Is there a viable path for Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff? Yes
Guess which school is going to be a part of relevant College Football Playoff debates over the next few weeks?
It’s Notre Dame, of course. The Irish (10-1) are at No. 6 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, and there remain some viable arguments to be had over the next few weeks.
This is not a new trend. Notre Dame has been in the top six in the CFP rankings heading into rivalry week in three of the last four seasons. There is nothing irrelevant about the program right now.
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But is there a realistic path to the playoff for a one-loss team without a conference championship game to bank on? No. 1 Georgia can virtually clinch a playoff berth with a victory against Georgia Tech on Saturday prior to the SEC championship game.
Notre Dame, however, can prompt some debates with the rest of the six legitimate playoff contenders by beating Stanford and getting to the clubhouse with an 11-1 record.
Where are those potential debates with those six teams? SN takes a closer look:
How it might go: What if Alabama loses the SEC championship game to Georgia? How much would the score matter? The Crimson Tide have a legitimate chance to be the first two-loss team to make the CFP, and that could come at Notre Dame’s expense.
Prepare for the justification of a 13th data point, even if that data point is Mercer, a FCS school the Crimson Tide played in Week 2. That game shouldn’t count when comparing the two.
Not including Mercer, Alabama’s opponents have a combined record of 73-59. Notre Dame’s opponents have a 59-59 record. That strength of schedule favors Alabama, and the CFP committee might favor it ahead of the Irish.
Who wins? Would 11-2 Alabama trump 11-1 Notre Dame? Yes, unless it is a blowout against Georgia.
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Ohio State and Michigan
All three traditional Rust Belt powers have 10 wins heading into rivalry weekend, and the path for the Ohio State-Michigan winner is clear. Beat the Big Ten West champ, likely Wisconsin, in the Big Ten championship game.
What if the Buckeyes or Wolverines lose that game? It would theoretically open the door for Notre Dame, which throttled Wisconsin 41-13 on Sept. 25. The Badgers could be a three-loss Big Ten champion, which could eliminate the conference from the playoff.
Don’t count on this happening. The Big Ten East champion has won the conference championship each of the last seven years.
Who wins? Ohio State or Michigan (if they win the Big Ten)
This should be an open-and-shut case for the Bearcats. Cincinnati beat Notre Dame 24-13 on Oct. 2, and that game was at Notre Dame Stadium. If the Bearcats finish unbeaten, then there is no logical explanation for putting a one-loss Notre Dame ahead of them.
Now, if the Bearcats lose to either East Carolina or Houston the next two weeks, get ready for that head-to-head victory to get thrown out the window. It shouldn’t, but it absolutely could happen given how the CFP committee treated the Michigan-Michigan State result the last two weeks.
Notre Dame has won its last six games by an average of 22.7 points per game, and Navy was the only Group of 5 school on that list. It’s a thin argument, but it’s one the Irish could win.
Who wins? Cincinnati (unless they lose)
Oklahoma or Oklahoma State
This is the last potential hurdle. Either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State could win their next two games (likely against each other) and finish as a one-loss Big 12 champion.
Oklahoma State is the more dangerous team in this scenario. The Cowboys have a 24-21 loss at Iowa State, but they have flashed a nasty defense over the past month. Oklahoma still carries the name-brand value of a team that has made the CFP four times, but the Sooners can’t out-program Notre Dame.
Still, that conference championship game could make an impression, especially with the Irish out of sight, out of mind.
Who wins? Notre Dame (but it’s a coin flip)
So, knowing that, here is where Notre Dame’s resume would stack up against the potential final resumes in two weeks. Here are the possible resumes among the contenders, ranked in order.
1. Georgia (13-0): There is no debate to be had here.
2. Alabama (12-1): The Crimson Tide would have five wins against ranked teams and a victory against No. 1 Georgia.
3. Ohio State (12-1): The Buckeyes would have four victories against ranked opponents at that point, and that includes top-10 victories against Michigan State and Michigan.
4. Georgia (12-1): If the Bulldogs lose to Alabama in the SEC championship game, then they will be forgiven with a likely No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the CFP if the rest of the chalk holds.
5. Michigan (12-1): If the Wolverines finally beat Ohio State, then win a Big Ten championship, they will be in the CFP with Jim Harbaugh as a No. 2 or No. 3.
6. Cincinnati (13-0): The Bearcats are in decent position knowing either Ohio State or Michigan has to lose, and they can survive the two-SEC team scenario now. Plus, they have the head-to-head on Notre Dame.
7. Alabama (11-2): Would the committee put the two-loss Crimson Tide in over the Irish? We think they would unless they get blown out by Georgia or trip up against Auburn.
8. Notre Dame (11-1): This is is where the Irish stand. It’s just a matter of which resumes above them get knocked off. The Irish have just one victory against a ranked opponent, and that could be four-loss Wisconsin.
9. Oklahoma State (12-1): The Cowboys can make a run at the Irish knowing they would have the luxury of a Power 5 championship. They could have five victories against ranked opponents at that point. Notre Dame should worry here.
10. Oklahoma (12-1): The Sooners have the brand-name value, but that string of one-score losses hurts their profile along with a blowout loss at Baylor.
11. Ohio State (11-2): A loss to the Big Ten West champion would knock the Buckeyes out despite the victories against Michigan State and Michigan at that point.
12. Michigan (11-2): The same rule applies. Even if the Wolverines finally conquer the Buckeyes, they still need to finish off the conference title in Indianapolis.
13. Cincinnati (12-1): The Bearcats are done with one loss, and they know it.
Will it happen?
Assuming the chalk holds, then the Irish will likely be left out of the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame fans need to root for Alabama to lose in a blowout in the SEC championship game and Cincinnati to lose to either ECU or Houston. An Ohio State-Michigan loss in the Big Ten championship game and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State split would be bonuses.
That said, Notre Dame will be in that final-table conversation as long as the Irish beat Stanford on Saturday. A victory would give them a 52-9 record over the last five seasons.
That kind of success will keep them in the playoff-relevant conversation.
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