A look at what the media is saying ahead of Notre Dame’s rematch with No. 3 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday.
Notre Dame’s first public remark about the history-making, bizarro-world news of its one-year ACC sojourn came via a tweet with the fervor of an auto-generated out-of-office email.
Several hours after ACC commissioner John Swofford announced his conference would add Notre Dame into its schedule for an inevitably weird 2020 season, the school released the following statement from director of athletics Jack Swarbrick:
“We’re excited about the opportunity the ACC has provided for our football program. We look forward to announcing our schedule in the near future.”
Maybe he and some others in the athletic department were actually out of office. Or just had no idea how else to react. Notre Dame, of course, has never been here before. Didn’t think it would need to be here until a few weeks before.
Four-plus months later, the tone is a tad different. No. 2 Notre Dame is in the ACC Championship and will claim the trophy if it beats No. 3 Clemson (4 p.m. ET, ABC). Now that the game is near, one can’t help but chuckle at and absorb the absurdity of the moment, even if the ACC logos on the Irish’s jerseys and Notre Dame Stadium turf don’t elicit a cock-eyed glance anymore.
Same time, there’s ample excitement and urgency on Notre Dame’s end. Conference championship aspirations are new to Notre Dame’s players, but the chance to play for a trophy and head into the College Football Playoff with an undefeated record is enough reason to care.
This year’s ACC Championship versus Clemson Dec. 19 will mark only the second time since 1902 that Notre Dame will face the same team twice in one season.
The other was in 1997 versus LSU, a 24-6 victory at Baton Rouge, La., in November and a 27-9 defeat at the Independence Bowl a little more than a month later.
According to research by Wikipedia, rematches that occur in conference championship games (begun by the SEC in 1992) have seen the regular-season winner — as Notre Dame was on Nov. 7 with a 47-40 double-overtime victory versus then No. 1-ranked Clemson — also post a 29-16 record in the league title game against the same foe.
In bowl games, though, the advantage has been with the regular-season loser, who has produced a 15-7 record in the rematch. (Two other bowl games had ties in the regular season.)
Notre Dame and Clemson also are vying for a national title. In four previous bowl games where No. 1 was on the line between two teams that had met in the regular season, the loser in the regular season avenged it in the bowl each time. The most recent was in 2011, when Alabama lost at home to LSU 9-6 in November, but then won 21-0 in the national title showdown between them.
In his final three seasons at Division II Grand Valley State (2001-03), Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly twice played Saginaw Valley in rematches from the regular season.
In 2001, Kelly’s Lakers won 38-7 in the regular season but had a more difficult time in the playoff game before prevailing 33-30.
Clearly, Notre Dame’s short-term, pandemic-inspired, shotgun marriage with the ACC has been a success for both sides.
The Irish, briefly facing a gutted 2020 schedule, are 10-0 and likely headed to the College Football Playoff no matter what happens in Saturday’s ACC title game against Clemson.
Meanwhile, the ACC has found a rival for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers while enjoying the massive television bump Notre Dame football can provide — Saturday’s audience should be a record for the title game.
That’s left plenty of people wondering if this should be a more permanent union — namely, should Notre Dame join the ACC for good?
No. Notre Dame shouldn’t.
And just as importantly, the ACC shouldn’t want them.
These two are far better off in the friend zone, linked but not joined. The benefit they provide each other is considerable, but with limits.
This really isn’t a year for declaring winners and losers in college football. Maybe just finishers. But some are managing a brisk jog toward the tape while others are crawling, and nobody is finishing 2020 in better shape than the Atlantic Coast Conference.
America’s basketball bedrock league has become America’s most interesting football league. And maybe its most successful football league, too.
The ACC staged arguably the best game of 2020 in November, when Notre Dame beat Clemson in double overtime, 47–40. Now the Saturday rematch for the conference title stands to be the most important game of 2020.
If the Tigers win, the ACC almost certainly will have half the College Football Playoff. Even if they don’t win, two bids for the league is not out of the question. High stakes, high ratings, multiple Heisman Trophy candidates, blueblood adversaries—this is merely the biggest game in the history of the conference.
“This is a massive, massive game,” said Eric Mac Lain of the ACC Network, a former Clemson offensive lineman.
The game, and subsequent playoff, is turning into quite a victory lap for retiring commissioner John Swofford. In a season of incredible tumult and epic dysfunction in some leagues, the ACC has navigated a savvy and rewarding path for itself.
Extending Notre Dame the one-year rental membership has been a masterstroke. (“A study abroad year,” is the way ACC Network host and former Notre Dame basketball player Jordan Cornette has phrased it.)
Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN College Football Analyst: On If Notre Dame Will Make the Playoffs With a Loss to Clemson:
“The game in Charlotte, what would be the result of Notre Dame and Clemson and what that could potentially do? I mean I’ve heard Dabo Swinney say that if Clemson loses, they’re still good, that they’re still in, even with two losses. What we can all agree that if were Notre Dame to lose, both of those teams would still probably be in.”
Social Media Reaction
The latest @CFBPlayoff rankings at 7p Eastern. research guru @SopanShah points out @ClemsonFB vs @NDFootball is just 4th rematch of top 5 teams during same season in poll era (since ‘36). Previous 3: first game barnburners. But losing team won every rematch-by AT LEAST 21 pts
— Rece Davis (@ReceDavis) December 15, 2020
My takeaway from #UNC crushing #Miami so far is that there’s no way #NotreDame can be left out of CFP. Irish shut down this UNC offense in a definitive road win. Already beat Clemson. Some other solid wins. Even if they don’t play well next week, think they’re in.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) December 12, 2020
Notre Dame is currently a 10.5-point underdog against Clemson (Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill).
The last 10-0 team (or better) to enter a game as a 10-point underdog was Notre Dame in the 2019 #CFBPlayoff.
Clemson won 30-3. pic.twitter.com/osUItRe1V8
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 18, 2020
ESPN’s updated CFP predictor has #Cyclones closer to playoff than you might think.
Alabama in regardless. Ohio State expected in after beating NW.
IF Notre Dame beats Clemson, and ISU beats OU, Notre Dame in, and Iowa State moves into fourth spot, regardless of A&M winning.
— Keith Murphy (@MurphyKeith) December 17, 2020
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