Notre Dame’s overtime victory against Clemson put the No. 2 Fighting Irish atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and gave the league two teams in the top four of the Top 25.
Not everyone is thrilled, however, that Notre Dame is just dipping its toe in ACC waters in this season of the coronavirus pandemic and not taking the full plunge.
Many coaches celebrate the Irish's presence at the top of the league that is routinely maligned as having Clemson at one level and everyone else a notch below. Others, however, are lamenting that Notre Dame’s commitment is just for this season.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would welcome them as a permanent member.
“Notre Dame’s a great program. I think any conference, you’d be crazy as a conference if you didn’t want Notre Dame," said Swinney, whose team (7-1, 6-1 ACC) had won 28 consecutive conference games before the 47-40 double-overtime loss on Saturday. “So, I’d love to have Notre Dame in the conference. It’d be awesome."
Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi doesn't disagree. It's just the one-and-done aspect of it that bothers him. So much in fact, he is hoping for the Irish to lose this year.
Narduzzi, whose team absorbed a 45-3 drubbing by the Irish in late October, is advocating that the ACC do away with its arrangement to have five of its team play traditionally independent Notre Dame every season.
His objection, he said, would be erased if Notre Dame decided to join the league.
“To me, you either play with us or don’t play with us. You’d almost like to boycott them. But if you want to play in the ACC, come play in the ACC,” Narduzzi said this week. “... And if you don’t want to play, let’s not give them five games; let them go play BYU and whoever else they want to play. But we shouldn’t give them a game.
“But they’re talented and we’d love to have them in the ACC for sure.”
North Carolina will host Notre Dame (7-0, 6-0) on Nov. 27, and Tar Heels coach Mack Brown wouldn’t mind having them regularly be on the schedule. North Carolina (5-2, 5-2) climbed to No. 5 in the Top 25 early this season, but losses at Florida State and Virginia knocked them out of the poll.
Brown believes the competitive upgrade in the ACC with the Irish in the league this year is a positive.
“We’re lucky to have them associated with us this year. They are really good, and good for them," Brown said. “And I think everybody that loves the ACC would like to see them join."
The North Carolina coach added that it would “raise the standard in our league, like they have this year, and make the rest of us fight to get to them and get to where Clemson is. And those two right now seem to be better than the rest of us.”
Virginia's Bronco Mendenhall was off last Saturday after the Cavaliers’ game against Louisville was postponed because of COVID-19 concerns among the Cardinals. Mendenhall typically spends those days doing outside activities but said he watched some football, including all of Clemson's nail-biter at Notre Dame Stadium.
“I think parity is valuable. And I think that change is necessary. And I think growth happens through both of those things," said Mendenhall, who also would like to have Notre Dame join the ACC on a permanent basis. But he's also well aware that the Irish have mitigating factors because of the benefits of their independent status, including long-standing rivalries and a lucrative television contract.
“I think it would be powerful for the ACC" if Notre Dame joined the league, Mendenhall said.
If the Irish were added to the Coastal Division, he believes, the intrigue surrounding the ACC could increase even higher than what it already is “with the league that I think is growing maturing, expanding and becoming more and more representative of elite level college football.”
AP sports writers Pete Iacobelli, Aaron Beard, Will Graves and Charles Odum contributed.
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