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Arizona State game works out for Notre Dame, after all

11/4/2014

Brian Kelly used the term "glorified byes" twice Tuesday in describing other teams' approach to scheduling. Ten of Notre Dame's 12 opponents this season are Power 5 schools, Kelly said. The only two outliers, he added, are the defending Conference USA champions (Rice), and a Navy team that has given his Irish program all kinds of fits during his five-year tenure, despite a 4-1 advantage for Kelly.

"I think you take that versus other teams that have really had glorified byes in their schedule," Kelly said. "I think the one thing that you have to understand is the amount of plays that our guys have to play. When you play Navy, you have to play for four quarters. Those are the best and brightest, those are the most committed. They never quit, and you have to play those guys for four quarters.

"I don't care who you are. You have to play your guys for four quarters. That eats up a lot of plays."

The debate between schedules can rage on so long as one is willing to argue; selective reasoning knows no end. What cannot be overlooked, however, is just how crucial the mere appearance of Notre Dame's trip to Arizona State this weekend really is for the Irish's College Football Playoff hopes.

And how close the game was to not happening.

Notre Dame tried to back out of this game in 2013, citing its five games a year ACC agreement, which went into effect this season. ASU refused, believing that Notre Dame had no legal grounds to cancel. A compromise was reached, with the two sides agreeing to drop the originally scheduled 2017 game in South Bend, Ind. (Last year's Shamrock Series game in Arlington, Texas, was unrelated.)

From AZCentral Sports:

“Cancellation of the 2014 game leaves ASU in an untenable position,” ASU President Michael Crow wrote to Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins in documents obtained by azcentral sports. “ASU in unlikely to find a comparable substitute opponent at this late date, leaving it with a hole in its schedule that will cost the institution substantial lost revenue from the game — not to mention ticket sales and other financial impacts — and potentially affect the football team’s ability to qualify for postseason play.”

According to the documents, Notre Dame at one point asked ASU whether a 2015 date in Tempe would work. ASU said no because the football team could be playing in smaller Chase Field due to the planned renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. Notre Dame also suggested Purdue as a 2014 replacement, but ASU did not like that option, either.

Fast forward to this week, where Notre Dame is No. 10 and ASU is No. 9 in the selection committee's latest playoff rankings. Both teams are 7-1 heading into Saturday's game in Tempe, Ariz. A win will keep each's playoff hopes alive, though much of that remains beyond each's control.

Where would Notre Dame be without this game? The Irish play just four ACC teams this year before facing six next year. That sixth, Wake Forest, agreed to move its originally scheduled contest with the Irish to 2015. Would the Demon Deacons be here in place of ASU? It may not be that simple, as there are so many moving parts to scheduling that could further complicate matters. Still, Wake Forest is arguably the worst Power 5 team in the nation, at 2-6 overall and 0-4 in ACC play, failing to crack the top 100 in any major offensive category.

How would a win over that team look for a Notre Dame team that could be jockeying for playoff position with several other one-loss teams?

"Look, in 2012 I think we started the season with the No.1 schedule in the country," Kelly said, when asked how much of a crap shoot scheduling really is. "I think we started that way this year, too. That's all we can go. We go into this putting together the toughest schedule in the country, right? Nobody else does it that way. They put on teams that are clearly glorified byes. We don't operate that way. That to me is strength of schedule in terms of the way we put it together.

"If it's not evaluated that way, there's nothing I can do about it. We're just going to play the schedule that we have and we put together. Look, we don't play a conference championship game, but we know that the schedule that we have to put together over 12 weeks has to stand up to that strength, and so that's how we do our business. I don't know anyway else to do it, and then let the chips fall where they may."

Intent is noble. Heck, this writer reasoned that Notre Dame has been too ambitious in scheduling matters.

It probably doesn't mean much, though. Not when Notre Dame's first true road game, a loss at Florida State, comes during the second half of the season. Not when the six games prior to that one feature just two teams that currently have winning records (5-3 Rice, 5-4 Stanford).

What's left in front of Notre Dame is 3-5 Northwestern, three-loss Louisville and a visit to a three-loss USC team that will be coming off a trip to rival UCLA, currently ranked No. 18.

None of those potential victories could register the way one could this Saturday against the Sun Devils. And this opportunity almost disappeared.