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Shuffling The Deck In South Bend

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Some unfamiliar foes will visit South Bend in 2014 and beyond, while the long-time Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry falls dormant. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.
Some unfamiliar foes will visit South Bend in 2014 and beyond, while the long-time Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry falls dormant. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

After shivering through the final throes of a George R. R. Martin-esque winter, South Bend, Ind., is beginning to feel a twinge of spring.

You remember spring — the world turns green, robins chirp and football begins again. OK, so it’s not the kind of football we all crave, but spring practice is a critical time of year for college programs across the country as optimism pervades and storylines abound.

Spring, however, isn’t the only stranger on campus. Another visitor has arrived on its heels, and for many Notre Dame fans, it will feel just as unfamiliar.

Change doesn’t come easily at a university like Notre Dame. Replace a tile in a hallowed hallway or a stitch on a sacred jersey and you risk being labeled a heretic. In an era where programs cast dogma aside for the slightest competitive edge, Notre Dame has remained stubborn with its academic standards and persistent about following even the most fleeting of traditions.

With that in mind, there are several opponents on the Fighting Irish’s 2014 schedule that feel like constants etched in stone. However, the ripples of conference realignment have reached even South Bend and some long-standing foes are giving way to new challengers. Let's take a look at some of the changes in store.

Wave Goodbye To The Maize And Blue

Measured by winning percentage, Notre Dame and Michigan are the two most successful programs all-time in college football, and there’s no doubt the two squads are fierce rivals. That’s why many were puzzled when the Irish decided to exercise their option to suspend the annual series after the 2014 season.

It seems that Notre Dame is trying to inject some additional intrigue into a schedule that has grown static in the last decade or so, but others see it differently. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke didn’t hesitate to chime in on the subject, telling reporters that the Fighting Irish were belying their nickname and “chickening out.”

No More Sparring With Spartans

Michigan State is another sacred cow that has been sent to slaughter by Notre Dame. After 17 straight seasons of locking horns, the Fighting Irish won’t face the Spartans this season. A classic rivalry, the battle for the Megaphone Trophy always is a hard-fought and physical affair. The 10-10 tie that the two teams played to in 1966 is still cited as one of the better games in college football history.

Dipping A Toe In The ACC

Notre Dame’s relationship with the ACC is a bit complicated. While the Irish will have access to the conferences bowl tie-ins, they won’t be eligible to play for the conference title.

Muddying the waters further is a new scheduling commitment that will require Notre Dame to play at least five games against ACC opponents each year, starting in 2015. This season, it will get its feet wet with a watered-down conference schedule that includes Syracuse, North Carolina, Louisville and last year’s BCS national champion, Florida State.

While traditionalists will continue to cry that too much is changing too fast for the Irish, the old must eventually make way for the new. After more than a half-century of consistency, perhaps it’s time to tee up some new traditions and kick off a new era of Notre Dame football.

We’re ready. Are you?