Notre Dame football is not playing this weekend since they already collected their 12th datapoint against FBS teams, while numerous others still have to do so this weekend in conference championship games. The results of Saturday’s games will determine whether or not the Irish are playoff-bound under new head coach Marcus Freeman or if they’ll take a pissed-off squad into a New Years’ 6 bowl.
Earlier this week, the committee said that they would consider player and coach availability in their final rankings. Still, with Freeman in place as head coach and none of the assistants following Brian Kelly to LSU, the Irish have stability on their staff. There is also news that Kyle Hamilton is trending to play should the Irish reach the playoffs.
To move up two spots in the rankings and into the top four, Notre Dame will need two teams in front of them to lose or three if one of the teams to lose is top-ranked Georgia.
Big 12 Championship: #9 Baylor vs. #5 Oklahoma State – 12:00 PM ET
The first game of importance for Notre Dame is the first of the day. Oklahoma State jumped Notre Dame in the CFP rankings for squeaking out a win over Oklahoma while the Sooners head coach mulled over USC’s offer. Oh wait, nevermind, he only started to think about that job the next morning. Obviously, Notre Dame needs Baylor to win this one for an ideal scenario.
The Bears are 5.5 point underdogs and lost the first meeting earlier this year between the two schools 24-14, so a win would certainly be an upset. It’s hard to beat someone twice in the same year, though. The game was a three-point contest with just over two minutes remaining, too, before the Cowboys added a late TD to put it away. Oklahoma State also is coming off an emotionally draining rivalry game last weekend.
SEC Championship: #1 Georgia vs. #3 Alabama – 4:00 PM ET
Next up on the schedule is the SEC Championship game. Notre Dame needs Georgia to win this game because if Alabama pulls off the upset, things will get dicey for Notre Dame. The Bulldogs are the top-ranked team in the country for a reason and come in a 6.5 point favorite.
Alabama is coming off an unimpressive win over Auburn in 4 OTs when the Tigers’ backup quarterback would barely walk by the end of the game. Alabama also struggled with Arkansas two weeks ago and LSU four weeks ago. They aren’t the juggernaut they were last year on their way to a national title.
Some think even a 2-loss Alabama could get in over Notre Dame if the game is close, but that seems hard to fathom given all of their struggles recently. It’s been a week of things that are hard to fathom, though.
AAC Championship: #21 Houston vs. #4 Cincinatti – 4:00 PM ET
Cincinnati enters this game as a 10.5 point favorite even though Houston sports an 11-1 record and has won 11 in a row. The Cougars lost their opener to Texas Tech but have won every game since, including a win over then #19 ranked SMU.
This one is complicated to me because there seems to be a widespread belief that if Cincy loses, Notre Dame jumps them but given the committee’s uneven record of using head to head this year, I am still skeptical. Not only am I skeptical, but I feel like head to head should matter, so while chaos on Saturday is good, if the second domino for Notre Dame to fall is Cincinnati and no others do (outside of Bama), I’ll be nervous heading into Sunday.
Big Ten Championship: #2 Michigan vs. #13 Iowa – 8:00 PM ET
Michigan is the largest favorite of the weekend, coming in at -11, but like Oklahoma State, they are coming off an emotional win over a rival. When you lose as many games in a row as Michigan did to Ohio State as badly as they did, it takes an emotional toll on a team when you finally win. That is Notre Dame’s best hope in this one because the Irish need Iowa to win this one.
On a personal note, this is the one game that I really hope goes Notre Dame’s way just because who wants to see Michigan in the playoffs in the event the Irish get left out?
Notre Dame fans should hope for more than two of these to go their way just to ensure the committee can’t leave out the Irish, so root for chaos. There’s been a lot of that going around lately, so here’s hoping it continues.