SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly actually wouldn't mind if teams from the Power Five conferences played each other exclusively. That'd not only mean no more games against FCS teams, but it'd also keep non-power conference teams like Boise State, Northern Illinois and South Florida off Power Five schedules.
For Notre Dame, the concept of nothing but games against Power Five opponents would mean the end of the Navy rivalry — the longest continuous intersectional rivalry game in college football. But Kelly offered up a solution to the autonomy-fueled hypothetical on Saturday: Navy is a good enough program that maybe Notre Dame could get away with playing them if a Power Five mandate ever came to fruition.
"I think that Navy has shown themselves to be at least a top 30 team fairly consistently," Kelly said. "(They) beat a Big Ten team last year. I don't think you can count Navy out of the conversation."
Make no mistake, Ken Niumatalolo has built an excellent program at Navy given the height/weight restrictions and difficulties recruiting players to a military academy. But Navy isn't close to a top-30 program. Since Niumatalolo took over in 2007, Navy's F/+ ranks have been: 63, 52, 37, 51, 73, 97, 58.
And too, the Big Ten team Kelly alluded to was Indiana, which went 5-7 last year.
Hyperbole aside, Kelly does have a point: In plenty of instances, teams from the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt are better than a basement ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC team. Even a 6-6 team like San Jose State ranked better than the likes of Wake Forest, Kansas, Purdue, Colorado and Arkansas a year ago.
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But if Notre Dame argued its way into playing Navy despite a Power Five mandate, it could create a slippery slope. What'd stop Ohio State from arguing it should play Ohio every year? Or Texas from pushing to schedule Rice?
And ultimately, that could lead to Kelly's overall argument in favor of a Power Five schedule crumbling.
"You know that we would be extremely excited if everybody would go down same road and play the schedule we do," Kelly said, referencing Notre Dame's annually-tough schedule. "We think that would be a level playing field. … Clearly if the five power conferences are playing the kind of schedule we're playing, I think we have a level playing field."