Mutka: Irish shift to ACC complicates scheduling
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent September 24, 2012 11:30PM
TAB MUG MUTKA 100109 Andy Lavalley/Post-Tribune ptmet
Updated: October 26, 2012 2:13PM
Unlike any other university from sea to shining sea, Notre Dame can have its cake and eat it, too.
By defecting to the Atlantic Coast Conference along with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Irish will maintain their long-lasting athletic romance with the east side of the United States. In so doing they also cling to their football independence — to a degree.
The deal, which includes partnership in the ACC-BCS bowl package, obliges the Irish to schedule five league opponents every year. They must also play each one of the league members at least once every three years, which complicates future schedules, but won’t affect their lucrative relationship with NBC.
In some cases that means maintaining long-standing rivalries. They’ll be playing Pittsburgh for the 67th time on Nov. 3 and Boston College, which trails the intense series 12-9, the following week. Future ACC rivals who have been victimized multiple times by the Irish are Miami (16-7-1, series standing), North Carolina (16-2, but only twice in the last 37 years) and Georgia Tech (27-6-1).
Sporadic new rivalries which could develop begin with Virginia Tech, the only ACC school which has never butted heads with the Irish. Wake Forest, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina State have only played them once, Clemson twice and Duke four times.
Long-standing relationships with USC, Navy and Big Ten opponents Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan could be jeopardized since scheduling will be more complicated. Being a midwest guy I had always hoped the Irish would hook up with the Big Ten, but their unique TV package made that an unrealistic fantasy.
Never having been a big fan of the Big East, which seemed more like a semi-pro league with its excessively physical basketball and off-campus arenas, I welcome the move to America’s most passionate basketball conference, even if it means abandoning seven parochial rivals, including DePaul and Marquette. The idea of Duke, North Carolina and Maryland storming into Purcell Pavilion is enough to make even luke-warm fans salivate.
Basketball coaches Mike Brey and Muffett McGraw, being transplanted easterners, could barely contain their unbridled enthusiasm for joining the ACC.
It’s a belated homecoming for Brey, who grew up in the shadows of the Maryland campus. Brey also rooted for his uncle, who played at Duke, then served on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff from 1987-95. Brey contributed to two national titles and two runner-up finishes before bolting to Delaware, his stepping stone to Notre Dame.
“I grew up kind of an ACC guy,” he said when the announcement was made. “It strikes close to the heart. I think it’s a great fit.”
Fringe benefits include providing more opportunities to recruit in areas previously off-limits to the Irish.
“It’s opened doors in the southeast we’ve never gone to before,” said McGraw, who spent her formative years in West Chester, Pa., played college ball at nearby St. Joseph’s, and coached at Lehigh before joining the Notre Dame family in 1987. “I think it’s rejuvenating.”
Not that the esteemed coach needs refreshing. In the last 12 of her 25 years here the Irish have qualified for the NCAA, reached four Final Fours and won a national championship (2001). McGraw comes into the 2012-13 season only nine victories from 600 in her career with the Irish.
Notre Dame’s eastern roots extend to football coach Brian Kelly. He grew up in Massachusetts, played linebacker at Assumption College where he served as a two-time captain in 1981-82.
Unlike Brey and McGraw, though, Kelly escaped from the east much sooner. coaching almost exclusively in the midwest. Starting at Grand Valley State, he served as defensive coordinator of the 1989 team, which humiliated Valparaiso 91-0. Kelly was promoted to head coach from 1991-2003 before moving on to Cincinnati.
MAC attack: Long noted for its testy relationship with the Big Ten, the pesky Mid-American Conference has outdone itself in the first four weeks. Central Michigan’s last-second 32-31 stunner at Iowa was the MAC’s third victory in head-to-head meetings. Other Big Ten victims were Indiana (41-39, Ball State) and Penn State (24-14, Ohio).
MAC teams also chalked up near-misses against Iowa (Northern Illinois, 18-17), Minnesota (Western Michigan, 28-23) and Michigan State (led Eastern Michigan only 9-7 after three quarters).
Big Ten: Heisman sizzle has turned to fizzle for Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Ball, a finalist last year, has struggled from the beginning after being victimized by a preseason attack in Madison. Putting up pedestrian numbers, he wasn’t even the Badgers best back before suffering a head injury in Saturday’s victory. Robinson celebrated his 22nd birthday by throwing four interceptions at Notre Dame.
Biggest surprise: Minnesota is off to a 4-0 start by playing uncharacteristically stout defense. In Saturday’s victory over Syracuse, which scored 41 against Northwestern, the Gophers didn’t give up a touchdown until the final minute.
Physical fitness: Thanks to Venric Mark, who rushed for 117 yards Saturday, unbeaten Northwestern has rushed for 200 yards in three straight games. Quite a departure for the Wildcats, who have usually leaned on quarterback-induced razzle-dazzle during coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure.
Rookie coach rocked: Being embarrassed by visiting Louisiana Tech is not what coach Tim Beckman was counting on in his first year. Illinois may have a 2-2 record, but the lopsided losses were by 31 and 28 points.
Biggest disappointment: Iowa blew an eight-point lead against Central Michigan and barely beat Northern Illinois. The Hawkeyes’ 2-2 record sends shockwaves through Iowa City. Their porous pass defense gave up 283 yards to CMU’s Ryan Radcliff (26-35, two TDs).