It’s time for Notre Dame to join college football’s 21st century. The Irish need to accept full membership in the ACC to remain relevant in the national conversation beyond an early or midseason loss.
Notre Dame, like Oklahoma, was a preseason Top 10-ranked team eyeing a run at one of the College Football Playoff’s four berths. That was before both schools dropped to 1-2 records in in third week of the season.
The Irish fell 36-28 Saturday at home to Michigan State and Oklahoma was routed 45-24 the same night at home by Ohio State.
Oklahoma still has a Big 12 title to play for the rest of the way.
Notre Dame still has … well, what do the Irish have left? Not much.
Notre Dame is in its third season of playing five ACC schools in exchange for the ACC accepting Notre Dame’s other men’s and women’s programs into the conference. The deal allowed Notre Dame football to retain the independent status it treasures. With a national fan base, the Irish can travel the country with every game an event home or away.
However, Notre Dame has paid a price for the ACC schedule the last two years in the CFP era.
In 2014, Notre Dame was 6-0 and ranked No. 5 before it lost at No. 2 Florida State. The Seminoles advanced to the CFP, playing Oregon in the Rose Bowl semifinal. The Irish settled for the Music City Bowl.
In 2015, Notre Dame was 4-0 and ranked No. 6 when it lost at No. 12 Clemson. The Tigers beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl semifinal and lost to Alabama in the national championship game. Notre Dame was routed by Ohio State in a Fiesta Bowl that was left out of college football’s national discussion.
That means recruits weren’t hearing about the Irish. That can hurt Notre Dame’s future rosters.
If Notre Dame is going to have its CFP hopes derailed by ACC schools, the Irish might as well jump in with both feet and play for an ACC division title to then have a chance to win the conference championship game.
The five-game agreement doesn’t have Notre Dame playing Florida State and Clemson every year. In 2016, the Irish’s five ACC contests begin with Duke next Saturday followed by Syracuse, N.C. State, Miami and Virginia Tech.
Although Notre Dame is stubborn about maintaining its independent status, there is precedent for the Irish giving into changing times.
In the days when national titles were decided by poll voting at the end of the regular season, Notre Dame didn’t play bowl games (with the exception of the 1924 season in the Rose Bowl).
What forced Notre Dame to begin accepting bowl bids in 1969 was a change in 1968 to delaying the final poll votes after the bowl games. That left Notre Dame on the outside looking in without a bowl game to influence poll voting. In the 1969 season, Notre Dame, ranked No. 9, played No. 1 Texas in the 1970 Cotton Bowl. The Irish nearly spoiled the Longhorns’ national championship but fell just short in an upset bid, 21-17.
The teams met again in the 1970 season’s 1971 Cotton Bowl. Sixth-ranked Notre Dame upset No. 1 Texas, 24-11, to prevent back-to-back national titles for the Longhorns.
Notre Dame was firmly entrenched in what was then the modern-day system.
Now times have changed again. It’s time for Notre Dame to join a conference to remain relevant beyond early and midseason losses.
— North Carolina (2-1) doesn’t play Clemson or Louisville this year, but the Tar Heels’ offense is showing it might be able to keep up with those juggernauts if they meet in the ACC championship game.
After North Carolina’s sporadic performance in a season-opening 33-24 loss to Georgia, the Tar Heels have scored 104 points – beating James Madison 56-28 on Saturday and Illinois 48-23 last week.
Just to be clear, scoring a “half-a-hundred” is a quote from retired Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, not North Carolina wide receiver/punt return Ryan Switzer. The Tar Heels’ senior caught five balls for 105 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was 24-of-27 for 432 yards with three touchdowns.
— Duke (1-2) opened the year thinking it could play over the rebuilding label. That doesn’t appear to be the case after a second straight loss, this time 24-13 Saturday at Northwestern (1-2). Duke’s young offensive line has been overmatched. The preseason injury to quarterback Thomas Sirk is also hard to ignore at this point.
— Just when Wake Forest thought it had settled on sophomore Kendall Hinton as its starting quarterback, the Demon Deacons were forced back to the drawing board. Hinton was suffered a sprained knee in the first quarter of Wake Forest’s (3-0) win over Delaware, 38-21. Junior John Wolford finished the game. Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said Hinton’s status is uncertain.
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