ACC, Irish Rev Up ‘Win-Win’ Football Partnership

PHOTO: Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Corey Robinson (88) is tackled by Syracuse Orange cornerback Brandon Reddish (4) during the second quarter of the Notre Dame-Syracuse game at MetLife Stadium.
Credit: UND.com

Steve Phillips, Special to theACC.com

GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Notre Dame fans are set to experience their first home game as part of the Fighting Irish’s football partnership with the Atlantic Coast Conference this Saturday, when North Carolina visits for a 3:30 contest that will be nationally televised by NBC.

UNC will be the second ACC school to face Notre Dame this season as part of a long-term agreement that will see the Irish play each of league’s 14 football members on a rotating basis.

''This is a partnership that is a win-win and good for both parties,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “Obviously, having five football games with Notre Dame each season enhances a lot of things for us.”

The opening game of the partnership took place on Sept. 27, when the Irish posted a 31-15 decision over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Following Saturday’s meeting with the Tar Heels, Notre Dame travels to top-ranked Florida State on Oct. 18 and will play host to Louisville on Nov. 22.

“Obviously we very much appreciate the opportunity to be part of the ACC,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said earlier this season. “From top to bottom, you're going to have to be ready to play each and every week. (We’re) excited about it (and) excited about our relationship with the ACC.”

The excitement cuts both ways, according to UNC head coach Larry Fedora, whose team will be seeking the program’s first ever road win against Notre Dame in the 19th meeting between the schools. The Tar Heels have beaten the Irish twice in Chapel Hill, including the most recent meeting between the teams in 2008.

“We have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us this week,” Fedora said. “We get a chance to go to Notre Dame, the No. 5 team in the country and play on national TV. It’s exciting and should be a lot of fun.”

The Irish enter Saturday’s game ranked sixth by the Associated Press and fifth in the Amway Coaches Poll. Depending on the outcome of the Irish’s meeting with the Tar Heels and the Florida State-Syracuse game also scheduled for Saturday, the Oct. 18 game could find two unbeaten, top-five teams squaring off in Tallahassee.

But first things first, said Kelly, who is wary of a UNC team that has struggled to win in recent weeks but is averaging 36 points per game.

“They have some very good young athletes. You can see this team where it's going to be in a couple years,” Kelly said. “We have to play well. As we've talked about each and every week, we've got to get better. Offensively, we are going to have to score points, because this is going to be a game where there's going to be points put on the scoreboard, and we've got to hold up our end offensively and take care of the football.”

Due to previous schedule commitments, Notre Dame faces just four ACC teams this season. But the Irish will then play six games against ACC foes in 2015 and thereafter, beginning in 2016, play five ACC teams each year.

In 2015, Notre Dame will host Georgia Tech (Sept. 19) and Wake Forest (Nov. 14) and play Boston College (Nov. 21) as part of the Shamrock Series in Fenway Park in Boston. The Irish will then will play at Virginia (Sept. 12), Clemson (Oct. 3) and Pitt (Nov. 7).

In 2016, Notre Dame will host Duke (Sept. 24), Miami (Oct. 29), and Virginia Tech (Nov. 19) and will go to MetLife Stadium to play Syracuse (Oct. 1) and will then travel to NC State (Oct. 8).

“We're hitting this conference where football is really ascending,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN.com. “The top of the conference has been great for a while, but I really see (the overall strength) getting better and better, and that's going to be great for us as we want to make sure we're making a compelling case for the strength of our schedule.”