Thanks to realignment, college football is set for another monumental shift thanks to the unique partnership between Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Notre Dame, long an independent, joined the ACC as a “partial member” in football in 2014, and in all sports as a full member. What this entails is that the Fighting Irish have an agreement in place to schedule a minimum of five ACC teams.
While losing traditional rivals such as Michigan after 2014-15, the Irish will keep their long-standing rivalries in playing Stanford at home, Navy on the road and USC in Los Angeles.
Still an independent, Notre Dame figures to have a say in who places in the first College Football Playoff and will be tested with it’s usual tough schedule.
Due to the note-worthy losses of offensive guard Zack Martin and tight end Troy Niklas on offense and defensive linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt on defense, Notre Dame has potential to contend thanks to the return of quarterback Everett Golston from academic violations, wideout DaVaris Daniels and tight end Ben Kayack. The Irish will also be buoyed by the return of senior offensive guard, Christian Lombard, junior center Nick Martin and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.
Toughest Game : Florida State
This is a no-brainer, as it is on the road, at night and on the defending national champion’s turf.
Prediction: Notre Dame finishes 11-1, makes College Football Playoffs.
Call this going out on a limb, but Notre Dame catches a break in joining the ACC as a partial member in 2014-15, as they miss Clemson’s high powered-offense led by Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavius Bryant, a rebuilding Louisville team sans Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong.
With no tall and athletic tight end to contend with in Eric Ebron at North Carolina, and no traditional grudge match against long-time rival, Miami, if the Irish are able to come out strong out of the gate, Irish eyes could be smiling again in South Bend.
As mentioned above, thanks to the losses of Bridgewater, Ebron, Watkins, Boyd in addition to the loss of defensive standouts such as new member, Louisville’s Preston Brown and Calvin Pryor to the NFL.
The ACC—who also lost charter member, Maryland to the B1G 10—has the potential to be one of the most wide-open leagues in college football, that could come down to two teams in the aforementioned defending champion Seminoles and new partial member, Notre Dame.
While Florida State saw the likes of BCS title game hero, Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman, James Wilder leave for the NFL and backup quarterback Jacob Coker transferring to Alabama on offense and Christian Jones, Terrance Brooks, Jacobbi McDaniel, Lamarcus Joyner and Timmy Jernigan leave on defense, this year’s Florida State team is poised to dominate college football.
Thanks to the return of defending Heisman Trophy winner in Winston, tight end Nick O’Leary and senior running back Rashad Greene on offense and junior defensive end Mario Edwards, linebacker Terrance Smith, defensive linemen Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams, Florida State should steamroll the ACC en route to another birth in the ACC title game and in the College Football Playoff.
What this boils down to is that it’s the Seminoles and everyone else in the ACC.
ACC Prediction: Florida finishes undefeated, wins conference title game and advances to College Football Playoffs
Game to Watch: Notre Dame vs. Florida State
One of the most underrated rivalry games, the latest chapter in the Irish-Noles rivalry will take place in Tallahassee and feature two mobile, dual-threat quarterbacks in Golston and Winston in what should be a up-and-down thriller.
Other notable games of interest are Miami-Florida State, North Carolina-Florida State and cross-conference rivalry clashes with the SEC that will feature Louisville-Kentucky, Clemson vs South Carolina and Florida-Florida State.
With Notre Dame being a partial member—and still an independent—besides their match-up with Florida State, other noteworthy “non-conference” games will include Michigan, Navy, Stanford and bitter arch-rival, USC.
While the ACC and Notre Dame may seem like an odd couple, in the end, both could be the perfect pair in helping each other achieve college football supremacy in 2014.
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