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15 Storylines for the 2015 Football Season: Year 2 of the ND/ACC Relationship

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Year 1 didn't change much, schedule-wise, but Year 2 sees a wildly different Irish slate than we're used to. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 football season at Notre Dame will mark year two of the much-dissected agreement with the ACC that sees the Irish scheduling an average of 5 ACC football teams per year in exchange for full membership in all other ACC sports. It'll be the first, though, in which ND's schedule looks dramatically different than it otherwise would have, since last season the Irish played only four ACC opponents, while this year they will play six.

The most obvious change to the schedule is the absence of any Big Ten schools. It's the first time in nearly 100 years - 1916, to be exact - that ND's slate will contain none of the current teams in that conference, although Michigan State returns to the ND schedule next season. (Purdue won't be back until 2020, while ND has a return trip to Northwestern after last year's game - which we all agree never happened - in 2018. Michigan, of course, is not on any future schedule as of now.)

For years, the Big Ten schools were the key marks on ND's September schedule, so their absence will create different measuring sticks for this year's Irish. The team will instead stake their early reputation on a pair of home games with Texas and Georgia Tech, both of whom are expected to be somewhere between good and very good. Those will lead up to a trip to Clemson that will likely determine whether the boys in blue and gold have what it takes to make a playoff run. (There's a pair of sentences that wouldn't have made any sense about 5 years ago, huh?)

There is a subset of ND's fan base that's taken issue with the ACC deal since it was first announced (if there's one thing that you can bank on, it's that ND's fan base can really never be uniform in opinion on anything). This subset doesn't like that they play so many ACC foes, pointing out that the league is generally considered the weakest of the Power 5 conferences and taking up so much of the schedule with that league lessens the Irish's playoff hopes and dilutes our opportunities to see a more national schedule. Others took some Internet heat a while back - albeit in a different sport - for calling the ACC a "major disappointment". Still others don't appreciate that the ACC games have proven to be a factor in the scaling back of some of ND's traditional rivalry games, like the MSU and Purdue series mentioned above.

However, I think the ACC 'experiment', as some call it, has been and will continue to be a net positive for the Irish. The most immediate benefit from the relationship came this last spring, when ND won the ACC championship in men's basketball on its way to the best season for the team in many of our lifetimes. However, the football relationship has provided benefits now and in the future.

We've discussed it at length before, but as a result of the ACC agreement, ND will play three road games in fertile or at least semi-fertile recruiting ground this season - Virginia, Clemson and Pittsburgh. In addition, the agreement yielded a pretty cool Shamrock Series game, in concept at least - BC at Fenway. In some sense, you can look at the Notre Dame schedules for this year and beyond as something of a strategy-fueled slate. Even more so than before, ND seems to be focusing on developing a presence in major recruiting areas and working their schedule around it - see the upcoming home-and-home against Georgia. The ACC relationship has been a boon there in that it allows the Irish to automatically visit ACC country five times every two years, many of those games naturally taking place in the South.

With that in mind, it's unfortunate that ND has two games that are essentially filler on the schedule this year (UMass and @ Temple), but in the future, that number will hopefully be limited to one more often than not. Trips to Temple and Northwestern are the only remaining road games that were scheduled prior to the ACC deal taking full shape, outside of Texas next year. Beyond those two largely superfluous trips, I imagine we've seen the last of ND road games that exist neither to fill a rivalry slot or to strategically position the Irish to land top recruits. Perhaps fans would rather see schedules less designed for strategic purposes than for more pure football reasons, but that's the way college football has gone, and ND is wise to follow it in this case.

I reserve the right to take this all back in an expletive-fueled tirade if ND loses a tight game to Clemson on a controversial call as they did last season at FSU, but for the most part, I think the ACC relationship has been great for Notre Dame and will continue to be so in the future. I welcome your thoughts.