Many have argued that the only College Football Playoff Rankings that really matter are the final ones that will be announced on December 6 because they are the rankings that determine the playoff teams. While this is true in a sense, tonight’s playoff rankings are of utmost importance to Notre Dame heading into the final week of the regular season.
Notre Dame clung on to the 4th spot in the rankings last week despite Oklahoma beating Baylor on the road and Oklahoma State taking down TCU all while staying ahead of Iowa who remained unbeaten. This week, however, the Irish hung up about as ugly of a win as you could put in front of the committee’s faces with its 19-16 letdown performance against previously 3-7 Boston College.
Ever since the Irish’s lackluster showing and Oklahoma’s narrow victory over a TCU team playing without it’s two star players, the debate has been raging over who was more deserving of the 4th spot in the rankings and where the two teams net out tonight is absolutely critical for Notre Dame’s playoff chances.
With a trip to Stanford on tap for Notre Dame and the yearly “Bedlam” showdown for Oklahoma with in-state rival Oklahoma State, both teams will be facing off against potential Top 10 opponents. Oklahoma State was 6th before their loss to Baylor but could still stay within the top 10 potentially. Wherever they net out, they will likely be ranked right around Stanford meaning Notre Dame and Oklahoma will be playing similar level opponents this weekend.
With similar opponents this weekend, no games next weekend, and similar resumes for Notre Dame and Oklahoma; where the two teams are ranked tonight will be very telling. Should Oklahoma jump Notre Dame tonight in the rankings, it will take a monumental effort or a Sooners loss this weekend to jump back into the top 4 (or some real chaos that completely shakes up the rankings).
There is also the matter of Michigan State and Iowa potentially jumping Notre Dame although even if both do, it won’t impact Notre Dame’s long term playoff potential sine both schools would play each other in the Big 10 Championship assuming both win this weekend so one would knock out the other.
It’s Oklahoma that Notre Dame needs to stay ranked ahead of this weekend in order to have any sort of control over their own destiny this weekend. Even then a close win by Notre Dame this weekend and a Sooner blowout could push Oklahoma ahead in the final rankings. All things being equal, however, it’s hard to imagine the committee moving either team ahead of the other in the final rankings if both were to win with similar margins this weekend.
Last week I was confident that Notre Dame would remain 4th despite what many considered to be a ho-hum win over Wake Forest. This week I’m not nearly as confident. One thing I know I won’t be concerned with is if Notre Dame drops to 5th but does so behind Iowa and Michigan State given their likely showdown.
It should be noted that both the AP and Coaches Polls still have Notre Dame ranked ahead of Oklahoma and Michigan State. Neither poll, however, has any impact on the CFP Rankings. The only thing that matters there is the opinion of the committee.
Of course, all of this becomes moot if Notre Dame loses this weekend to Stanford, but where Notre Dame is ranked tonight could directly impact Notre Dame’s psyche heading into the showdown with Stanford. If Notre Dame holds on to that 4th spot tonight, they will head into Palo Alto knowing that a win very likely stamps their ticket to the playoffs. A if the Irish fall behind Oklahoma though, they will be fighting the Cardinal and the disappointment that comes with falling in the rankings at just the wrong time.
So, while the rankings on December 6th are the ones that only really matter in the grand scheme of things, tonight’s will set the table for this year’s Thanksgiving games and will paint a pretty clear picture of Notre Dame’s playoff chances.