As games continued to get canceled throughout the Summer, Jack Swarbrick and the Irish were welcomed with open arms into Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2020 season. Notre Dame Football has been characterized by its independence and commitment to play the best teams all over the country. While many cynics doubted the program could compete in a conference, the Fighting Irish are headed to Charlotte to face the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Title Game.
They said the Irish “must join a conference”
Notre Dame makes the conference title in its first attempt. In an unprecedented college football season, the Irish made the ACC Title Game in their only season as a full member of the conference. For perspective, the Big Ten Championship Game is approaching its 10th year in Indianapolis, and the Michigan Wolverines have never appeared in the title game, more less won it.
Highly anticipated ACC Championship Game showdown. Remember how the analysts put so much emphasis on conference title games? Well, the ACC Title Game has been won by Clemson the past five seasons, and the last three games specifically, have not even been close. Notre Dame will participate in just their first season and make this rematch the game of the year, while other conference championships have lackluster matchups.
Northwestern has participated in the Big Ten Championship Game 2 of the last three years. With all due respect to Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats, that extra data point that could potentially go to Indiana or Ohio State is not as significant. It would not quite be the top-3 matchup that is taking place in Charlotte.
Perfect Regular Season
Three undefeated regular seasons for Brian Kelly in South Bend. Coach Kelly has done it yet again, another fruitful regular season for the Irish. Notre Dame has established themselves with the top tier of college football, but are they great enough to win a national championship? The Fighting Irish have won 16-straight games, 24-straight home games, have all the rivalry trophies, and a whole lot more. But the goal for the program is to win three more games and have “2020” painted on the list of the national titles in the Notre Dame locker room.
Irish head into the postseason at 10-0. Notre Dame played nine conference games this fall, with one non-conference game against the South Florida Bulls. They defeated ranked opponents Clemson and North Carolina on their way to the ACC Title Game.
Sadly, the Irish did not get a chance to face the third-best team in the conference, the Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes would have presented a great challenge, but ultimately, I believe the Irish would have won and secured their long-awaited revenge from the 2017 game.
ACC Championship in Charlotte
Notre Dame vs. Clemson Round 2. The rematch is official. Brian Kelly will lead the Irish down to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take on Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers. Many college football analysts still believe a healthy Clemson Tigers team, with Trevor Lawrence and a few key defensive players, will be too much for the Irish this time around.
College Football Playoff appearance is on the line. It will be a must-win game for Clemson if they want to get back into the playoffs for the 6th consecutive season. On the other hand, Notre Dame’s destiny is a little more complicated. Indeed, the Fighting Irish do not want to leave their chances to fate, but a loss would not completely rule them out of the playoffs.
Will the Irish join the ACC full-time?
Back to Independence in 2021. For now, Notre Dame is set to return to its more conventional schedule that features Big Ten opponents and traditional rivalry matchups. The Irish will take on the Purdue Boilermakers at home and Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field. Navy, Stanford, and USC will return to the schedule next season as well.
The pandemic could lead the Irish back to ACC next fall. On paper, the plan is to return to previously scheduled matchups. However, if the pandemic is still not under control next year, Notre Dame may join the Atlantic Coast Conference for another college football season. Either way, Jack Swarbrick is not limited to options moving forward, just a perk of being the most-watched team in the country.
The flexibility of the ACC saved college football. For most of the Summer, it did not appear there would be Notre Dame Football in 2020. Many conferences were shutting down, and when the ACC allowed the Irish to join, it changed the narrative across college football. When other programs saw that college football would be played without them, they started to persuade their conferences to play a season.
But I fully believe that when Notre Dame decided to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, it helped spark the country to play college football in 2020.
Is this the year for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish? All the victories these past few years and especially this season over Clemson have been great, but the ultimate prize is a national championship. Notre Dame has proved many doubters wrong and re-establish itself as one of the top programs in the country, but the only way to complete this comeback story is to win the whole thing.
The next step towards the College Football Playoffs starts on December 19th when the #2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish square-off against the #3 Clemson Tigers.