Notre Dame begins its football scheduling and bowl arrangement with the ACC this season, and hopes are high the Irish will help the league across the board -- especially when it comes to strength of schedule.
But will the Irish end up helping or hurting? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna debate.
Andrea says: Jury is out on the Irish.
Imagine this scenario playing out: Oct. 18, Doak Campbell Stadium. Notre Dame and Florida State, putting together an instant classic. The Irish have the Seminoles on the ropes, threatening their perch atop the college football rankings.
These two programs have played their fair share of nail-biters. This one would join the list, after Notre Dame kicks a last-second field goal to take down the defending national champions. The loss ends up ruining Florida State's chances of repeating.
Think having Notre Dame as a quasi-partner would go over well in that nightmare scenario?
Not exactly. And while hypotheticals are generally a meaningless exercise, in this case they cannot be ignored. Because we really have no idea what the addition of Notre Dame will do to the ACC this year. The Irish could help, or just as likely, they could hurt the league.
Florida State is but one example, though it is the most important. The Seminoles are playing a much more difficult schedule than a year ago. Not only do they have a neutral-site game against Oklahoma State, they have to play rival Florida, expected to be improved.
Two difficult nonconference games against power-five opponents is challenging enough. Adding Notre Dame into the mix gives Florida State the toughest nonconference slate in the ACC AND the toughest nonconference slate among the other teams expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 5.
Nobody else has to play two power-five opponents and Notre Dame. Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Auburn play one power-five opponent each. Notre Dame is not on their respective schedules.
Notre Dame is expected to be a preseason Top 25 team, so that means the Irish certainly have the capability of pulling an upset. And the placement of that game on the schedule is not exactly ideal. After a bye, Florida State has to travel to Louisville for a Thursday night game, the toughest two-game stretch on the schedule.
Now, it is well within the realm of possibility that a one-loss Florida State would make it into the playoffs, but nobody even knows how the committee is going to start evaluating candidates. Nothing can be accepted as a given.
Then there is the bowl partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC. Say Florida State is out of the playoff and into the Discover Orange Bowl. Say the Irish and Clemson finish with the same record. Well, the Russell Athletic or Capital One Bowls would be well within their rights to take Notre Dame over Clemson. Can't imagine that would go over very well, either.
There’s no doubt the partnership looks good on paper. But there may be a time it backfires.
Matt says: The Irish will be a huge plus.
Notre Dame football's affiliation with the ACC moving forward is far from a one-sided affair. Yes, the Irish do get to expand their schedule after finding a safe (and natural) home for their other sports. And yes, the Irish do gain access to a ton of postseason opportunities that simply did not exist for them when they were entirely independent. But the school and the conference are now friends with benefits, and that means that the ACC receives some perks from this relationship as well.
For one, Notre Dame is a sudden boost to the league's schedule strength. Getting the Irish once every three years on their slates undoubtedly alleviates some of the stress that conference athletic directors are under to fulfill league requirements each year. And, in years in which ACC schools host Notre Dame, the home team is almost guaranteed to sell out its stadium for that contest, along with gaining the priceless exposure that comes with hosting a prime-time, nationally televised contest. (And when Notre Dame comes to town, sure as you're born, the game will be under the lights. The Irish have not played a road matinee since 2011, at Pitt.) On top of that, the opportunities could be there for one fewer road game, if not exactly an extra home one. Look no further than next year's clash with Boston College, scheduled for Nov. 21, 2015 at Boston's Fenway Park. That is an Irish home game, as the program takes one of its games off-site each year as part of the "Shamrock Series." So it is one fewer road trip for the Eagles next year, and it is possible that others in the ACC could find themselves in similar situations in 2017 and beyond. The Irish "hosted" former league member Maryland in Landover for their 2011 Shamrock Series contest game as well.
Let's not overlook what the semi-addition of Notre Dame has already done for the league's exposure, either. As part of Notre Dame's ACC agreement, the Irish can take an ACC team's place in a non-access bowl if their record is better than, equal to or within one win of the ACC team -- or if the Irish are ranked higher. The Irish would share in the revenues of the non-access bowl. And, well, what do you know? The ACC bowl lineup that starts this year -- the same year that the Irish begin their football partnership with the league -- is deeper and better than before, with the Capital One Bowl and New Era Pinstripe Bowl among the league's new 13 postseason partners. Some coincidence.
Sure, Notre Dame could upset an expected national title contender like Florida State this year and potentially ruin the league's chance at reaching the four-team College Football Playoff, but "potentially" is the key word there. The Seminoles have, after all, opened as 24-point favorites over the Irish, so there really shouldn't be much to worry about. And heck, it's not like Notre Dame hasn't beaten FSU when it supposedly mattered before, only to see the Noles crowned as national champions later. (Lest we forget about the '93 Game of the Century.)
And if the Irish were to win in Tallahassee? Well, chances are they would be having a really good season then. Playoff good. Which would mean one less spot in the ACC bowl lineup for them to take from a team with the same or better record. And, perhaps, give the ACC an even stronger presence in the playoff, which is supposed to reward strength of schedule, meaning a 12-1 FSU team with nonconference wins over Oklahoma State and Florida would, theoretically, still have a very strong case.
A case strengthened by Notre Dame.