Did Notre Dame Football’s Schedule Get Easier By Joining a Conference for 2020?

By now you’ve all seen/heard the news that Notre Dame is a full member of the ACC for the 2020 season, will play a 10-game conference schedule, and is eligible for the ACC Championship and the ACC’s Orange Bowl bid. A day later, after looking at the overall impact on Notre Dame’s 2020 schedule, a strong argument could be made that Notre Dame’s schedule got easier by joining a conference for 2020.

In case you did miss yesterday’s news, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.

  • Notre Dame is a full member for 2020
  • Each ACC team plays a 10+1 schedule with 10 conference games and 1 out of conference game
  • Out of conference games must take place in a state where there is an ACC program
  • Notre Dame is eligible for the ACC Championship and the Orange Bowl bid that comes with it
  • Notre Dame & ACC all share TV revenues equally (including the NBC deal)
  • Games start September 12 & the ACC Championship game will be either Dec 12 or 19 in Charlotte

Four New ACC Opponents

Notre Dame was already set to play six ACC teams in 2020 – Clemson, Duke, and Louisville at home and Wake Forest, Pitt, and Georgia Tech on the road. In addition to those, the Irish now have Florida State and Syracuse at home and North Carolina and Boston College on the road.

Those four new opponents replace Wisconsin, USC, Stanford, and as we learned on Thursday, Arkansas. Western Michigan is a buyout candidate but could end up being Notre Dame’s lone out of conference game if Notre Dame and Navy can’t renegotiate a third venue for the game.

The two moved the game from Dublin to Annapolis already because of the pandemic, but that is off the table now since all ACC members out of conference game needs to take place in a state where there is a member institution. There is no ACC University in the state of Maryland.

For arguments sake, let’s assume that Notre Dame and Navy work something out again. Maybe they play at Notre Dame Stadium again this year in exchange for a future trip to Annapolis. Maybe they find an NFL stadium in a state that has an ACC program. Whatever the case, the two will probably do all they can to make it work.

If that happens, Notre Dame’s schedule would include homes Clemson, Louisville, Duke, Florida State, and Syracuse and road games at Boston College, North Carolina, Pitt, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest. Then one more game with Navy, somewhere.

Notre Dame’s Schedule is Arguably Easier

After all the roster moves – and there are more to come in terms of venue changes like the move of the Georgia Tech game to Bobby Dodd Stadium – the Irish have an easier slate of games than they did before.

Let’s compare the four games Notre Dame lost to the ones they gained in terms of difficulty.

  • Wisconsin at Lambeau replaced with North Carolina on the road
  • USC on the road replaced with Florida State at home
  • Stanford at home replaced with Syracuse at home
  • Arkansas at home replaced with Pitt on the road

North Carolina is a darling pick of the ACC media to be a breakthrough team this year and will start the season ranked ahead of a Florida State team in transition so let’s call that game the toughest of the new games. Who wouldn’t rather play North Carolina, even on the road, instead of Wisconsin at Lambeau from a pure difficulty standpoint?

I listed Florida State as the second toughest new game alongside USC as the second toughest lost game because both are wild cards. Does USC totally collapse and get Clay Helton fired? How good can Florida State really be under a first-year head coach who lost most of the spring? Both teams have rosters full of athletes, but there are question marks for both. We can call this one a wash since there are questions with both.

Replacing Stanford at home with Syracuse? Even with Stanford having a down year last year, not too many people would say hosting Syracuse is a tougher challenge than hosting Stanford.

Arkansas was pretty bad last year. So bad, in fact, that they fired head coach Chad Morris and replaced him with Sam Pittman. Boston College was 6-7 last year including a 40-7 loss to Notre Dame on Senior Day. Would Boston College beat Arkansas this year? Maybe, but this one is probably a wash in terms of difficulty.

Notre Dame’s hypothetical schedule including Navy in 2020 makes it easier for the Irish to run through the regular season. The toughest game is still Clemson, but now the second-toughest game is North Carolina instead of Wisconsin who is a borderline top-10 team. If they get Florida State early in the season, that game becomes much, much easier than ending the year on the road at USC.

All in all, Notre Dame’s one-year escapade in the ACC sets them up for a run to a conference championship. Even if Notre Dame loses the Clemson game, they’ll be favored in every other contest, and a 9-1 record in conference play likely sets them up with a rematch with the Tigers in the ACC Championship. A win there would possibly place them in the College Football Playoffs. That is a not a luxury they’d have had in 2020 with the crutch of a conference championship game to fall back on.

In the end, Notre Dame’s slate of games is less challenging than it originally was, and they now have more paths to the College Football Playoffs courtesy of this agreement with the ACC.

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  1. The ACC right now has a good number of excellent coaches, but is just not getting the number of 5 star kids (other than Clemson) into their programs. Adding Notre Dame certainly makes it stronger, and perhaps more photogenic.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  2. Question I have for everyone is Notre Dame going to be placed in the Atlantic or Coastal division of the conference? Which side would benefit the Irish the most? I believe ND would be the second best team in the ACC behind the obvious Clemson. Obviously if they play in the Atlantic and beat Clemson at Home they would have a great chance of winning the Atlantic setting up a conference championship game against a team they would be favored against. Lose that game at home and they would essentially be toast. On the flip side if they play in the Coastal they could win or lose the conference game with Clemson and still meet them again for the Conference Championship at a neutral site. Any thoughts out there?

    1. It is my understanding that there will be no divisions in the ACC this season. Two highest ranked teams will play for the Conference championship.8i

      1. Clemson at home in the regular season then at a neutral site for ACC Championship. Fasten your seatbelts

  3. Very good article. I agree with the conclusion. I’m an outlier among ND fans when it comes to joining a conference. Yes, remaining an independent has intangible values and the the TV money maybe somewhat better, but in today’s world tgevbetter path to a NC is through a conference. That said, the ACC is a better slot for ND than any other.

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