigan, Florida State, Auburn, and a bevy of other Power-5 programs.

ESPN FPI – Overrated and Underrated Teams

ESPN updated their 2020 college football projections yesterday, and it raised some major questions. Certain teams slotted in way too high, and a few teams, based on their projections, seem like they would be a smart bet for this upcoming season. As we continue to wait for any announcements regarding this upcoming football season, here’s one take on who was underrated and overrated by ESPN’s FPI projections.

Overrated – Wisconsin
I’ll start with the team that I think was the most out of place. In my mind, Wisconsin was a borderline Top-10 team. They lost four games last year, and they lost their most dynamic player in Jonathan Taylor. Yes, two of Wisconsin’s losses game against Ohio State, and another one against Oregon, but they haven’t finished in the Top 5 since 1999. I don’t understand this ranking at all. If you go by the projections, Wisconsin will make the College Football Playoff next year. After a light slate to start the year, Wisconsin embarks on a 3-weeks stretch at Michigan, Notre Dame, and versus Minnesota. No chance.

Underrated – Florida

Kyle Trask is a nice little sleeper Heisman pick, and he’s one of the few decent returning starting quarterbacks in the SEC, especially in the SEC East. If they get past Georgia, there’s no reason to think the Gators can’t win the SEC East. With no clear favorite in the conference, Trask could absolutely help lead Florida to an SEC title, which has been nearly synonymous with a College Football Playoff berth. Yet Florida is ranked 13th? Behind Texas and UCF? Absolute joke.

Overrated – Georgia

Nathaniel wrote about Georgia’s massive draft losses yesterday, but he has a little more optimism about the Bulldogs’ chances than I do. They lost fifteen players to the draft, as well as Jake Fromm. Say what you want about Fromm, but he’s been the only quarterback at the helm during Georgia’s relevance. I don’t like the odds of an ACC quarterback coming in and taking over the SEC. Don’t see it, and I don’t agree with the 5th-best odds that ESPN gifted Kirby Smart’s squad.

Underrated – Notre Dame
I mean come on. Notre Dame has been a consistent Top-10 team for a few years now, and they haven’t lost at home in two years. Ian Book returns for his third year as a starter, defensive coordinator Clark Lea always leads an elite-level defense for the Irish, and Brian Kelly’s squad returns his entire starting offensive lineman. Throw in incoming recruit Chris Tyree, new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, and ranking the Irish #15, also behind UCF and Texas, is insane.

Overrated – USC Trojans
At #14, Ranking USC anywhere near this list is horrible. Clay Helton has not proven to be an elite level coach, and USC lost some of their major weapons this year. With some controversy in the quarterback room, and a 13-12 record in the past two seasons, the Trojans have no business coming into the Top 15.

Underrated – Clemson

OK if I’m being honest, Florida and Notre Dame were my biggest complaints about the list, but I figured I’d use the final space to just mention Clemson. This team is going to be an absolute monster. With Justyn Ross, Trevor Lawrence, and Travis Etienne returning, Dabo Swinney still at the helm, and their traditionally dominant defense, along with playing in the ACC, Clemson is primed for another 12-0 regular season. And while obviously LSU came out of nowhere, it took one of the greatest college football teams of all time to take down Lawrence and the Tigers, and I don’t see it happening this year. They are ranked #1 with an 81% chance to make the Playoff. Seems like an understatement to me.