The ACC stands as the only member of the Big Five group of conferences that should be able to get away with only scheduling eight league games, and that is courtesy of Notre Dame. Thanks to the partial addition of the Fighting Irish, a deal that will pay dividends for the conference and individual schools, sticking at eight games makes the most sense for the ACC.
As B/R’s Barrett Sallee pointed out and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Andy Johnston noted, the SEC should have more than just Alabama’s Nick Saban pushing for a nine-game schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have been operating on the nine-game standard already and, in 2016, the Big Ten is making the transition to the nine-game format as well.
That leaves the SEC and the ACC as the two conferences sitting at eight-game schedules, each with 14 teams in its league.
However, the ACC sits in a unique position to fight off the eight-game conference schedule thanks to the welcoming of Notre Dame into the fold. Starting with this coming season, the Fighting Irish will battle ACC teams as an additional, built-in portion of the schedule. Unable to get out of a game to take on five in 2014, the Irish play six ACC teams in 2015 before settling into the five-team rotation wholly in 2016.
On the Notre Dame side, it gives them access to more bowls and helps flesh out a schedule, something becoming a bit more difficult as major teams move to nine-game schedules. For the ACC, it means five of the league’s teams will have nine games against quality competition a season. In the case of teams like Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech, that means 10 quality contests, thanks to the addition of in-state rivals.
As ESPN.com‘s Heather Dinich noted, the coaches are split on the decision, although most lean toward eight games over nine, thanks largely to the Notre Dame addition. A nine-game schedule means an 11-game slugfest for Clemson and Florida State in the seasons where Notre Dame is on the schedule. Nine ACC games plus the Irish and South Carolina or Florida, respectively. Great for the media. Great for fans. Great for ticket sales. Great for television.
But not something coaches are signing their own teams up for, as evidenced by the total absence of any schedule that would appear to qualify as congruent in the current landscape of college football.
The conference is working with Notre Dame to schedule games out in advance; that means the nine teams without the Irish on the schedule in the coming seasons will know for which seasons an extra quality game is required. For seasons where Notre Dame is absent, teams must schedule up to avoid a weakness in the schedule that could hurt its playoff contention.
College football is transitioning to a playoff, and the first seasons are going to be a proving ground—not only for the teams, but for the system itself. Plenty of people talk strength of schedule, but until it bears itself out, the ACC is in a good position with Notre Dame to continue playing an eight-game schedule.
Down the line, it may be in the conference’s best interest to shift to a nine-game schedule. Until that day comes, unlike the SEC, the conference is in a good position playing its eight-game slate.