How Louisville and Notre Dame Could Keep ACC out of College Football Playoff

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How Louisville and Notre Dame Could Keep ACC out of College Football Playoff
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

What if it's 2026 before the ACC sends another representative to the national championship game?

Before you dismiss that as being ridiculous—because it sounds like it is—remember, 13 years is precisely how long the ACC waited between Florida State’s appearance in the 2000-01 BCS national title game and 2013-14, when they beat Auburn for all the marbles.

Though there are a wide variety of reasons for the long period of time between the ACC’s visits, the most obvious is the lack of an undefeated or one-loss member.

Here’s a complete list of the ACC teams since 2000 that finished the regular season (including the conference championship game, which began in 2005) with one or no losses: Florida State in 2000 (11-1), Maryland in 2001 (10-1) and Florida State in 2013 (13-0).

Compare this number to the other power-five conferences over the same time period.

Number of One-Loss or Better Teams Since 2000
ACC 3
Big Ten 15
Big 12 14
Pac-12 13
SEC 15

Sports Reference-College Football

It’s intriguing, and slightly shocking, that the other power-five conferences have produced one-loss or better teams at a rate of four to five times more than the ACC.  This also means that the ACC had at least 10 fewer opportunities to send a representative to the national title game.

So, while there were a lot of reasons why Florida State was championship-worthy last season, the most meaningful was its 13-0 record: the gateway to the title game. 

Moving into the College Football Playoff era, a perfect or near-perfect record becomes even more crucial.  The math is simple: four playoff slots versus five power conferences.  No matter how you slice it, one conference will be left out each year.

Not only has the ACC struggled more than any other power conference to produce an undefeated or one-loss team since 2000, it experiences two critical changes in 2014 that will make the road to perfection even bumpier.

 

The Louisville Factor

The net effect of Louisville’s move from the American Athletic (formerly Big East) to the ACC is that it replaces Maryland.  So, if you were going to play the Terrapins, you are now going to face the Cardinals.

Based on recent results, it’s fair to say that this will be a more difficult task.  Take a look at the two programs' win-loss marks over the past five years.

Maryland vs. Louisville: 2009-13
2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 5 YRS
Maryland 7-6 4-8 2-10 9-4 2-10 24-38
Louisville 12-1 11-2 7-6 7-6 4-8 41-23

Sports Reference-College Football

Even though Louisville’s most recent surge only began two seasons ago, it still won more games than Maryland two of the three years it wasn’t in double digits.  These additional wins are huge because they mean that another team had to lose the same game.  Though these weren’t all conference games, it’s logical to conclude that ACC teams have a better chance of losing to Louisville than they did to Maryland.

What really hurts the ACC, at least in the short term, is Louisville’s placement in the ACC's Atlantic Division, putting it in direct competition with the league’s best chance at the national limelight—Florida State and Clemson.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
In 2012-13 Louisville won the Sugar Bowl while Maryland didn't make a bowl game.

The last three ACC champions (Clemson in 2011, Florida State in 2012 and 2013) beat Maryland by a combined score of 160-59.  The last time the Terps beat a ranked ACC team was in 2010 when they edged No. 21 N.C. State 38-31. 

This is significant to both Clemson and Florida State, who have been ranked in the Top 25 every week since the beginning of the 2012 season.

If you’re thinking that the Cardinals have a new head coach, replacing the guy who went 23-3 over the last two seasons, and that playing in the ACC is more difficult than the American Athletic, take a look at the following numbers.  It is outgoing coach Charlie Strong versus incoming coach Bobby Petrino, in a battle of stats compiled at the same school, Louisville.

Strong vs. Petrino at Lousiville
Seasons W/L T25 Finishes T10 Finishes
Strong 4 37-15 2 0
Petrino 4 41-9 3 2

Sports Reference-College Football

Not only was Petrino clearly more successful at Louisville than Strong, he went on to post a 34-17 record in four seasons at Arkansas, including two top-12 finishes.  Those numbers are from the SEC West, which trumps the difficulty of even the ACC Atlantic.

 

The Notre Dame Factor

How lucky was the ACC to ink its loose football relationship with Notre Dame? 

Did the Big Ten really miss the boat by not convincing the Irish to be its permanent football partners?  Well, the ACC may sell more tickets and generate additional TV revenue due to the deal, but it may pay for it with College Football Playoff bucks.

In other words, they’ve just made it more difficult for their members to get to the playoff.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press
ACC Commissioner John Swofford welcomes Notre Dame in a 2012 press conference.

Take a look at the last five ACC champs and the teams they beat out of conference in the year they won the title.  

2009-13 ACC Champs Nonconference Schedules
2009 GA Tech FCS Jax St, Miss St, Vandy, Georgia 3-1
2010 VA Tech Boise St, FCS J Madison, ECU, Central Mich 2-2
2011 Clemson Troy, FCS Wofford, Auburn, S. Carolina 3-1
2012 FLA St FCS Murray St, FCS Savannah, USF, Florida 3-1
2013 FLA St Nevada, FCS Bethune-Cookman, Idaho, Florida 4-0

Sports Reference-College Football

Given that only one of these teams managed to clean their non-league slate and go on to win the ACC title, it’s safe to say that throwing Notre Dame into the mix in place of another nonconference opponent will increase the chance of losing exponentially.

Though ACC teams will face Notre Dame on a rolling schedule—five teams will have to play the Irish each year. When your number is up, it could make the difference between going undefeated or losing only once, or not. 

Here’s Notre Dame’s ACC schedule for the next three years.

Notre Dame's ACC Opponents: 2014-16
2014 Syracuse, N. Carolina, Florida St, Louisville
2015 Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Pitt, Boston College
2016 Duke, Syracuse, NC State, Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech

FB Schedules

Each season, the ACC will sacrifice one of its potential contenders for Notre Dame to pluck off the road to a championship.  Next season, it will be reigning national champion Florida State, in 2016 it's Clemson and in 2017 it’s Miami (Florida) and Virginia Tech, teams which could be the class of the Coastal.

And keep in mind that if the Irish sweep their ACC slate and win a national title, it will count as an Independent winning the big enchilada, not a quasi-ACC member.

Where on one hand, a win against a ranked Notre Dame team will look great on an undefeated resume submitted to the College Football Playoff committee, staffed with real humans, a loss will mean that your credentials won’t even make it to the “must review” stack.

No, your application won’t even be considered.

 

Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.  Schedule data courtesy of FBSchedules.com.

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