Midweek Musings

Bryan Driskell

Thoughts on Notre Dame football, its recruiting efforts and college football.


In last week’s Midweek Musings I gave my reasons why Notre Dame should join the ACC, but there are also good reasons not to join a conference, at least not now.

1. TRADITION — I get that we are in an era in our society where history and tradition doesn’t matter as much to some, but it does to me. Tradition to me isn’t about what uniforms looked like when Ara Parseghian or Lou Holtz were the coaches, it’s not about having stripes in the end zone instead of words or colors. Tradition to me is more about the thinks that truly define you as a program, and independence is something that defines Notre Dame as a program.

It goes well beyond the football field for me. Notre Dame’s independence reminds me of why they are independent. Yes, part of it is Notre Dame was the biggest name for a very long time, and the reality is Notre Dame is one of a very small handful of schools that can be independent and still make a lot of money.

No, that’s not the tradition I value. The tradition of independence I value is the bigotry that went into Notre Dame staying independent during the program’s first half century. Notre Dame didn’t allow the anti-Catholic bigotry to become a roadblock, instead using it to become the premier football program in the nation for a half a century.

The ACC should not be held responsible for the sins of the Big Ten and other conferences, especially when you consider how long ago those sins occurred, but Notre Dame’s independence is a big part of what makes Notre Dame who it is.

2. WOULD FUNDAMENTALLY ALTER HOW NOTRE DAME SCHEDULES — Notre Dame plays a schedule unlike any program in the country. The Fighting Irish travel all over the country, playing on each coast every single season. Notre Dame will play at least one team from three of the Power 5 conferences every season, and sometimes four. Playing all over the country, and playing all comers from any league is part of what makes Notre Dame, Notre Dame.

Joining the ACC would make sense from a pure football standpoint, and from a financial standpoint, but from a soul of your program standpoint I think it would be a big hit to the program.

The ACC current plays just eight conference games, and Notre Dame would need to demand that stay the same. Playing just eight games would give Notre Dame a bit more flexibility, but even then if you already have USC and Navy, there are only two extra games to work with. It would still be challenging for Notre Dame to pick up another high-caliber Power 5 opponent and still have a schedule manageable enough to compete for a championship.

Notre Dame’s schedule would look very similar year after year. You’d have the same seven ACC opponents plus USC and Navy, which could create a bit of a stale schedule. Especially since Notre Dame doesn’t have any built-in conference rivalries.

This is part of the program identity that Notre Dame would have to give up to join a league.

3. LOSS OF INFLUENCE AND POWER — Whether its many detractors want to admit it or not, Notre Dame still wields a great deal of power in college sports. Don’t believe me? Go do some research Jack Swarbrick’s role in stopping the super conference movement, and look at what Notre Dame did to make sure we would be getting football in 2020.

The Big Ten and Pac 12 wanted football to be done, and without Notre Dame throwing its weight around they would have got their way. An “irrelevant” program doesn’t make that happen.

While Notre Dame would still be powerful in a conference, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful because it would lose its independence. Right now, everything Notre Dame does is what’s best for Notre Dame. Join the ACC and there needs to be more of a “team first” mentality when it comes to big decisions.

At the end of the day, Notre Dame must decide if the financial benefits and potential recruiting benefits are worth giving up things that a case could be made are at the very core of what makes Notre Dame, Notre Dame.

4. COULD MAKE A PLAYOFF BERTH HARDER — For all the hand-wringing about Notre Dame needing to go undefeated to make the College Football Playoff because it’s not in a conference, I would argue the opposite is true. The notion that Notre Dame must go undefeated is more of a media narrative, one that was created without any real evidence from the CFP committee. Remember, the committee had a one-loss Notre Dame team ranked as high as No. 3 in the 2017 rankings, and that was before November road games against a Top 10 Miami team and a ranked Stanford squad.

So I’m to believe the committee would have dropped Notre Dame out after beating Miami and Stanford on the road, and because they didn’t win a conference title? What conference did Alabama win in 2017? What conference title did Ohio State win in 2016?

The fact is playing in a conference title game could make it even harder for Notre Dame to make it in. Yes, there might be a season it makes it easier, but the odds are greater it would make things more challenging.

Let’s say Notre Dame goes 12-0 in 2021 but then has to face Clemson in the ACC title game. How about this season? Let’s say Notre Dame beats Clemson at home on November 7. To make the playoff the Irish might need to then beat the Tigers in a rematch. That is almost an impossible task, one made even more challenging now that the Big Ten has decided to play this season, which means Ohio State will be another playoff contender.


When Kyle Hamilton limped off the field on Saturday it had many Notre Dame fans incredibly concerned, and for good reason. Hamilton is a tremendous talent, and it would not be a surprise to see him put together an All-American caliber season. The other reason to hold your breath is the reality the safety depth chart isn’t in an overly healthy position.

Being out two weeks in camp only added to Notre Dame’s inability to develop Houston Griffith, whose progress was stunted his first two years by the staff moving him from position to position and not allowing him to ever get comfortable at one spot.

