How Good Is Notre Dame?

Notre Dame squashed Temple’s Cinderella hopes of making the College Football Playoff as an undefeated team in last night’s exciting 24-20 win in Philadelphia. The Irish also put a dent in the Owls’ hopes of making it into one of the New Year’s Six bowl games—the six premium games (including the two Playoff semis) that will be played over December 31-January 1 and are required to include the best of the non-Power 5 teams.

Lou Holtz Notre Dame

The Irish kept themselves alive for the Playoff and put themselves in very strong position for at least a New Year’s Six spot. As we sit two days from the first rankings of the Playoff Selection Committee, it’s fair to ask just how good this ND team is.

When it comes to making the Playoff, I’d be surprised if Notre Dame is in any real position of strength on Tuesday night. Games that looked difficult when the season began—notably Georgia Tech and Texas—look considerably less so right now. The win over USC is likely to look strong, depending on how strong the Trojans finish and whether the Committee holds it against Notre Dame for capitalizing on the week USC went through the firing of head coach Steve Sarkisian.

If Notre Dame was undefeated this wouldn’t matter. The schedule is certainly good enough to ultimately get into the top four if they were 12-0, but the loss at Clemson, a team in contention themselves, looks a lot like a de facto quarterfinal elimination game the way the landscape shapes up.

What’s more, just watching the Irish, one doesn’t get the sense that this is one of the best four teams in the country. Temple is a good team, better than cynics give it credit for, but the fact ND could only get 25 yards rushing from C.J. Prosise is a problem. Deshone Kizer produced all the offense, getting 143 yards rushing in addition to what he produced in the passing game. Putting everything on the quarterback is a formula for success in the Mid-American Conference. To beat nationally elite teams, you need to run the football in the conventional way.

That’s the negative. The positive is this—one team that does run the football conventionally and is a fellow contender is Stanford. Notre Dame closes the regular season in Palo Alto. That’s a heckuva an opportunity to knock out a rival and leave a great final impression with the Committee.

And we can spin the Temple game another way—Notre Dame found a way to win a game on the road in spite of throwing two interceptions in the red zone and having to settle for a field goal when they had 1st-and-goal inside the 10-yard line.

I suspect that, barring complete November chaos, Notre Dame will miss the Playoff even if they win out, and in either case, I have no confidence in their ability to win at Stanford. But at the start of the season, I believed that making a major bowl game would be a significant feather in the cap for Brian Kelly at this point and a very attainable goal. If the Irish take care of business against Pitt, Wake Forest and Boston College the next three weeks, they should be well-positioned to be on the New Year’s stage.