Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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18 PRESEASON 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL E very year, the ageless question circulates among sections of college football fans, some with an anti-Notre Dame inclination and others who are just plain curious. What will it take for Notre Dame to join a conference? After 133 years, one answer is re- vealed. A global pandemic. And even that is only enough for temporary membership. The Fighting Irish will play this 2020 season — however long it lasts — in the ACC, the first time since the program's 1887 inception it will com- pete in a conference. They'll enter the year with realistic and widespread expectations to reach the champion- ship game. Winning the league title would presumably require beating ACC king Clemson at least once. "We didn't have a column on the goal chart [for a conference title]," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "We'd have to go back and redo it. Our players are excited, though, that they get a chance to play for an ACC championship. They know it's a great challenge and know to a large degree, it runs through Clemson, S.C. But there are great challenges on our schedule with some good football teams." The arrangement came as no sur- prise after ACC commissioner John Swofford indicated earlier this sum- mer Notre Dame would be included in his league's plan if it went to a trun- cated schedule or conference-only model. But it's still a historical move that, even a month after becoming official, still feels like something that would only happen in a bizarro world. This year is, though, about as close to the bizarro world as college sports has come. It would be only fitting for Notre Dame to filch the ACC title in its one-year sojourn in the league and march right back into indepen- dent status, trophy in hand. If so, the Irish would win an ACC title before nine full-time conference members achieved the feat. The trophy ought to be displayed right at the entrance to the Gug, a symbol knocking down the assump- tion Notre Dame would struggle against a conference schedule. Clemson, the preseason No. 1 team in both major polls, is the betting fa- vorite to win its sixth straight ACC title. Notre Dame has the second- highest odds in most sports books, and reaching the title game should be the minimum expectation. The Irish are 14-1 against non-Clemson ACC teams since 2017, scoring 36 points per game with a three-touchdown average margin of victory. Notre Dame could be favored in ev- ery game except for Clemson, though a Black Friday road date at preseason top-25 North Carolina could chal- lenge that. So could an October road game against frequent booby trap Pitt, an 8-5 team last year that is a popular preseason surprise pick. Nonetheless, the ACC is in the less enjoyable part of the conference dominance cycle. Last year, both its divisions were rated below one of the American Athletic Conference's divi- sions in the Sagarin predictive rank- ings. Virginia was the lone ACC team other than Clemson in the top 25 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. HOW IT HAPPENED In Notre Dame director of athlet- ics Jack Swarbrick's eyes, the ACC was the best and safest alternative in a fragile situation. His 2020 schedule was reduced to nine games in early Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick chose the most stable and certain option for playing Notre Dame's 2020 football season. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND NOTRE DAME'S 2020 SCHEDULE Date Opponent Sept. 12 Duke Sept. 19 South Florida (not announced yet) Sept. 26 vs. Wake Forest* Oct. 10 Florida State Oct. 17 Louisville Oct. 24 at Pittsburgh Oct. 31 at Georgia Tech Nov. 7 Clemson Nov. 14 at Boston College Nov. 27 at North Carolina Dec. 5 Syracuse * at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. A PLAN FOR THE AGES For the first time ever, Notre Dame is playing in a conference — and one it could win

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