After a close win in Southern California, is Notre Dame a lock for the College Football Playoff?
The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish capped off their 2018 regular season campaign with a victory over the University of Southern California Trojans to finish the year 12-0. This rivalry matchup is always a tough game and Saturday night under the lights was no exception.
The Irish seemed a little flat to start the game, allowing USC to jump out to a 10-0 lead, and if it weren’t for a couple of early turnovers by the Trojans, it could have been much worse. Nevertheless, we don’t live in a world of woulda, coulda, shoulda, and the reality is the Irish did enough to win the game and remain undefeated.
The win has put them squarely in the College Football Championship — at least for the moment. I know, I know, how on earth could I use a qualifier like that? They are third in the playoff ranking (behind Alabama and Clemson) and all of the teams behind them (including No. 4 Georgia) have at least one loss. So they’re a lock, right?
Well, the short answer is I believe they are. However, it’s at least worth asking whether there is any scenario in which they are left out. As unlikely as it seems, we haven’t really seen the CFB thrown into absolute chaos yet during its young existence. So what if this is the year? Consider the following scenario plays out.
Clemson handles their business and wins the ACC Championship game. However, Georgia rolls into Atlanta and miraculously find a way to get the best of Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Is it likely? No. Is it possible? Still, probably not, but this is all for fun, so hear me out.
If that were to happen then you have to assume that Georgia and their one loss to then No. 13 LSU on the road, will have punched their ticket. You also have to assume that Alabama would still be a lock despite a loss to Georgia on a neutral field.
The question then becomes would that win over Alabama carry enough weight to vault the Dawgs over ND, pushing the Irish to No. 4? Yes, Georgia would have one loss but would also sport three top-10 wins and five wins over the top-25. At the same time, ND would have wins over then No. 7 Stanford, No. 14 Michigan, and No. 12 Syracuse. Based on the quality of wins, and the quality of LSU’s one loss, it’s possible.
Still with me, or have you cursed me out with swear words that didn’t exist before you started reading this article? If you’re still with me, here’s where things get interesting. Either Ohio State (who embarrassed No. 4 Michigan) or Oklahoma will occupy the No. 5 spot. So could one of those two teams potentially leapfrog an undefeated Notre Dame?
Oklahoma plays No. 12 ranked Texas, and OSU plays No. 19 Northwestern in their respective Conference Championship games. If either goes out and demolishes their opponent, would it be enough to supplant Notre Dame?
OSU would have wins against No. 9 Penn State, No. 15 TCU, No. 18 Michigan State, and No. 19 Northwestern. Oklahoma would have wins over No. 13 West Virginia and No. 14 Texas. Even if OU blows the doors off of Texas, they don’t have the marquee wins Notre Dame has, so they are unlikely to be a threat.
But if OSU puts on an impressive display against Northwestern, they can go toe-to-toe with Notre Dame’s wins. The problem for OSU is that have a terrible 29-point loss to Purdue on their resume. Notre Dame’s resume is unblemished. So while it’s unlikely either team would pass the Golden Domers, fans will want to root for Northwestern and Texas — you know, just to be safe.