Notre Dame moved up to #4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, taking the place in the top four vacated by LSU after their loss to Alabama. The move was expected for the Irish, but do they really control their own destiny? Is it is simple as beat Wake Forest, Boston College and Stanford and get ticketed for the Playoff? I have my doubts.
Last season’s inaugural Playoff selection showed us that just winning—and even just winning impressively against bad teams isn’t going to help you. TCU held a #3 ranking going into the final week of games in 2014 and crushed Iowa State. The Cyclones still fell all the way to #6 as Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor won games against much better competition.
Wake Forest and Boston College are both bad teams. In the meantime, the Big 12 contenders are all in the midst of a month of playing each other. Oklahoma State surged upward last week after blowing out TCU. After Okie State plays Baylor—currently ranked #6—can Notre Dame hold them off, regardless of how well they play against the ACC doormats?
Notre Dame closes the season with a game where they could re-impress the Committee all over again, the road date at Stanford on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Cardinal are currently ranked #7 and the possibility that this could be a de facto national quarterfinal game is very much in play.
But I think that’s going to require some help. If Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State/Iowa keep winning, they’re going to make it. I find it hard to believe an unbeaten Big 12 champ would be left out. What if Utah—also with one loss, goes on and wins the Pac-12, a run that likely includes beating Stanford a week after the Cardinal plays Notre Dame? Remember, Utah also beat Michigan to start the year.
Notre Dame needs Navy to keep winning through a difficult portion of their schedule, and make sure that Irish win over the Middies continues to look impressive. And while ND needs help, a loss by Clemson would be a double-edged sword. When the Committee ranked the Tigers #1, they’re obviously impressed by Notre Dame coming within a two-point conversion of beating Clemson on the road.
The Irish also need Stanford to win the Pac-12 title, a circumstance that both knocks out Utah and spiffs up an ND win in the season finale. And by the way…Notre Dame actually needs to beat Stanford on the football field in Palo Alto. I don’t mean to overlook that, but the focal point of this post is things that are beyond Irish control even as they rank in the top four.
I don’t mean to sound like a wet blanket on the hopes of Notre Dame fans. The help they need is all very realistic, particularly hoping the Big 12 contenders take turns beating each other up this month. But it’s important to emphasize that these next two weeks leading up to the Stanford game are a time to batten down the hatches, because other contenders can make up ground and last year’s precedent suggests there’s nothing Notre Dame can do about it.