Notre Dame clinches ACC title game berth with Wake Forest trip canceled

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Citing a competitive want to have the three ACC title contenders on the equal footing of each playing nine conference games, the ACC canceled Notre Dame’s and Clemson’s expected regular-season finales on Dec. 12. With only this weekend’s game against Syracuse remaining (2:30 ET; NBC) and already holding the winning edge in all conference tiebreakers, the No. 2 Irish (9-0, 8-0 ACC) have officially sealed a spot in the ACC title game on Dec. 19 in Charlotte.

To deliver the much-anticipated rematch of the Nov. 7 double-overtime Notre Dame victory, either the No. 3 Tigers (8-1, 7-1) need to beat Virginia Tech this weekend or No. 9 Miami (7-1, 6-1) needs to lose one of its next two games (at Duke, vs. North Carolina).

The Irish were originally scheduled to head to Wake Forest on Sept. 26, but a coronavirus outbreak within the Notre Dame locker room forced the game to be postponed and the program to halt activities for more than a week. More (in)famously, Clemson traveled to Florida State on Friday, Nov. 21, before it had complete results from its latest round of testing. A positive test result upon arrival in Tallahassee then led to that contest getting postponed, presumably to be made up on Dec. 12. Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney publicly balked at getting on a plane once more to play the Seminoles, sparking the first speculation the ACC would scrap the weekend of make-up games.

But the conference gave a more logical explanation for the cancellations than Swinney’s griping. If Notre Dame and Clemson both played Dec. 12, that would set their league records at 10 games deep. Miami is not yet eliminated from the ACC title game, but to reach 10 games, it must play Georgia Tech on Dec. 19, the day of the conference championship. One way or another, that would be unfair to either the Tigers or the Hurricanes.

These cancellations also give the ACC a weekend of leeway yet, in case Notre Dame or Clemson have to postpone their games this weekend.

From a punch-line standpoint, one can only chuckle that the Irish remain unbeaten in conference play in 133 years and have clinched a spot in a conference championship game in their first try.

To avoid another scenario like Clemson arriving at Florida State before test results led to disagreeing medical staffs, the ACC has also adjusted its testing requirements, now adding in a Thursday PCR test for each visiting team with its results returning before boarding a Friday flight.

“The Chief Medical Officers from each team will confirm results and attest that there is every expectation that the game will be played. While the Medical Advisory Group has not identified evidence of virus transmission during competition, this adjustment will mitigate the chances of unnecessary interaction between team members and outside individuals that are inevitable during travel.”