Seriously, Notre Dame has shot at return to College Football Playoff

·3 min read

There were plenty of reasons to write off Notre Dame as a College Football Playoff contender after the Irish lost Oct. 2 to Cincinnati, 24-13, in South Bend.

The Irish were 4-1, but even those four victories looked either shaky or closer than anticipated. The defense wasn’t settled. The offense was hit or miss. There was even a debate about who should play quarterback.

Maybe most important, Notre Dame’s usually impressive schedule lacked any opponents who could provide a signature victory. USC and Stanford were a mess. UNC hadn’t panned out. Even the teams it defeated — Florida State, Toledo, Purdue and Wisconsin — appeared just so-so at the time.

Yet here we are, not even two months later, and the Irish are very much alive in the playoff chase, a slow and steady climb back into contention fueled by the fact Notre Dame hasn’t lost another game and, in part, because just about everyone else in America has.

Notre Dame is 10-1 heading into a season-ending game with Stanford. Beat the 3-8 Cardinal and the Irish will sit back and hope for multiple paths to the playoffs to open up for them.

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 20: Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey (7) puts pressure on Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Jordan Yates (13) during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on November 20, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN.  (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey (7) puts pressure on Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Jordan Yates (13) on Saturday. (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While predicting what a human committee will decide is imperfect, it stands to reason Notre Dame probably needs any two of the following to happen:

None of these are far-fetched. And if any two happen, then the playoff committee is about out of obvious contenders. It would likely need to put a two-loss team in ahead of the Irish and while there may be some debate on that, would the committee really?

The two-loss Tide? That would mean an SEC title game rematch between No. 1 seed Georgia and No. 4 seed Alabama. If the first one isn’t all that close, then why do it again? It’s not like this has been a vintage Nick Saban team.

A two-loss non-Big Ten champion — either Ohio State or Michigan? Perhaps, but that wouldn’t be an easy sell considering that team would be ending the season with a loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The same Wisconsin team that Notre Dame defeated 41-13 in September.

After that, you’re looking at two-loss Ole Miss, Pitt, Utah, Baylor, a Big 12 team coming off a loss or who knows who else. None pop off the page.

This certainly isn’t a vintage Notre Dame team. It isn’t one of Brian Kelly’s best — although it has shown a lot of young talent and an admirable ability to win. It doesn’t have that impressive of a resume.

But there aren’t any other options.

If the Big 12 cannibalizes itself and Georgia rolls the Tide, then this is pretty viable:

1. Georgia. 2. Big Ten Champ. 3. Cincinnati. 4. Notre Dame.

Improbable? Well, it once felt that way. That was October, though. This is November,w and in a season with so many unexpected results, here we are, with the Fighting Irish somehow, some way pushing for a third playoff appearance in four seasons.

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