The ACC is sticking with an eight-game conference schedule, siding with the SEC while the Big Ten and Pac 12 join the Big 12 in playing nine conference games. With the College Football Playoff debuting this season, there's been plenty of debate about whether an eight or nine-game schedule is better -- but for the ACC, having its teams play nine conference games didn't make much sense.
Notre Dame has a lot to do with that.
Beginning this fall, Notre Dame will play five ACC opponents on an annual basis (due to schedule constraints, the Irish play four ACC games in 2014 and six in 2015, then will play five from 2016 on out). It's a good situation for Notre Dame -- the Irish retain football independence, but get to roll up in the ACC's bowl pecking order and move non-football athletic teams into a stable conference. The ACC gets to have about a third of its teams play a traditional power in Notre Dame that'll generate sellouts and TV ratings.
But consider this: If the ACC decided its teams would play nine conference games, it'd create some brutal schedules or lead to traditional rivalries coming to an end. Take Florida State for an example -- if the Seminoles wanted to keep their annual rivalry game with Florida, had Notre Dame on their schedule (as they do this year) and played nine ACC games, that'd create an incredibly difficult 11-game road (with one FCS cupcake in there) to get into the College Football Playoff.
Instead, the ACC will mandate its teams play one non-conference opponent from the other four power conferences, with Notre Dame counting as that "big" non-conference opponent. Most schools already comply with that requirement, but it'll eliminate non-conference schedules like the one North Carolina State will play in 2014 (Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, USF and Presbyterian).
Notre Dame's ACC schedule for the next three years:
2014: Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium), North Carolina, at Florida State, Louisville
2015: At Virginia, Georgia Tech, at Clemson, at Pitt, Wake Forest, Boston College (at Fenway Park)
2016: Duke, Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium), at North Carolina State, Miami, Virginia Tech