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Leftovers & Links: Back to independence, not that Notre Dame ever left it, and the billboards advertising that national reach

Notre Dame recruiting

It took a literal pandemic to get Notre Dame to join a conference in football. And while plenty of rash worries in the midst of that college football chaos pondered the Irish joining the ACC full-time, it was indeed a one-year deal. Notre Dame and the ACC remain accommodating partners, but make no mistake, the Irish are back to independence.

No one has doubted that for some time now, but it was a talking point with some basis in July and August, one revived as Notre Dame reached the ACC championship game in its first season in a conference.

The offseason had not truly begun — in these parts, the day after the Blue-Gold Game is the real mark of the offseason — before the rewards of independence were here to remind Irish fans how good they have it.

No other team in the country already knows seven of its kickoff times. Notre Dame and NBC announced all the home kickoff times days before the spring finale. Add in the certainty that the Labor Day Eve game at Florida State (118 days) will be in primetime, and a solid two-thirds of the Irish schedule is already set. For that matter, Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin at Soldier Field on Sept. 25 also feels like a primetime affair, but that would be more an assumption than a certainty.

Beyond scheduling, every piece of 2021 anticipation unintentionally features the Irish. This is in part a reflection of Notre Dame’s 43-8 record across the last four years, but it is also a reflection of a schedule that always includes heavyweight tilts, not just when doubling the ACC input.

This tweet is nothing but engagement fodder for the platform, but even with that disclaimer, some thought goes into the graphic.

The common thread of those three games at Notre Dame Stadium, aside from the Irish, is the opposing starting quarterbacks are all considered first-round likelihoods in the 2022 NFL draft. A recent ESPN mock draft goes so far as to project USC quarterback Kedon Slovis as the No. 2 overall pick and North Carolina’s Sam Howell at No. 7. No wonder NBC slotted both those games for primetime.

And no wonder there is a genuine chance ESPN’s College GameDay finds its way to South Bend on Oct. 23 to preview Slovis’s second trip to Notre Dame. His first included two touchdowns and 255 passing yards on 24-of-35 passing in only his third career start.

Offseasons are to be relished, especially since there was no genuine offseason a year ago. They are a chance to refresh, to socialize, to shed the weight gained last season that will inevitably be regained this season. The Irish are replacing the all-time winningest quarterback in program history, four starting offensive linemen, their two leading receivers and a linebacker that defies any quick explanation. This may be a rebuilding year of sorts, as much as a rebuilding year is possible for a team that should land in a New Year’s Six bowl if playing as capable.

But no one can fault a Notre Dame fan for looking forward to the on-field hype and rewards of this return to independence.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly knew what he was previewing, but the billboards of Notre Dame players scattered coast to coast have garnered more buzz than may have been expected. That in and of itself is of value in recruiting.

It is one thing to manufacture a local presence when local recruiting is still not allowed, but it is another to literally put the University’s money where its mouth will be as name, image and likeness legislation slowly passes. Notre Dame has shown recruits it will have no hesitation when it comes to helping further their individual reaches.

“It shows the families of players that we’re recruiting and the players that we’ve signed that we mean what we say,” recruiting coordinator Mike Elston told the South Bend Tribune. “We’re going to showcase them. We’re going to put them up on Broadway, and they’re going to have a chance to strengthen their brands.

“When the NIL stuff does pass — whenever that’s going to be — their brand is going to be stronger because they’ve co-branded with Notre Dame’s global brand. They can have a bigger platform than what they came here with.”

Would the Irish have paid the players for this usage? That would not be allowed in most versions of the legislation.

Would these billboards have driven some traffic to personal social media platforms that the players can then monetize? Absolutely.

In that respect, this type of push will be a win-win, once NIL legislation is an active reality.

Not a symptom of independence, but a unique trend all the same, 23 current NCAA athletic directors have Irish ties after the University of Chicago hired Angie Torain, formerly Notre Dame’s senior associate athletic director (culture, diversity, engagement and compliance).

That count will fall to 22 with Barry Alvarez’s impending retirement at Wisconsin, but the tally will still include North Carolina State (Boo Corrigan), Auburn (Allen Greene) and Stanford (Bernard Muir), among many others.

There is no inherent added advantage here, but the number of ACC athletic directors who understand why the Irish are independent only helps that partnership remain as constructed. Corrigan is joined by Kevin White at Duke and Bubba Cunningham at North Carolina, the latter two, in particular, widely considered power brokers in the conference.

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