Finding Notre Dame's path to the College Football Playoff
Notre Dame moved up to No. 6 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night.
Ahead of the Fighting Irish are two SEC teams and two Big Ten teams, which should help clear a path for Notre Dame to get into the top four.
It goes without saying that Notre Dame will need to win on Saturday vs. Stanford to give itself a chance. Assuming the Fighting Irish are able to get past Stanford, what else would have to happen in order for them to make into the final four?
Let’s break it down.
1 SEC team gets in
The easiest way for this to be accomplished is Alabama losing to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide slipped behind Ohio State in this week’s rankings, which could indicate the committee doesn’t intend to send a 2-loss non-SEC Champion Alabama team to the playoff.
If Georgia does defeat Alabama, it would mean the SEC has just one playoff representative this season. If Alabama wins in Atlanta, the SEC would almost certainly get two teams in with UGA unlikely to drop outside of the top four. This would be a nightmare scenario for fans of teams like Notre Dame and Cincinnati.
The Big 12 beats itself
While no Big 12 team is currently ranked ahead of Notre Dame, that could change ahead of the committee’s final rankings. Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma are all ranked in the top 10 and theoretically could leapfrog the Fighting Irish if they were to win the Big 12.
The easiest way to avoid this would be if the winner of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game on Saturday then loses in the Big 12 title. Baylor winning the Big 12 would likely be a fine scenario for Notre Dame, as the Bears already have two losses. But it’s possible they’ve played well enough in November to earn serious consideration.
Wisconsin wins the Big Ten
We’re starting to get into “want” and not “need” territory here as far as Notre Dame’s rooting interest goes. The Irish likely could still make the Playoff even if Ohio State or Michigan runs the table from here on out, but it would be a lot simpler if 3-loss Wisconsin was able to win the Big Ten title game.
In addition to having a worse résumé, Notre Dame having a convincing win over the Big Ten champs wouldn’t hurt as the committee does their final deliberations in early December.
Cincinnati drops a game
No. 4 Cincy remains the biggest impediment to Notre Dame squeezing into the playoff. The Bearcats handed Notre Dame its only loss earlier this season, and have rarely been challenged this year. They are set to face Houston in the AAC Championship Game, so perhaps the Cougars could knock off Cincinnati at the last possible moment. Otherwise, it’s difficult to see how the committee would justify putting Notre Dame in ahead of the Bearcats in the final rankings.