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ACC power rankings: Is Notre Dame winning good for the ACC?

The ACC football coaches loathe the league’s half-pregnant arrangement with Notre Dame, but the league’s administrators love it.

Notre Dame, even at “five-eighths” a member in football, means more money for ACC schools. That shows up in TV revenue and ticket sales. Those in the hotel industry in Raleigh, Blacksburg, Va. and around the ACC are enamored of the Fighting Irish, too.

What the coaches don’t like is when Notre Dame gets to jump ahead of their teams in the bowl selection. If Notre Dame only plays five ACC games a year, why does it get the proverbial milk for free? You can understand the frustration and even bitterness.

But Notre Dame only exists as an Independent in football (while being a full member in all other ACC sports) because it believes it can still win the national title without joining a conference.

It also makes enough money from its own television deal (with NBC) that it doesn’t feel the need to join the ACC and split up its financial pie. (Although, surely, any conference would let Notre Dame keep its sweet NBC deal).

But what happens if Notre Dame gets left out of the four-team playoff? There’s a chance we could find out this year.

Notre Dame (6-0) has looked really good lately, coincidentally enough, in beating up on ACC teams on the road (45-23 at Virginia Tech this week and 56-27 at Wake Forest on Sept. 22).

With the only brand-name teams (Florida State and Southern California) left on their schedule in down years, the Fighting Irish could run the table.

There hasn’t been an unbeaten Power 5 team left out of the playoff yet. That would not happen to a 12-0 Notre Dame, with its mass appeal, in a made-for-TV and paid-by-TV playoff.

But what if Syracuse trips up the Irish on Nov. 17? Would 11-1 Notre Dame still get in? That’s where it gets tricky. The SEC champ is in. The Big Ten champ (unbeaten Ohio State?) is, too. Same for the unbeaten ACC champ (if it’s Clemson, for sure).

That leaves one spot for the SEC runner-up, the Big 12 champ, the Pac-12 champ or Notre Dame. Clemson has already proven, in 2016 and ‘17, a one-loss ACC champion will get in the playoff.

Will a one-loss Notre Dame? Theoretically, Notre Dame (which it last won the national title in 1988 by the way), getting left out of the CFP would be in the ACC’s best interests.

The only way to get Notre Dame to fully commit to joining a conference (and the ACC has a contract with the Irish to do so through 2036, or receive an exit-fee check in the neighborhood of $50 million) is for Notre Dame to feel like it can’t win it all as an Independent.

If you’re the ACC, you’re rooting for Notre Dame to win … just enough to be left out. And then you can start fighting about who should be added as the 16th team. That’s an argument for another day.

On to the “Only* ACC Power Rankings That Matter:”

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1. Clemson

Record: 6-0 (3-0 ACC)

Last game: at Wake Forest (W, 63-3)

Next game: Oct. 20, vs. N.C. State

Now we know what Clemson’s “A” game looks like. Pretty impressive.

2. Miami

Record: 5-1 (2-0 ACC)

Last game: vs. Florida State (W, 28-27)

Next game: Saturday, at Virginia

The Hurricanes poured it out to come back and beat FSU. Traditionally, they haven’t cared enough about Virginia and it has cost them, especially on the road (lost in Charlottesville in 2006, ‘10, ‘12 and ‘14).

3. N.C. State

Record: 5-0 (2-0 ACC)

Last game: vs. Boston College (W, 28-23)

Next game: Oct. 20, at Clemson

Was the win over BC the start of Dave Doeren’s 2016 Vengeance Tour? Four (Clemson, Louisville, Florida State and ECU) of the other five teams who beat the Wolfpack in ‘16 are on this year’s schedule.

4. Syracuse

Record: 4-2 (1-2 ACC)

Last game: at Pittsburgh (L, 44-37, OT)

Next game: Oct. 20, vs. UNC

Lost on the road to a terrible Pitt team and still No. 4 in the ACC? Tells you all you need to know about the ACC this year, doesn’t it?

5. Virginia Tech

Record: 3-2 (2-0 ACC)

Last game: vs. Notre Dame (L, 45-23)

Next game: Saturday, at UNC

The Hokies are 1-0 in the Triangle this year. They have beaten UNC by a combined total of 83 points the past two years.

6. Duke

Record: 4-1 (0-1 ACC)

Last game: vs. Virginia Tech (L, 31-14)

Next game: Saturday, at Georgia Tech

The Blue Devils have won three of the past four from the Yellow Jackets, after losing 10 straight from 2004 to ‘13.

7. Boston College

Record: 4-2 (1-1 ACC)

Last game: at N.C. State (L, 28-23)

Next game: Saturday, vs. Louisville

The Eagles need star A.J. Dillon back, not to beat Louisville this week, but for that looming Miami-Virginia Tech-Clemson stretch,

8. Georgia Tech

Record: 3-3 (1-2 ACC)

Last game: at Louisville (W, 66-31)

Next game: Saturday, vs. Duke

Paul Johnson just scored again on Louisville. You don’t want to make Paul Johnson angry.

9. Florida State

Record: 3-3 (1-3 ACC)

Last game: at Miami (W, 28-27)

Next game: Oct. 20, vs. Wake Forest

The Noles are actually playing better, but they’re going to need to find another gear to continue their 36-year bowl streak.

10. Wake Forest

Record: 3-3 (0-2 ACC)

Last game: vs. Clemson (L, 63-3)

Next game: Oct. 20, at Florida State

The Deacs’ problems on defense were not solved by firing the coordinator. Go figure.

11. Pittsburgh

Record: 3-3 (2-1 ACC)

Last game: vs. Syracuse (W, 44-37, OT)

Next game: Saturday, at Notre Dame

The key is to avoid the Panthers after they get blown out. So Duke could be in trouble on Oct. 27.

12. Virginia

Record: 3-2 (1-1 ACC)

Last game: at N.C. State (L, 35-21)

Next game: Saturday, vs. Miami

The Wahoos have always been more interested in playing Miami than Miami has been in playing them.

13. UNC

Record: 1-3 (1-1 ACC)

Last game: at Miami (L, 47-10)

Next game: Saturday, vs. Virginia Tech

We’re due for UNC’s “Super Bowl.” Will it be enough to knock off the Hokies?

14. Louisville

Record: 2-4 (0-3 ACC)

Last game: vs. Georgia Tech (L, 66-31)

Next game: Saturday, at Boston College

You thought Larry Fedora’s buyout was untenable, check out Bobby Petrino’s $14 million security blanket.

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