Does Notre Dame football having the week off during championship week hurt the Irish’ College Football Playoff chances?
Like many others, I celebrated Notre Dame’s win over USC for a number of reasons. First off, it just feels good to beat the Trojans. More importantly, it meant that Notre Dame football finished the regular season unbeaten, and all but assured a spot in the College Football Playoff.
After a slow start to the game — which was due to a number of reasons — winning was a huge relief. It has generally been accepted that an undefeated Notre Dame makes the playoff, and a one-loss Notre Dame has almost no chance.
This discrepancy as it pertains to making the playoff is largely due to not being in a conference, as the Irish don’t play in a conference championship game. Therefore, they have one less chance to impress the committee, and those who did play will be fresher in the committee’s collective minds.
Assuming that Alabama beats Georgia, it would appear this year that either Ohio St or Oklahoma will end up in the College Football Playoff. They both have suffered a loss, and have glaring issues, but an impressive performance in just one game will supposedly make that irrelevant.
So, how important are conference championships?
Given that last season — based almost solely on reputation — Alabama made the playoff without even playing in the SEC Championship Game, conference championships are overrated. They’re a great goal for programs to strive for, but they are not all they’re cracked up to be in regards to making the playoff.
Take this season. Now imagine that everything was the same, except Notre Dame was 11-1 and not undefeated. Now, for the hypothetical, assume Alabama and Clemson win their respective conference championship games. If Ohio St, and Oklahoma were to lose, or if even one of them were to lose, how do you keep out a one loss Notre Dame?
The answer is, you don’t. Notre Dame would have been in fine shape to make the playoff over any two-loss team. This is due to a number of factors, like strength of schedule and reputation. Most schools do need to either go undefeated or win their conference to have a shot at the playoff. Notre Dame is not one of them, however.
Pundits declaring that Notre Dame needed to go undefeated to make the playoff were wrong, and they’ll be wrong going forward. As far as the College Football Playoff is concerned, conference championships matter, but aren’t everything. It’s worth remembering in future years, when the Irish come out flat in “must-win” games, because “must-win” has been an overstatement in the College Football Playoff era.