For the first time since 1945, there will be a break in the rivalry between Notre Dame and USC following Friday night’s news that the Pac-12 is following the Big-10’s lead and playing a conference only schedule. The Irish also won’t face Stanford, a much lesser rival for Notre Dame, for the first time since 1996. And that now makes three games Notre Dame has lost for 2020, but more are likely coming.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 10, 2020
We all saw this coming, but it doesn’t make the news any better. Losing the USC game, if there is even a season, is a major bummer for Notre Dame football. The only thing that has stood in the way of these two college football bluebloods playing football in the nearly 100-year history of the rivalry was the Second World War. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long before news broke on Thursday that the Big-10 was moving to conference-only schedule for the fall, the Pac-12 had been rumored to be considering the same move. As far back as April, there were reports that the conference was exploring the option as the pandemic was still reaching its heights in the United States.
Sadly, three months later, the pandemic is reaching new heights with new records for confirmed cases being broken daily. Yesterday alone, 849 people died from the virus in the United States alone. Those numbers suggest that not only should we expect more conferences to make this same move in the short term, but that the likelihood of there being any college football in the fall is drastically shrinking every day as the United States continues breaking grim records daily.
IF, and it’s a huge IF right now, there is a season in 2020; Notre Dame’s schedule looks like it will be filled with more ACC games. ACC commissioner John Swofford confirmed this week already that if the ACC follows suit, they would consider Notre Dame in their plans. What that means for the final traditional rival, Navy, left on Notre Dame’s schedule remains to be seen.
Outside of the six current ACC games left on Notre Dame’s 2020 schedule and Navy, the only remaining opponents for the Irish are Western Michigan and Arkansas. The MAC conference took a massive hit with the Big-10 canceling all of its games for the fall with the mid-major conference, so Western Michigan probably would love to keep the Notre Dame game. The SEC meanwhile hasn’t announced they will be playing a conference-only schedule yet, but it’s hard to imagine them not.
There has been some talk of conferences considering a nine plus one format of nine conference games and one out of conference to maintain some traditional out of conference, geographic rivalries, but so far, it doesn’t seem any conference is going that route.
Notre Dame’s fate now appears to rest on the ACC and what they will expect of the Irish in return for filling its schedule. Twitter trolls and Notre Dame detractors have been gleefully hoping that the conference strongarms Notre Dame into full membership, but that is as much of a pipe dream as the thought of this pandemic just “disappearing” at this point.
As for Notre Dame’s rivalries with USC and Stanford, the Irish have beaten both in each of the last two years and hasn’t lost to USC since 2016. That means by the time the two play again in October of 2021; it will have been five years since the Irish last lost to the Trojans.