If there is a football season this fall, Notre Dame will have the opportunity to play for a conference championship for the first time in the storied history of the program thanks to its one year fling with the ACC. That opportunity has Notre Dame football players excited about the rare opportunity according to Brian Kelly.
“It’s never been part of our goals since this is the first time so we didn’t have a column on the goal chart. We’d have to go back and redo it,” Kelly joked yesterday. “Our players are excited, quite honestly, that they get a chance to play for a championship – an ACC Championship. For the ACC to allow us that opportunity – they’re excited about it,” he added.
As a full-time member for the 2020 season only, Notre Dame is eligible for both the ACC Championship as well as the ACC’s bid to the Orange Bowl assuming the Irish weren’t invited to the College Football Playoffs. With the Big Ten and Pac 12 postponing their fall seasons though, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Notre Dame won the ACC and didn’t go to the playoffs. The more likely hypothetical there would be something like Notre Dame losing the ACC Championship game to Clemson and going to the Orange Bowl while the Tigers go to the Playoffs.
Regardless, winning an ACC Championship will be no easy task for the Irish in 2020, and that isn’t lost on the Irish players. “They know it’s going to be a great challenge,” Kelly stated yesterday. “They know to a large degree that runs through Clemson, South Carolina; but there are great challenges on our schedule with some great football teams that we know are going to be great battles.”
While the path to an ACC title definitely runs through Clemson, Notre Dame also has to deal with an upstart North Carolina program on the rise under Mack Brown in addition to Florida State under their new head coach Mike Norvell. The early returns in Tallahassee, however point to some inner turmoil that likely makes the Seminoles much less of a threat this fall.
In many ways, Notre Dame’s schedule got easier by joining the ACC since the Irish no longer face a potential top-10 Wisconsin squad or traditional rivals USC and Stanford. Still, an ACC title would most likely include two games against Clemson – the regular-season matchup in November and then a potential rematch in Charlotte for the ACC Championship.
It’s a rare opportunity and challenge for a program that has prided itself on its independence. That doesn’t mean, however, the players shouldn’t be excited about the opportunity. They should be.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. I know our kids are excited to play for a conference championship, but we have a pretty daunting schedule that we’ve got to take one week at a time,” Kelly said.
It also doesn’t mean that Notre Dame should pursue full-time membership in the ACC following the 2020 season. Like everything in life right now, everyone has to make the best out of a bad situation. And for the moment, at least, the opportunity to play for the ACC Championship at the end of the season should excite the Notre Dame players – even if the chances of that game happening appear to be getting slimmer by the day.