What Notre Dame’s #3 Ranking in 1st CFP Rankings Means

The College Football Playoff Committee raised a few eyebrows on Tuesday night when they ranked Notre Dame 3rd in their first set of rankings over every other 1-loss team and the two unbeatens who have yet to really beat anyone – Miami and Wisconsin.  This initial ranking not only gives us some insight into what the committee values, but it also gives us a pretty good idea that IF Notre Dame were to win out, the Irish are almost assuredly going to make the playoffs.

By ranking Notre Dame third with two more future opponents on the schedule ranked in the top 20 (Miami #10 and Stanford #20), it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Irish would be left out of the playoff mix if they won out.  Even Notre Dame’s “easy games” over the next four weeks are against teams that currently have winning records.  Wake Forest is 5-3 and Navy is 5-2.

These initial rankings also give us an indication that the committee values convincing wins very highly.  Notre Dame with one loss but three convincing wins over ranked opponents is currently seven spots higher than next weekend’s opponent Miami who enters this weekend unbeaten for their showdown with Virginia Tech.  Wisconsin has been an equally unimpressive unbeaten team and they sit #9 in the rankings.  Notre Dame on the other hand has beaten three teams currently in the top 25 by 20 or more points.

Notre Dame is not totally safe though.  The three one loss teams directly behind them currently all have plenty of opportunities to make an impression on the committee.  #4 Clemson faces the same NC State team Notre Dame dispatched 35-14 this weekend in addition to the ACC Championship game.  Oklahoma sitting at #5 gets a chance to impress this weekend with #11 Oklahoma State and #8 TCU next weekend on top of potentially the Big 12 Championship.  Ohio State at #6 might actually be the least worrisome since they only have #24 Michigan State and then potentially Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship.  Even winning out those games might not be enough to surpass a hypothetical 11-1 Notre Dame team based on how the teams sit now.

In the meantime, Notre Dame needs its quality wins to remain quality wins while continuing to win each weekend in order to maintain its #3 ranking.  A Michigan State upset of Ohio State and/or a NC State upset of Clemson this weekend would be be double whammys for the Irish.  USC winning its next three games to finish the regular season 10-2 with an additional win in the Pac 12 title game would be pretty nice as well given Notre Dame’s 49-14 beatdown of the Trojans two weeks ago.  USC sits at #17 now, but if they win out, they will easily be in the top 10.  It might be impossible for some Notre Dame fans to consider cheering for USC, but remember, it’s for the greater good.

Having Stanford enter that Thanksgiving weekend contest with no more losses than the two they already have would be pretty nice for the Irish too.  With Washington State and Washington in the way of that though, the best we might be able to hope for is a split.

All of this of course becomes totally and completely moot if Notre Dame drops any of its remaining games or if they have a November like they did two years ago when they found themselves in a similar situation entering the final month of the year.  In 2015 the Irish were #4 in the CFP rankings before lackluster showings against Wake Forest and Boston College essentially knocked the Irish out of contention long before Stanford officially kicked them out of the race as time expired in Palo Alto Thanksgiving weekend.

Reminder, Notre Dame plays Wake Forest and Stanford again this November on top of unbeaten however unimpressive Miami and a Navy team that beat the Irish last year.  So going 4-0 this month is far from a given.  All that said, Notre Dame figures to be at minimum a touchdown favorite in every game remaining on its schedule.

Notre Dame still has a long, long way to go to reach the playoffs, but their play over the last month has made discussing a playoff berth possible and their 3rd place ranking in the first set of rankings pretty much makes the prospects of it happening likely IF the Irish continue to take care of business on the field.  Now the committee could of course decide later that some other team’s overall resume ends up being more impressive, but by sitting 3rd right now, Notre Dame really doesn’t even have to do any scoreboard watching – just keep doing what they’re doing and it’s going to be damn hard to keep them out.

That work starts this weekend with a pretty good Wake Forest team.  The Demon Deacons come into town sitting at 5-3, but Notre Dame has already beaten better teams by a lot this year so the committee will be expecting to see Notre Dame win convincingly this weekend.  A repeat performance like we saw in 2015 when Notre Dame looked lethargic at home against Wake and the Irish open themselves up to some reseeding next week already.  The Irish are currently a 14 point favorite.

We’ll have a full guide to all of the games to keep an eye on this weekend that will impact the playoff race with regards to Notre Dame.  If the Irish keep winning like they’ve been, other games might not matter.  Just in case they do though, we’ll have you covered.

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  1. I think the most dangerous team for us is OK. They have a gauntlet of their own to run. If they go undefeated the rest of the way and win the Big 12 championship, and Clemson does the same, we could be in trouble. I’m less worried about OSU because they won’t have too many more opportunities to show their stuff. I think after they got mauled last year by Clemson, the committee will not be as willing to stick their neck out for them if there are better alternatives to pick from.