Another top recruit - Derrik Allen - transferred during fall camp back in 2019, and the Irish whiffed on the position in the 2017 and 2020 classes. Notre Dame was forced to move a pair of cornerbacks - Shaun Crawford and KJ Wallace - to safety to shore up the depth chart.

Notre Dame has a talented safety committed in the 2021 class (Justin Walters), but after him there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the class the Irish have a chance to land at safety. Hawaii athlete Titus Mokiao-Atimalala could be a really good safety, but right now he seems set on getting a shot at wide receiver.

Perhaps the lack of safety options on the recruiting trail can explain Notre Dame’s decision to offer 2021 cornerback Theran Johnson of Indianapolis (Ind.) North Central. Should Notre Dame be able to flip the three-star Northwestern commit, it would make it easier to move one of the three current corner commits to safety.

That is not, however, the ideal way to go about building a safety depth chart. Notre Dame safeties coach Terry Joseph absolutely must start doing a better job recruiting that position. Landing Hamilton was a great start, but he has an assist from former coordinator Mike Elko on that recruitment. Since then, Notre Dame’s safety recruiting has been spotty, at best.


The Big Ten has announced it was reversing course and would now play a 2020 football season. At most, the winner of the Big Ten will play nine games this season, which creates a very interesting dilemma for the College Football Playoff committee.

How do you compare a 9-game Ohio State, for example, against a 12-game schedule for Notre Dame or Clemson. Let’s say the Irish and Tigers split this season and both are 11-1, how do you compare their schedules against an Ohio State schedule that has three fewer games?

Same with the SEC and Big 12, whose champions and league runners up will play two more games than the Big Ten, assuming the Big Ten champ even plays all nine games.

The Big Ten’s top programs behind Ohio State (Penn State, Michigan) have also been devastated by players opting out. Does anyone really believe a Penn State team that won’t have linebacker Micah Parsons or tight end Patrick Freiermuth is still a Top 10 team? Michigan also lost standout left tackle Jalen Mayfield and cornerback Ambry Thomas.

We won’t know how well the league stacks up against everyone else because there will be no out of conference games.

It’s great that the Big Ten is returning for the season, but barring a 9-0 Ohio State team being in competition for a spot against a 2-loss squad from another Power 5 opponent, the Big Ten should not get legitimate CFP consideration.

Let's be honest, if the roles were reversed and a 9-0 Notre Dame team was pitted against an 11-1 Ohio State for a playoff berth there isn't a Big Ten fan alive that would say, "Yeah, Notre Dame shouldn't be punished for playing three fewer games, let them in!"


Former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool made his NFL debut this past weekend, helping the Pittsburgh Steelers earn a 26-16 victory over the New York Giants. For Notre Dame fans that saw the game, what Claypool did was nothing new.

That's the kind of play Claypool made on the regular in 2020, and this won't be his last impact catch for the Steelers. Quite a start.


Speaking of Theran Johnson, take a look at his junior highlights. There's also a link below the video to his senior clips.

Senior Clips


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Comments (18)
No. 1-9

Nice musings, Bryan. I agree fully on the independence issue. As for the playoffs, Ohio State--or whomever the Big 14 wants to represent it in the playoffs--better go 9-0. No way 8-1 cuts it, especially if said team is a not the champion.


I think there’s a massive long term risk(both football and financial) of regionalizing ND if they do join a conference. Imagine ND being viewed as an East Coast or Midwest school versus the National perception that’s made it great. I don’t think it would happen as soon as they join, but over a long period of time that risk becomes greater

Irish For Life
Irish For Life

Coach: I really enjoyed this article. The discussion on Independence was really thought out. Too many times I hear "We always have done it that way." You really got to the essence of independence for ND. The trend of schools going back to being independent I would love to see but I doubt it will ever happen.


Look no further as to why ND should stay independent than this year. If ND were locked into a conference (such as the Big10) then it would have removed all flexibility and ability to adapt in only a few weeks to the changing situation.


2015 was similar to 2017 in that a one-loss ND was in the top 4 of the playoff rankings. It wasn't until REALLY ugly performances against BC and Wake, that ND dropped from the top 4. Just more evidence that there isn't some grand scheme against ND by the college football powers that be.


Bryan, your thoughts on Theran Johnson?


All I will say is when you mention Notre Dame, most people's minds go to 2 things. 1. Golden helmets and 2. Independence. It is the root of some of the hatred we have towards us.


Any thoughts as to why safety recruiting has sucked outside of landing Hamilton? I thought I remembered Joseph had a solid recruiting reputation coming to ND.


Excellent summation of the pros for remaining independent (not that I personally need convinced!)

Independence for me is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, thing that defines what Notre Dame football is about. The ability to play anyone, anywhere and not be completely tied in to a full conference schedule. To be the one truly national, coast to coast, program. Not just in terms of fan appeal and tv viewers but also actual scheduling and games.

I think it’s no coincidence that none, like literally none, of ND’s detractors want us to remain independent. They all claim to want us to “join a conference already”. Think about that...