Notre Dame football: ACC schedule not as daunting as we were told

Dexter Williams #2 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Dexter Williams #2 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Notre Dame football fans were led to believe an ACC schedule was supposed to be tougher than the Independent schedule the Irish traditionally played.

It’s the never ending argument against Notre Dame football. Join a conference. Your Independent schedule isn’t good enough. It’s antiquated. It’s weak. A proper, Power-5 conference schedule will be so much more difficult than Notre Dame’s standard schedule.

This notion is, of course, incorrect. It also typically comes with an incorrect assertion that Notre Dame remains Independent for the money. Notre Dame gets about $15 million annually for their TV deal with NBC, which is scraps compared to a P5 payout. The SEC, for instance, makes about $33 million annually per school.

Those critics who have spent years now bemoaning Notre Dame’s Independence got their wish this season, and it only took a global pandemic.

Outside of a break in the schedule, due to complications from COVID-19, Notre Dame has rolled to start the 2020 season. They’re 3-0 (2-0 in ACC) and haven’t dealt with too much in-game adversity. Notre Dame has outscored its opponents 121-39.

Not just have the games been relatively non-competitive, none of Notre Dame’s opponents so far have been competitive with other FBS competition. Between Duke, USF, and Florida State they have a combined 1-10 record against FBS competition.

That one win was Duke’s – over a mediocre Syracuse team who Notre Dame will take on later in the season. If the Wake Forest game hadn’t been canceled, their opponents’ combined record would be 1-12 against FBS competition.

Frankly, that’s an awful strength of schedule to this point. Duke is a bottom tier ACC team. USF is the joke of a Group of Five conference. Florida State is just a joke. At least the schedule is going to be getting tougher this week, right?

Well, no. Not really.

Louisville has only beaten one FBS opponent, Conference USA’s Western Kentucky. This is despite being ranked at one point this season. After that win over the Hilltoppers, Louisville couldn’t stop Miami’s new and improved offense, couldn’t move the ball on Pitt’s suffocating defense, and let Georgia Tech freshman quarterback Jeff Sims pull away from them late.

Beating the Cardinals won’t make a big splash. It won’t be a flashy win. It won’t add anything to Notre Dame’s resume.

So, the questions remain. Are we still expected to believe that a conference schedule is more challenging than Notre Dame’s Independent schedule?

Notre Dame, as an Independent, gets to play traditional powers like USC and Michigan. They get to play old rivals, that are full of intrigue for fans. And, just because Notre Dame is not always in the ACC doesn’t mean they can’t schedule ACC teams.

In fact, even without the ACC deal Notre Dame would be more than welcome to schedule games against ACC powers like Clemson and North Carolina, or rivals like Boston College and Miami.

Being an Independent allows for rivals, traditional opponents, and modern-day elites to be on the schedule. A conference schedule limits you to those who it was decided you’d be connected to over a TV contract. So, when these teams that your fans aren’t interested in seeing you play stink, you’re stuck with that schedule.

Even Clemson, as much as a measuring stick game as it is for Notre Dame in 2020, was on the schedule before Notre Dame joined the ACC for the season.

This isn’t to say there’s nothing good about playing in a conference. It’s great to be able to play for a conference championship, as an added goal to the season. It’s great to get an auto-bid into a New Year’s Six bowl game. Long term, it’s just not for Notre Dame. So, let’s end this awful, useless argument that Notre Dame should join a conference and play a ‘real’ schedule. It’s lazy, tired, and objectively incorrect.