A few weeks ago I wrote about how ESPN currently is favoring the Irish in every single game in 2018. Well, it seems like ESPN is awfully high on Notre Dame this pre-season, because they are now listing the Irish as one of the favorites for the 2018 College Football Playoffs as well.
Yesterday the world wide leader posted a playoff predictor piece from their Analytics department. The point of the article was to show which teams had the best statistical change of making the playoffs. Notre Dame came in at #4 with a 42% chance to make the playoffs. Reminder, the top 4 teams make the College Football Playoffs.
The only teams ahead of Notre Dame are Clemson (67%), Alabama (47%), and Georgia (46%). All thee made the 2018 playoffs with Alabama edging out Georgia in OT for the national championship. If such a scenario played out, Notre Dame would face Clemson in a first round playoff game.
Sensing that their lofty ranking of the current #11 team in the Coaches Poll might generate some attention, ESPN went more in depth on the Irish than most teams. Here’s a snippet of their analysis.
Notre Dame’s schedule strikes a nice balance in 2018. It’s difficult enough that a strong record would be an accomplishment and would catch the committee’s eye, but easy enough that 11-1 — probably the record it needs to accomplish — is within the realm of possibility. Of course, plenty rides on Week 1, when Notre Dame takes on Michigan. A win over the Wolverines would boost the Fighting Irish’s chances of reaching the playoff to 53 percent, while a loss would drop them to 23 percent.
Note that last line about the Michigan game. It is not hyperbole to say that the Michigan game in September 1 is one of the most important contests in the Brian Kelly era. A win sets up Notre Dame for a potential playoff run. A loss and… well let’s not even think about a loss at this point yet. It’s still early August and my confidence level is reaching irrational levels.
Speaking of the Wolverines. Michigan is the Notre Dame opponent with the highest chance of making the playoffs according to ESPN at just 8%. Stanford 6%, USC 2%, and Florida State < 1% were the only other Notre Dame foes in 2018 listed.
Some Notre Dame fans will undoubtably scoff at this, but a playoff run is not unrealistic at all for Notre Dame. The Irish entered November last year in firm possession of a playoff spot before another November meltdown. A veteran defense, a 2nd year starting QB, and a second year under Matt Balis should help mitigate the risks of that happening again this year.
Notre Dame’s schedule – aside from the terrible decisions to move games in November away from Notre Dame Stadium – does set up nicely too. Notre Dame will have opportunities at the beginning and end of September (Michigan, Stanford), beginning of October (at Virginia Tech), and beginning and end of November (Florida State and USC) to impress the committee.
Notre Dame still has a lot of questions to answer between now and September 1, but it is becoming more and more clear that the path to the playoffs is clearly there for Notre Dame. What is not known at this point is whether or not Brian Kelly and Brandon Wimbush will be able to the guide the Irish down that road this fall or if we’ll encounter yet another detour like we saw last November.