Notre Dame has been building its College Football Playoff resume ever since Brandon Wimbush got strip sacked to end the Georgia game and the final seconds ticked off the clock. Since that point, Notre Dame has been arguably one of – if not the – most dominating team in all of college football. The Irish have ripped off six straight wins of 20 or more points for the first time since 1966 and when the first CFP Rankings are released on Tuesday, the Irish are very likely to be in at least the top 5, if not the top 4.
Based on the media reaction following Notre Dame’s 35-14 win over previously 14th ranked NC State this weekend, it shouldn’t be surprising to see Notre Dame appear in the top 4 on Tuesday. Joey Galloway, Jesse Palmer, and even Kirk Herbstreit all have Notre Dame at least in their top 4 right now. ESPN even has Notre Dame ranked 3rd in their current power rankings. Herbie has Notre Dame 3rd.
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) October 29, 2017
Now none of these media personalities rankings means a whole lot right now. All that matters is what the CFP committee has Notre Dame ranked on Tuesday and ultimately where they have them ranked the first week of December. What this tells us though is that Notre Dame’s dominating wins have people in the industry believing that this Notre Dame team is different than some past ones that have “been back”.
Unlike 2015 or even 2012 when Notre Dame had pretty good and maybe even great teams, this team is not winning games close – it’s winning by large margins. The 2012 season saw it’s fair share of close contests – see Purdue, Michigan, BYU, Stanford, USC and Pitt specifically. In 2015 Notre Dame sleep walked through games with Boston College, Wake Forest, Temple, and UVA and let would be blowouts of USC, Pitt, and Georgia Tech be closer on the scoreboard than they felt.
This year has been different. With Notre Dame’s 21 point over NC State this weekend, Notre Dame has three wins by at least 20 points over teams currently ranked in the top 25. If Notre Dame had three wins against Top 25 teams with any margin of victory, it would be cause for celebration. The fact is, however, Notre Dame has three wins over currently ranked teams by 20, 35, and 21 points. That is some impressive stuff folks. And it’s not what we’re used to seeing from Notre Dame for a long, long time.
Notre Dame’s dominating wins have caught the attention of the media and likely will have the attention of the CFP Committee when they convene and release their initial rankings tomorrow.
If Notre Dame is indeed in the top 4 or 5 on Tuesday the Irish will have themselves in great position to make the playoffs – something that seemed unfathomable last November when they just finished a 4-8 season. Powered by their running game, Notre Dame will not face a team with a top 75 run defense currently. The Irish are ripping off 300 yard rushing outputs on a weekly basis and neither Wake Forest, Miami, Navy, or Stanford are average let alone stout against the run right now. In short, Notre Dame has a great chance to run the table over the next four weeks.
Notre Dame will be jockeying with fellow one loss teams Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Penn State among others for playoff positioning. Of all the one loss teams, Notre Dame hands down has the “best loss”. A one point loss at home to the likely #2 team in the country qualifies as about the best possible loss one could have actually. The CFP Committee will also be comparing the best wins however and Ohio State’s win over Penn State and Oklahoma’s blowout of the Buckeyes are both more impressive than any win Notre Dame has currently.
Notice who hasn’t been even mentioned here yet? Wisconsin. The undefeated Badgers have faced such a joke of a schedule that they are currently not getting much anywhere other than the Coaches Poll that is proving to be a joke this year. Wisconsin will likely eek out an undefeated regular season without facing a single ranked opponent. Nice scheduling Badgers.
The fact this is even a discussion is amazing honestly and Brian Kelly deserves a whole lot of credit for getting Notre Dame in this position. Before the USC game I was refusing to even use the word playoff in relation to Notre Dame. After last week’s beatdown of the Trojans, I started to think it was possible. After this most recent convincing win over a ranked opponent, I’m now starting to think that the Irish are in the playoffs if they win out regardless of whatever anyone else does.
Notre Dame still has two games against currently ranked opponents, but the showdown with Miami might not feature two top 10 teams if the Hurricanes get clipped by Virginia Tech this weekend – something I think is very likely to happen. Stanford has two ranked opponents between them and Notre Dame though – #25 Washington State and #12 Washington. If the Cardinal split the Irish should see a ranked Stanford team in Palo Alto potentially standing between them and a playoff berth.
Ohio State, Clemson, and Oklahoma will all have their chances to make statements of their own to get into the Final 4. Ohio State faces Michigan State in two weeks and Iowa this weekend. There is also the chance that Michigan pulls off the miracle and finally beats Ohio State this year too. Clemson has NC State this weekend and then not much else before the ACC Championship game. Their loss to Syracuse, however, qualifies as the worst loss of all the losses from one loss teams.
The most problematic one loss team for Notre Dame could be Oklahoma. The Sooners face #11 Oklahoma State this weekend, #10 TCU next weekend, and have the Big 12 Championship game. If the Sooners navigate that with just their one loss, they will potentially have a more impressive resume than the Irish. What looked like a bad loss for Oklahoma to Iowa State looks better and better each week after the Cyclones just took down previously unbeaten TCU.
Again, the fact we are even debating this right now is still all pretty crazy. A year ago Notre Dame had a disastrous season and many – myself included – thought that it was time for a change at Notre Dame. Turns out we were all wrong. It was actually time for many changes. Brian Kelly rebuilt his program in a single off-season and all of those changes have Notre Dame poised to be firmly in the first playoff rankings that will come out tomorrow. If you saw that coming a year ago, hats off to you my friend. You might have been the only one whose name wasn’t Kelly or Swarbrick.