Chaos No More: Notre Dame Eliminated from Playoff Contention, Await NY6 Pairing

In a season of chaos in a week defined by it for Notre Dame football, not enough of it happened on Saturday for Notre Dame to back into the playoffs, so now the Irish wait for their NY6 opponent.

The day started well enough for Notre Dame, with Baylor holding on to beat Oklahoma State in the Big12 Championship to knock out of one roadblock in Notre Dame’s way. All the Irish needed from there was for Georgia to finally beat Alabama in the SEC Championship. But, unfortunately, Georgia gonna Georgia. The Bulldogs were outclassed by the Crimson Tide despite being 6.5 point favorites. Georgia jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, and things looked great for the Irish, but then Alabama remembered they were Alabama and beat up on Georgia like they tend to do.

After Alabama dispatched Georgia with relative ease, Notre Dame’s only hopes were an upset by Iowa. We said on the podcast that the only thing going for Iowa would be a potential emotional letdown after Michigan finally beat Ohio State. Welp that didn’t happen. Michigan pounded Iowa 42-3 and made the Hawkeyes look like a group of 5 school, not a conference division winner.

And with that, Notre Dame is headed to a New Year’s 6 Bowl – likely the Fiesta. It’s never a good thing whenever you need help from someone else to get in, and we learned that yesterday. Notre Dame does only have itself to blame, though. The loss to Cincinnati in October will haunt this program for years. Amazingly, that loss very likely could have changed the entire trajectory of the program for years to come. Had Notre Dame won, maybe Brian Kelly doesn’t take the money and run to Baton Rouge last week since a 12-0 Irish squad would have had their playoff bid already locked up?

The Irish feel like a lock for 5th seed when the final rankings come out tonight with a chance to finish in the top 5 this season in back-to-back years. The only question left for the playoff rankings is the order of the final four teams in. With Alabama’s win, they likely jump Michigan and move into the top spot to avoid a rematch with Georgia in the semifinals. On the other hand, the committee could also bump Michigan to 1, Alabama to 2, Cincinnati to 3, and drop Georiga to 4 to avoid a ‘Bama-UGA rematch in the semis. Either way, it feels like Michigan will get Georiga, and Cincinnati will get to learn what it is like to take on Alabama in the post-season.

If anything, finishing 5th with a loss and no signature win should have Notre Dame fans at least slightly optimistic about the Irish’s future chance at a playoff game with a loss. We all assumed that the Irish could never make the playoffs with a loss. Still, they’ll finish one spot away despite a loss and not having any other signature wins thanks to Wisconsin, North Carolina, USC, and Virginia, all vastly underperforming relative to their expectations this year.

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  1. I am sure that there are those who will be “haunted for years” by the loss to Cincinnati this year. But I’m not one of them. Those are people who spend their years looking for something to be haunted by, and that ain’t me.

    Overall, this was a great year. It is the sort of year in which Kelly excels, taking a team with all sorts of problems and getting it going in the right direction. If you will remember, an 11-1 season very much exceeds the expectations of most for this year. Only Bryan Driskell among the pundits predicted a 12-0 season as a realistic possibility, and here many of us are, ruing the loss to Cincinnati and thinking about what might have been.

    Truth is, Notre Dame has a monkey off its back, and that monkey was Brian Kelly. I mean no disrespect to Kelly by saying this. He did a great job (if a rather slow one) of putting Notre Dame back together when it was completely broken. But for all his talk about winning a national championship, it was pretty clear from some of the things that he said that he didn’t think he could recruit for anything better than third place at Notre Dame. He didn’t believe that he could put us over the top, so he did the right thing and left.

    As for the talk about how Kelly made his exit, yes, it was pretty tone-deaf. But those of us who say he should have waited until the season is over aren’t considering the fallout over doing a bunk after early signing day. That comes up in 10 days.

    I’m not sure I like having an early signing day before the seasons end, personally. I know that the idea is to have coaches able to concentrate on playoffs and bowl games, but it does also encourage and even compel the sorts of abrupt departures that we’ve seen this year in Kelly and Lincoln Riley.

    1. ND wasn’t readty for a Cincinnati-calibre eam in week 5 of the season. It was remarkably unready for anyone until halfway through the season.
      And that is on Brian Kelly.

      Ding dong, the witch is dead!

  2. Hard to say how much it factored but one of the reasons Freeman was hired so quickly was to ensure a playoff bid should it arise. Now that is over I hope that wasn’t a huge part of it. He’s essentially the guy for the next 5 years and will learn on the job at a program where the only place left to go is the natty.

    1. I think it was probably more important to Notre Dame to have a solution in place before early signing day on Dec. 15. We didn’t want recruits to be wondering who their coach was going to be when it was time to sign, and then put off signing until February.

    2. The main immediate benefit of the Freeman hire is to hold the recruiting efforts, and the class itself, intact. It appears it may have done that.

      I would like to think that ND admin is wise enough to have viewed the prospect of making the playoff as another one of the RISKS of hiring Freeman, not a selling point.
      That putting a first-time HC in such a ludicrously unhealthy amount of chaos and stress on Day 6 of his tenure is a really bad idea. And that if it happened to work out that way, ND already discussed contingencies to provide an army of extra resources to offset the workload.

      Preparing for a NY6 bowl will already be like drinking from a firehose for Freeman.
      Interim coaches can and have done a good job of this before. But the expectations on them, even ones who want to named the eventual coach, are WAY lower than they are for Freeman.
      He IS the guy. And ND fans expect this game to be a 25 point blowout, regardless of opponent.

  3. When I think about Next year and beyond I feel the future is very bright for Notredame and they are close now to being a yearly playoff contender like under Ara,Lou Devine etc. My main concern next year and beyond is can Freeman and Tommy recruit and develop great quarterbacks. I don’t want to end up like Georgia. Georgia got everything but a great quarterback. But look what happens when you dont have a Bryce Young and Alabama does. as far as Notredame goes right now it looks like Tyler Buchner. The question is is he elite? Right now it’s very hard to project.

    1. I totally agree….Remember Kelly came in as some sort of QB and offensive guru. Also remember things got much better when he finally gave up play calling for good after the bad 16 season. I never felt he was committed enough to the run and to Reese’s credit I believe he is. Buchner was a solid 4 star recruit that has break away speed. Our running game should be scary with him, Tyre, Diggs, and Esteem, who brings the Thunder to all these other guys lightening. Buchner has a good arm but looked a lot shakier as a passer than I expected. His best stuff was the 1/2 field rollout or deep throws, but most of the screen,flat, slants, and timing stuff he was mostly terrible at. He did’t play his SR year in HS so he essentially went from being a HS JR to playing as a freshman at ND. I think we will know by how they are using him in the spring game if he is more Tony Rice or Ian Book. Kelly built a solid recruiting program and it led to upgraded talent and depth. If Freeman can build on it and upgrade QB and CB we will have parity with anyone talent wise. Speaking of QB talent, was Ian the only QB Kelly ever had drafted at ND? He recuited plenty of 4 star QBs but seemed to ruin or drive a lot of them off.

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