Hurricane Joaquim threatens off the Mid-Atlantic seaboard, but another storm already has come ashore ahead of Notre Dame’s visit Saturday to Clemson’s South Carolina campus.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has been outspoken that Notre Dame has an advantage playing a 12-game schedule in pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth (for the record, he says the same about the Big 12 not playing a conference championship as a 13th game).
Notre Dame’s unique arrangement with the ACC adds to the discussion. In return for Notre Dame’s other sports joining the ACC as full members, football remains an independent in exchange for playing six “non-conference” dates with ACC members.
Swinney’s point is, ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 schools could go 12-0 and then must face the challenge of a 13th game for the conference title. What happens if an unbeaten ACC Atlantic champ loses to a multiple-loss ACC Coastal winner? Does a 12-0 or 11-1 Notre Dame slip in ahead of a 12-1 ACC Atlantic school?
Swinney brought the subject up at the ACC Media Days last summer. Naturally, he was asked about it again at his weekly media session. But this time he tried to downplay his complaint.
“That’s their business,” Swinney said. “But ask me the question or my opinion, yeah, I think they should have to play 13 games. I feel the same thing with the Big 12. I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think it’s equitable. I can’t do anything about it, so I ain’t worried about it. I (couldn’t) care less.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly defended the Irish’s independent status. He was asked what he thought of Swinney’s comments during his conference call.
“I really didn’t have a response,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing that we can do other than play 12 games that we have. We take great pride in the schedule that we put together and feel like it will stand up to scrutiny. We don’t play 1-AA opponents (Football Bowl Subdivision), we play 1-A (Football Championship Subdivision) opponents. We had three Power Five conference opponents to start the season, the only one in the country that had wins early on.”
Indeed, Notre Dame’s media release covers more than three paragraphs detailing how the Irish, unlike other schools, opened their season against three Power Five schools and overall faces nine Power Five members. That suggests the school is sensitive to the subject while stubbornly clinging to independent status that is outdated in the CFP era.
As for comparing to Clemson’s schedule, the Tigers do play a lower-level FCS school (Wofford), but their other three non-conference games against Appalachian State (now FBS in the Sun Belt), Notre Dame and South Carolina measures up with the Irish’s three non-Power Five schools (Mid-American member Massachusetts and AAC members Navy and Temple).
The storm will continue should Notre Dame beat Clemson Saturday night. But Clemson could drive at least one stake into the Irish for the 2015 CFP with a victory.
Both teams have been hurt by injuries and survived a scare. For Notre Dame, it was a 34-27 at Virginia when starting quarterback Malik Zaire was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
Since then, true freshman DeShone Kizer rallied his team from behind at Virginia and has led wins over Georgia Tech and Massachusetts.
Notre Dame has balanced its offense with 531.3 yards a game to rank 15th in the nation. The Irish are 12th in rushing with 284.8 yards and 53rd in passing with 246.5.
Clemson’s defense ranks ninth in the nation, allowing 260.7 yards per game. The Tigers are 30th in rush defense (114.7) and third in pass defense efficiency (80.36).
Although Swinney backed off a little on his 12-game complaint, he didn’t equivocate about Notre Dame’s talent this year. He says it’s better than the 2012 team that lost to Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game.
“I think this is a better team than maybe the team that played in the national championship,” he said. “They’re faster. They’re more athletic. They’ve got starters back everywhere.”
But do they have an advantage in the College Football Playoff selection process?