At the halfway point of the season, #13 Notre Dame has surpassed a lot of people’s expectations (including my own, as a fan of the program). They’re 5-1, with the lone defeat being a one point loss to #3 Georgia.
They have a top-25 offense (471 yards per game, 40 points per game), with one of the most formidable backfields and offensive lines in the entire country. They have a top-50 defense, giving up a modest 365 yards per game, while holding opponents to less than 17 points per game. They have experience, and they have youth. And, they’ve got a date this Saturday night with #11 USC coming to town.
Two years ago was the last time these two historic programs met while both were ranked, when DeShone Kizer, Will Fuller (below, toasting Adore’e Jackson) and company showed the Trojans who Daddy is.
While ND still leads the all-time series at 46-37-5, the programs have been evenly matched since 2010; the Irish have won 4 times, with USC at 3. Last year’s game was the last of the season for the hapless Irish, who lost 45-27 in LA.
It’s always an important matchup whenever these rivals meet, but this time, it’s a marquee matchup. Many don’t consider either of these teams to be in the playoff picture, though both teams lost against ranked opponents. I’m positive the Irish will win this one as 4.5 point favorites (more on that tomorrow), but I’m thinking a little bit bigger. I don’t typically like to get ahead of myself, but I can’t help it.
The Irish have a shot at making the College Football Playoff. I’m not saying it’s probable, or even likely. I’m not saying go to the bank with it. I’m saying, if they’re one of the last four teams standing, do not be surprised. This is how it can happen.
- They need to win out. Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? In their remaining six games, the Irish play against five ranked opponents. To this point, they’ve only played one ranked team (Michigan State is now ranked, but they weren’t when ND played them). Wins against USC, NC State, the U, Navy and Stanford would be a massive boost to their resume. This being said, the following scenarios are if, and only if, ND wins out.
- They need USC to win the PAC-12. USC should still make an appearance in this year’s PAC-12 Championship, as they’ve built a solid lead in conference play. However, if they win the PAC-12, which is conceivable, given how we’ve seen both Sam Darnold perform in big moments and the PAC-12 North beat up on each other. Supposing the Trojans can win the conference, they’d still have at least two losses, which would eliminate them from playoff contention.
- They need either The U or NC State to win the ACC. This is also quite plausible. The Coastal Division is pretty contested, as The U, Virginia Tech and Virginia are in a dog fight for the top spot. On the flip side, NC State is sitting at the top of the Atlantic Division with Clemson, who’s coming off of a bad loss to Syracuse and dealing with an ailing Kelly Bryant. Neither the Hurricanes nor the Wolfpack will have played a schedule as deep as Notre Dame’s, and if the Irish can beat the perspective ACC Champ, whomever that may be, it gives them a leg-up come selection time.
- They need the Big XII to continue to beat up on each other. This seems likely. TCU has already taken down Oklahoma State, but they still need to face Oklahoma, who already has a terrible loss on their resume at home against Iowa State. That’s not even to consider the fact that the Sooners and Cowboys still need to play. If the champion of that conference has two or more losses, they’re out too.
- They need Georgia to either win the SEC or win out until the SEC Championship. Alabama is basically a lock until they don’t win that conference. Georgia, who has already beaten ND on the year, has proven that they’re real and they’re here to stay. If Georgia makes a run all the way to the SEC Championship and plays a good game, it doesn’t matter what happens from there.
Should all of these happen, I would see the College Football Playoff as follows, in no particular order:
Alabama, Penn State (or the winner of the Big 10, which has the best high-end talent IMO), Georgia, Notre Dame.
If that happens, these would be the only teams that would have one loss or less. These would be the teams with the deepest talent on both sides of the ball. Finally, and I say this because I truly think it matters, these fanbases all travel well and bring A LOT of money into the NCAA.
So yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance. But, as realistic as each of these scenarios are in it of themselves, they need every domino to fall.
God, Country, Notre Dame.
Cover photo from RIVALS Notre Dame.
All other media from Tenor GIF Keyboard, Seldom Used Reserve.