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Should Notre Dame Be Forced To Join A Conference To Be Eligible For The CFP?

Dabo Swinney thinks so. So do Gary Pinkel and Steve Spurrier. But does that illustrate a popular trend or just sour grapes?

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Last week, Missouri head football coach Gary Pinkel ruffled some feathers when he proclaimed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish shouldn't be eligible for the College Football Playoff if they want to maintain independence.

This week, Dabo Swinney got in on the act.

The Clemson Tigers head coach was quoted on Monday as saying, "Absolutely Notre Dame needs to be in conference or play 13 games to be in (the CFP)."

The topic of Notre Dame and the Bowl Championship Series/College Football Playoff is as hotly debated as any topic in college football. In an age of realignment and tectonic shifts, the Irish moved only enough to maintain a zero-balance conference affiliation. A former member of the Big East in all sports except for football, the Irish departed for the ACC, managing to keep their football team separate from the deal. Last season, as part of their agreement to join the conference, the Irish began an ACC football schedule - but only an average of five games per year, per an agreement back in 2012.

It's an agreement that's kindled the fires and continued the annoyance with Notre Dame by elite power schools. When the Bowl Championship Series formed, Notre Dame received an automatic berth if it finished in the top eight of the final standings, a caveat not enjoyed by any other individual institution. When the BCS became the CFP last year, it was left unclear if independents would be eligible for the New Year's Six or National Semifinal games. In its protocol, there is no wording on how to handle the Irish.

This season, there will only be three teams who play independent schedules. With Navy joining the American, we're left with Army, Brigham Young, and Notre Dame holding the league-less flag. Of those three schools, nobody expects Army or BYU to even come close to the New Year's Six games. After all, they both only play four games against power conference teams. But Notre Dame remains a lightning rod.

Why coaches concern themselves with Notre Dame makes no sense to me whatsoever. I get wanting to force the Irish into a league already, that their long-running obsession with independence is pretty obscene. From a reputation standpoint, they're always going to be a controversial team because they can do what they want with their schedule. Putting humans in control of the ND fate is to essentially damage the chances of everyone else because that's one wild card team nobody wants to worry about.

This season, Notre Dame plays nine games against power conference teams, right in the same ballpark as power conferences.. If the Irish put together a good season, they're going to be in the conversation just like anyone else would. Adding one more team to the conversation is something that makes it tougher to get in. Making it tougher to get in is probably enough to make Missouri or Clemson pretty nervous, especially if they go 11-1.

But here's my take, and it's the same take I had during the BCS era. If you're going to make it tougher for teams to get in, isn't that what makes college football great? Think about the pressure of the first week when Notre Dame plays Texas. Think about the pressure in October for Clemson when they play, in a row, Louisville, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Miami. If they slip even a little bit, they could be out of the hunt for the national title. For those schools, both of which are added on with the 13th game in the conference championship against a clearly elite team - of course they don't want another team in the mix.

Ah, yes - the 13th game. There's the aspect that the Irish don't belong because Clemson and Missouri belong to leagues sponsoring championship games. It's the key component to why people thought Baylor or TCU found themselves out of the loop in last year's CFP. If you're going to mandate Notre Dame play in that game, then you need to mandate the Big XII play a championship game, which they're not this year. That argument, to me, is null and void.

Personally speaking, I think Notre Dame is like any other of the 128 FBS schools. If you're good enough, if you play enough good teams, and if you pass the smell test, the committee's putting you in. If you're good enough to win the national championship, you'll win both of those games. If you want to keep Notre Dame out of the CFP, either beat them or win all of your games. It's that simple.