College football as we know it is over. What comes next is a grand experiment known as the expanded 12-team College Football Playoff.
What will it look like in practicality and not just concept? How will it alter the value of the regular season? How will teams set themselves up to best navigate the new system?
These are all questions everyone who enjoys college football will be asking themselves until the answers are revealed in time.
What about Notre Dame’s unique place in the new system? Ineligible for a first-round bye due to their independence, the Irish’s road to hoisting the ultimate trophy will surely be tough. Irish fans may wonder if anything about the regular season scheduling model will be adjusted once this new era is upon us.
Let’s examine this question in more detail.
The ACC is a conference in the midst of challenging times, mostly due to a TV contract agreement that makes competing with the Big Ten and SEC nearly impossible financially. Despite these challenges, the Irish are still locked in a deal to play five ACC teams per year.
These teams rotate, and as such, this is what it is. Some teams will rise and be tough opponents in the future while others will slide backward and not be. These are the ebbs and flows of college football. This portion of the schedule each year will fluctuate beyond Notre Dame’s control. No changes can be made even if desired within this framework.
On top of the five-game ACC slate, Notre Dame plays USC, Navy and Stanford annually as is longstanding tradition. I’ve seen no indication whatsoever that the Irish are considering moving away from one or more of these annual matchups.
When we add these three games to the ACC’s five, we have eight games. That leaves little wiggle room to explore many other scheduling options. It’s interesting how booked Notre Dame’s “independent” schedule truly is right off the bat yearly.
The Remaining Four
Notre Dame has never been scared of the big stage, sometimes to their detriment. With the open game slots that remain, the Irish have lined up series with Texas, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Alabama coming soon. These are heavy-hitting brand names of college football.
With one of these caliber games penciled in for each season moving forward in which documented schedules are available, three remaining spots allow the Irish to be selective about opponents. Is it wise to try to schedule another big name opponent? Depends on one’s perspective, I suppose.
I do not expect to see a noticeable shift in who Notre Dame plays moving forward. The schedule is nationally competitive already — more than worthy of entry to the 12-team playoff every year.
What I would like the Irish to do is to be more careful with not who, but when certain games are played. I realize this is a challenge when trying to fit full-time Power Five conference teams into Notre Dame’s slate when they are available, but I believe the Irish should have more power in this regard. Does it make sense to play a huge brand name game in Week 1? It does if you win it. But if Notre Dame loses, its an uphill climb with no momentum to start the year.
I believe it was 100% malpractice by the Irish administration to schedule eight straight games before a bye last year. This cost Notre Dame dearly and cannot happen again. No vacation to Ireland is worth a potential loss due to mental and physical fatigue of two months of games without a break.
The new 12-team CFP era will be very interesting for Notre Dame. The path for entry is wider yet the path to hoisting the trophy is harder than ever before. Whether this hurts or helps the Irish is up for debate until evidence over many years is compiled.
The Irish’s schedules are already challenging, and there really isn’t as many options for flexibility as one would think an independent team would have. If the Irish can put together 10-2 or better seasons moving forward, they should be in the CFP discussion yearly, and this is exciting.