Analysis Of The Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s 2020 ACC Football Schedule: Disparity And Parity
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Analysis Of Notre Dame’s 2020 ACC Schedule: Disparity & Parity

No college football conference has had greater parity the past decade than the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In the past seven years, there have been seven different winners: Virginia (2019), Pittsburgh (2018), Miami (2017) Virginia Tech (2016), North Carolina (2015), Georgia Tech (2014) and Duke (2013).

No college football league also has had more disparity at the top over the past five years than the ACC, where the seven-team Atlantic Division has seen Clemson monopolize the crown.

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Notre Dame fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book versus Clemson in the 2018 College Football Playoff
Clemson and Notre Dame are slated to meet during the regular season, and might also face each other in the ACC title game. (Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

The Tigers advanced to the College Football Playoff all five years from 2015-19 and have made a mockery of the ACC championship game between the two division winners, crushing Miami in 2017 (38-3), Pitt in 2018 (42-10) and Virginia last year (62-17), an average victory margin of 37.3 points.

One man’s parity is another’s mediocrity.

In reality, the ACC is a microcosm of most of the other Power Five conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision since the start of the CFP in 2014. There is one supreme alpha, and then there is relative parity after that: Clemson in the ACC, Ohio State in the Big Ten, Alabama in the SEC and Oklahoma in the Big 12. The Pac-12 is the exception — which is why it has had no representation in the CFP the past three years, and only twice in the format’s six-year history.

Thus, when it was announced this week that Notre Dame would be a full football member of the ACC for the 2020 season (not beyond), popular opinion among Fighting Irish faithful is there will be not only one but probably two meetings between the Fighting Irish and Clemson Tigers if a full college football season is indeed played.

First, there would be the regular-season contest scheduled at Notre Dame, although the original Nov. 7 date might be changed. Second would be the ACC championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., either on Dec. 12 or Dec. 19.

Why so presumptuous about a potential postseason rematch?

First, unlike in past years, this year’s ACC race will not be divided into two seven-team divisions. The two teams with the best conference-game winning percentage will meet in that title showdown.

Second, the disparity between Clemson and the rest of the ACC the past three seasons (2017-19) has been enormous. Check out the records of the 14 full-time league members in football during that time, with the league mark in parentheses:

Clemson — 41-3 (23-1 in the ACC, not including 3-0 in the league title games)

Miami — 23-16 (15-9)

Virginia Tech — 23-16 (14-10)

Wake Forest — 23-16 (11-13)

North Carolina State — 22-16 (12-12)

Virginia — 23-17 (13-11)

Boston College — 20-18 (12-12)

Duke — 20-18 (9-15)

Syracuse — 19-18 (10-14)

Pitt — 20-19 (13-11)

Florida State — 18-20 (10-14)

Louisville — 18-20 (9-15)

Georgia Tech — 15-21 (11-13)

North Carolina — 12-24 (6-18)

Notable is that among the four teams under .500 overall, North Carolina at the bottom has received notice as perhaps the second-best team in the league this season, including a No. 18 preseason ranking by CBS Sports and No. 19 by Sporting News. That might be bolstered by the fact it doesn’t have Clemson on the slate and plays Notre Dame at home.

Meanwhile, Louisville was ranked No. 20 in ESPN’s Football Power Index, and it’s not so long ago that Florida State was one of the superpowers, highlighted by the 2013 national title.

Beyond Clemson, though, no school has established itself as clearly the next best team. Miami always has the recruiting base to prosper, but last season it finished under .500 after closing the season with head-scratching defeats to Florida International (30-24), Duke (27-17) and Louisiana Tech (14-0) in the Independence Bowl.

As for Notre Dame, it is 14-1 overall versus ACC foes the past three seasons, and the average margin of victory has been 21.4 points. It did have to rally late to defeat Pitt in 2018 (19-14) and Virginia Tech in 2019 (21-20) — and league play will always have a nail-biter or two among even the best, including Clemson escaping with a one-point win at North Carolina last year.

However, for 2020 anyway, the line of demarcation in the season clearly has Clemson at No. 1, Notre Dame No. 2, and virtually everyone else vying for the bronze medal.

It is both disparity and parity at its finest.

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