Notre Dame has unique op­por­tu­nity to win ACC ti­tle with 10-game con­fer­ence slate

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY ERIC HANSEN

Notre Dame foot­ball dip­ping its toe into his­tory this fall in­cludes de­tails that have most of the rest of the col­lege foot­ball world gawk­ing, even if there’s still a trap door that could make it all go away.

What shouldn’t be lost in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence’s pop-up sched­ul­ing an­nounce­ment Wed­nes­day is that an Ir­ish team with the po­ten­tial to be the best of coach Brian Kelly’s 11 to date will have a path to prove it.

At least that’s what the snap­shot looks like at the end of July.

The COVID-19 pan­demic may even­tu­ally have other ideas. But if the pes­simism about a sea­son be­ing played turns out to be over­rated and Notre Dame is as good or bet­ter than ad­ver­tised, the Ir­ish will end up play­ing Clem­son twice this sea­son, with a split per­haps enough to coax them into their sec­ond play­off ap­pear­ance.

The two teams will play at least once, and that game will be at Notre Dame Sta­dium, in a sched­ule re­con­fig­ured to 11 reg­u­lar-sea­son games and the Ir­ish’s sea­son com­mit­ment to ACC schools swelling from six op­po­nents to 10.

The other home ACC games are against Duke, Florida State, Louisville and Syra­cuse. On the road, the Ir­ish are sched­uled to face Bos­ton Col­lege, Ge­or­gia Tech, North Carolina, Pitts­burgh and Wake For­est.

“We’re ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity the ACC has pro­vided for our foot­ball pro­gram,” Notre Dame ath­letic direc­tor Jack Swar­brick said in a state­ment. “We look for­ward to an­nounc­ing our full sched­ule in the near fu­ture.”

There’s still a lot we don’t know. Spe­cific dates for spe­cific games. Who Notre Dame can/will play for its non­con­fer­ence op­po­nent. Whether there will be fans at any of the games. Whether sports in the United States in 2020 can en­dure out­side a pan­demic-re­sis­tant bub­ble.

What we do know, though, is in­trigu­ing — and no facet more so than Notre Dame be­ing treated like a con­fer­ence mem­ber in ev­ery way in the 15-team, no-di­vi­sion tem­po­rary setup.

That means the Ir­ish are el­i­gi­ble to win a ti­tle, play in the ACC cham­pi­onship game and play in the Or­ange Bowl as the ACC rep in­stead of against it if the Ir­ish just fall short of the foot­ball fi­nal four.

If I were Swar­brick, I would have taken the deal with­out the league ti­tle shot, but this way is a lot more fun and po­ten­tially im­pact­ful.

We also know the first games are sched­uled the week of Sept. 7-12, which means Notre Dame’s train­ing camp likely gets pushed back to mid-Au­gust and af­ter fallsemest­er classes start Aug. 10. At least two bye weeks will be built into a reg­u­lar sea­son that’s set to end Dec. 5.

The ACC cham­pi­onship game will be held either Dec. 12 or 19 at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium in Char­lotte, North Carolina, a venue where the Ir­ish were orig­i­nally slated to play Wake For­est. The ti­tle game will fea­ture the top two teams based on high­est con­fer­ence-game winning per­cent­age, well-crafted word­ing in that not ev­ery team might be able to play the same amount of league games.

Far down the rel­e­vancy scale is a re­al­ity and a sup­po­si­tion that likely will re­main me­dia fetishes as long as this re­booted sched­ule stays in­tact.

The re­al­ity is Notre Dame will share the rev­enue from its NBC con­tract with the 14 other schools. In fact, all tele­vi­sion rev­enue will be shared. So un­less you’re a math lover, don’t get caught up in the op­tics.

The sup­po­si­tion — and those sto­ries are al­ready out there en masse — is that per­haps Notre Dame’s one year ACC run will be so en­chant­ing it will con­vince the school to drop its in­de­pen­dent sched­ule, iden­tity and brand­ing and join the league in foot­ball full time in 2021.

Like a picky eater who tries broc­coli for the first time and mag­i­cally gives up ribs for the green stuff.

The last time Notre Dame tried to play foot­ball in a pan­demic, its first-year coach didn’t get to play any games in Oc­to­ber and ended up get­ting in only six to­tal — and only then through some creative reschedul­ing — in an era when nine reg­u­lar-sea­son games was the norm.

The Ir­ish went 3-1-2 that sea­son, 1918, play­ing five games on the road. The next two sea­sons they didn’t lose a game.

The coach? Knute Rockne.

Coach Brian Kelly and the Ir­ish will play home games vs. Clem­son, Duke, Florida State, Louisville and Syra­cuse. On the road, they are sched­uled to face Bos­ton Col­lege, Ge­or­gia Tech, North Carolina, Pitts­burgh and Wake For­est.

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