While the Notre Dame football team was out of contention for the playoffs after its loss to Ohio State this season, an expanded playoff format will offer more chances in the future.
A 12-team playoff means that there is a chance that the Fighting Irish can lose a game during the regular season. There’s a chance that it could even lose two. On the other hand, Marcus Freeman and company will compete with even more teams for a spot.
And that leads to the big question of the day. Should the 12-team playoff lead the Notre Dame football program to start easing up on its schedule? The short answer is probably, yes. The longer answer is that there is a needle to be threaded here.
There are pros and cons, what’s possible and what’s not when taking in a shift with the 12-team CFP.
Notre Dame football locked into the ACC
The fact that the Irish have an ongoing deal with the ACC is both a positive and a negative when talking about a possible lightning of the load in future seasons. Notre Dame has to play five ACC teams a year.
Next season, those conference opponents will be Louisville, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia. That’s a mixed bag when it comes to quality. The Cardinal, Yellowjackets and Cavaliers are unlikely to be very good.
The Seminoles will be National Title contenders. Louisville stands to be a Top 25 team, if not an ACC power. So there’s some good and some bad schedule fodder there.
Traditional rivalries must remain
The Notre Dame football team has three games a year that are all but locked in. The rivalry games against USC, Navy and Stanford take place every season and there’s no reason to think that will go away.
It would seem that those three games mean that there are already 8 weeks spoken for, but Stanford joining the ACC in 2024 means that it now fits in two buckets. There’s no word on if the ACC is going to allow that game to always count among its five. For now it does though.
Notre Dame football’s final openings
Because the Fighting Irish aren’t in a conference and need to be considered for the playoffs based on the strength of their schedule, they tend to put at least a couple of toughies on their resume every season.
In 2024 and 2025, those toughies include season openers against Texas A&M. In 2026, it’s Wisconsin. Arkansas is there as well. They’ve been downtrodden in the SEC, but that’s still an SEC school on the schedule.
2029 and 2030 have Alabama being added to the schedule. The Michigan rivalry is going to be reborn in the future as well. And that brings us to the big question.
With the four or five remaining openings on the schedule, will Notre Dame football start to look for easier teams? Maybe even FCS squads? More Sun Belt, less SEC, and Big Ten?
It’s something the Fighting Irish will have to consider. The problem is that with other teams also looking for avenues to the 12-team CFP, strength of schedule could be even more important.
Trial and error might be the only way really solve the riddle.