  2. I actually think ND wins out to finish 11-1 and falls from #3 to #6 like TCU in 2014. I think the lack of a 13th game is going to kill the Irish. Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State will all finish 11-1 then get one more chance to prove it with a conference championship game while ND sits home idle.

    My prediction is
    1. Alabama (13-0)
    2. Clemson (12-1)
    3. Georgia (12-1)
    4. Oklahoma (12-1)
    5. Ohio State (12-1)
    6. Notre Dame (11-1)

    I really hope I’m wrong.

  3. As unthinkable as it is, we also need to be rooting for Miami to beat Va Tech this weekend so they remain undefeated and in the top 10 for our game. A loss to the Hokies will lessen the impact of an Irish victory in the Sunshine state.

  4. Also, I’m ok with rooting for USC for their other games. They are a rival, yes, but I don’t have any special dislike for them most of the time. I reserve that for Michigan and Miami. A dream year would be for ND to win the NC and for Michigan and Miami to go 0-12. Will it ever happen? No, but I can still dream.

    1. I’ll share your dream if Boston College goes 0-12, too (and maybe gets the death penalty just because).

      That game in ’93 still hurts. I don’t think Michigan or Miami have ever done anything that painful. Only the phantom clip hurts more.

  5. I was happy to see ND at number 3. The Irish are very much in the drivers seat at this point. While it’s true these aren’t like the old BCS rankings were teams were safe as long as they win out, with ND’s upcoming schedule they should be able to maintain their position if they continue to win out.

    Now that does not mean haters aren’t going to hate. I ran into one this morning, “ND always gets the benefit of the doubt.” Um. Do some people even bother to look at the games, or at least the scores. And we had a 1 point loss to the number 1 team in the country. That is more impressive then any other 1 loss teams right now, and some undefeateds even. Clemson probably has the most to worry about, mostly from OK. If OK wins out, their end of season record will be more impressive than Clemson.

    I was also glad to see the committee didn’t have the same OSU bias as the AP.

    But for ND, just take care of business. Continue to blow out teams then they are definitely in. Even a close win or two they are probably in, but why not make sure :).

  6. I did a little analysis based on Sagarin rankings.

    “Major” games are Sagarin top 35, “decent” games are 36-99, and “joke” games are 100+. The comparison assumes all teams win out their regular season, and that they all win their championship, with, of course, the exception of the loser of Georgia vs. Alabama.

    Georgia’s “major” games are Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, Auburn and, presumably, Alabama. “Decent” games are App State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri and Kentucky. Samford is their “joke” game. Five majors, seven decents, one joke.

    Alabama’s “major” games are FSU, Auburn, Mississippi State and, presumably, Georgia. “Decent” games are Fresno State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU. Mercer is their “joke” game. Four majors, eight decents, one joke.

    Notre Dame’s “major” games are Georgia, MSU, USC, NC State, Wake Forest, Miami-Florida and Stanford. “Decent” games are Temple, Boston College, North Carolina and Navy. Miami-Ohio is the “joke” game. Seven majors (with one loss), four decents, one joke.

    Clemson’s “major” games are Auburn, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, NC State, FSU and whoever they play in the championship. “Decent” games are Louisville, Boston College, Syracuse and South Carolina. “Joke” games are Kent State and the Citadel. Seven majors, four decents (with one loss), two jokes.

    Oklahoma’s “major” games are Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Iowa State, Texas and the championship game if they make it. “Decent” games are Tulane, Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Baylor (they’re right at 100, but we’ll throw them in to be fair). “Joke games are UTEP and Kansas. Six majors (one loss), five decents, two jokes.

    Ohio State’s “major” games are Oklahoma, Penn State, Iowa, MSU, Michigan and presumably Wisconsin if they make it that far. “Decent” games are Indiana, Army, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska. “Joke” games are UNLV and Illinois. Six majors (one loss), five decents, two jokes.

    These data suggest that the order as it stands now could very well hold up. Georgia has better wins than Alabama. Clemson lost to a worse team than Notre Dame and has an extra joke. The extra joke cancels out the advantage of the championship game; edge to Notre Dame. Oklahoma: one less major win than Clemson, also two jokes. Belongs after Clemson. Ohio State: Same as Oklahoma in comparison to Clemson; lost head-to-head with Oklahoma, so belongs behind them.

    If Georgia beats Alabama, Alabama would be very close to Notre Dame. Against the fact that Alabama has an extra win is the fact that Notre Dame’s wins are against stronger teams on the average.

    So, if Notre Dame wins out, they will probably finish at number 3, and possibly number 2.

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