Odds are pretty good, no matter what happens in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against No. 3 Clemson, Notre Dame will make the College Football Playoff.
It would seem the Fighting Irish’s flirtation with the ACC as a full-time member in football in 2020 paid off for them and the conference. It also perhaps showed Notre Dame being a member of a conference has more of a benefit then it has as an independent.
Granted the Irish (10-0, 9-0 ACC) made the CFP in 2018 as an independent. However, they had to go undefeated that year to accomplish that goal. Though they are currently undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the CFP Committee’s current ranking, they can afford to lose to the Tigers (9-1, 8-1) on Saturday and still make the CFP. That is something that would not have happened if they were an independent and lost.
“Oh, absolutely. You can talk all you want about being in a conference. But if you’re not in the ACC – and we weren’t, you know, we were dipping our toe into it – you really can’t talk firsthand about it,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “We can now, so it’s offered us a different perspective, there’s no doubt about it. And, you know, sitting on this call right now at this press conference, getting a chance to play for an ACC Championship is certainly the positive of being in a conference.”
Notre Dame, of course, joined the ACC for one year due to the pandemic. With Power 5 Conferences playing mostly conference games in 2020, the Irish, who is already a member of the ACC in other sports, had no one to play except its six scheduled games with the ACC.
To help, the ACC invited the Irish into the league to compete for one year as a conference member, giving them all the same benefits as the league’s other 14 teams and an opportunity to compete for the league title.
“I think it’s been good. You know it’s exciting,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think we had one of the most watched games, maybe in a long time, this season especially in the first game, and I’ll be shocked if this one is not even better. So, it’s been good for college football. It’s been good for our league and hopefully it’s been good for Notre Dame, who knows what they’ll do going forward, but it’s been a good year.”
All in all, the year has been a success for the ACC and Notre Dame. NBC’s overall rating for Notre Dame’s six home games is higher this year than it was for the Irish’s seven home games during their playoff run in 2018. Also, four of this year’s top five Notre Dame games on NBC are higher than the Irish’s top five games from 2018.
The Clemson-Notre Dame game on Nov. 7, a double-overtime thriller won by the Irish, was the most watched game in college football this year and the most watched Notre Dame game on NBC since the Irish’s 1993 epic clash with Florida State.
It would seem all this evidence would suggest Notre Dame might want to join the ACC permanently.
“Losing out on playing some of the traditional rivalries is obviously the negative,” Kelly said. “(So) what’s the pluses and minuses of this comes down to how we see us as a program moving forward over the foreseeable future. Those are the questions that really, quite frankly, Jack Swarbrick is entertaining at a higher level. And I’ll give him my feedback, but we’ve enjoyed this, this relationship.
“If they come and ask my opinion, I would say that the ACC has been a great relationship for Notre Dame, but independence has been something that is part of who we are in our DNA.”
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