Making Sense of Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff Ranking

Notre Dame certainly did not impress the committee much with their 28-7 win over Wake Forest this past Saturday, but they managed to stay at number four in the newest College Football Playoff rankings nonetheless. Chaos struck the college football landscape once again as three of the top ten teams fell, and as a result, “[Notre Dame] remain(s) strong in the four,” as Committee chair Jeff Long put it. The chaos both opened and closed different scenarios required for various teams to make the top four. Because of this mayhem, it is necessary to break down what Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff ranking means for the team moving forward, and the story lines Notre Dame fans should be watching over the next few weeks.

Making Sense of Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff Ranking

The discussion coming into Tuesday night centered on the blow that most felt Notre Dame’s strength of schedule took with Stanford’s loss to Oregon. Once the rankings were revealed, however, it was clear that the committee did not feel Stanford’s loss was enough to drop them out of contention. The Cardinal dropped just four spots, to number eleven, leaving the opportunity for Notre Dame to finally get that signature win in their last game. The Irish could ill afford Stanford dropping any further than they did if their strength of schedule was going to hold up against the other teams in the race.

Notre Dame’s landmark triumph may not come for a couple more weeks, but their best wins right now don’t look so bad either. 8-1 Navy moved up to 16th Tuesday and is the highest ranked Group of Five team. If the Midshipmen can manage to drop Houston in two weeks, a Temple win over Memphis would likely mean that the two teams, who are both on Notre Dame’s schedule, would meet in the American Athletic Conference championship. No matter which team won the game, Notre Dame would have defeated a conference champion, a feat not many other teams can claim.

Notre Dame’s second best win came in also came in South Bend when the Irish defeated now 7-3 USC, who moved into the rankings this week at 24th. Just as they did two seasons ago, the Trojans have responded well to losing their coach, and this time have a conference championship on their minds. If the Trojans can manage to continue to ride this momentum, they could possibly meet Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, which, just like the AAC championship, could prove to be a win-win situation for Notre Dame. I know it might feel weird to root for your rival, Irish fans, but in this situation, Notre Dame needs USC to continue to win.

Notre Dame’s strength of schedule may have gotten somewhat of unexpected boost, but there are other teams around the country that will be getting their own chances to capture a signature win in the coming weeks, and these games can either significantly help or hurt the Irish. It seems now that the Big 12 is Notre Dame’s biggest enemy. Oklahoma State sits two spots behind the Irish, but it isn’t the Big 12’s highest ranked team that Notre Dame should be worried about, it’s the team behind them. As the conference approaches the halfway point in the virtual round robin tournament between its top four teams, the seventh ranked Oklahoma Sooners stand as the team with the most to gain.

The Sooners face a TCU team this Saturday that may be without its starting quarterback and leading receiver. The Horned Frogs’ backup is former Texas A&M starter Kenny “Trill” Hill, so a win over TCU will still be impressive, even if they did barely squeak out a win against Kansas last week. The following week, Oklahoma meets Oklahoma State in a game that the entire country will be surely be watching. If the Sooners manage to win the game, effectively knocking the Cowboys out of the race, Oklahoma could possibly jump the Irish. An 11-1 Oklahoma team with a win over number six in the final week of the season would assuredly have a strong case to make the top four, but Notre Dame does hold one significant advantage over the Sooners – Notre Dame destroyed Texas 38-3, and as of now, the Longhorns stand as Oklahoma’s only loss. Jeff Long commented on the impact that the loss has on Oklahoma’s case, saying, “we’re aware of it… it doesn’t go away.”

While Oklahoma may pose more of a threat to Notre Dame, Irish fans still shouldn’t be pulling for Oklahoma State either. The Cowboys take on Baylor this weekend, who Oklahoma just beat. Many questioned the Bears’ true strength since they had not played any respectable opponents so far this season. Now that these questions have been not only justified but answered, the Cowboys don’t stand to gain as much from beating Baylor as they could have if they had met them before the Sooners. A win over Baylor and a 10-1 Oklahoma team would no doubt strengthen Oklahoma State’s case, but it likely will not be enough to jump them over an undefeated Iowa team, who likely will not lose until after the Big 12 teams have played their final games, and an 11-1 Notre Dame.

With just a few weeks left in the season, Notre Dame sits one blowout or upset game away from being practically guaranteed a playoff spot. If college football has proven anything during its existence, it’s to expect the unexpected. Chaos will happen; it always does in this sport. The mayhem may even strike the Irish, but as long as it hits one or more of the teams around them, Notre Dame is in a good position to make the second College Football Playoff. Teams typically don’t pay much attention to hypothetical situations, tending to stick to the mantra “control what you can control.” The Irish can’t control what unfolds in the Big 12 this weekend, but they can control one thing – making a statement against Boston College this Saturday in Fenway Park.

Main Photo: