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How an Undefeated Notre Dame Team Can Still Miss the College Football Playoff

Cover Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

One of the most widely-held beliefs surrounding this year’s College Football Playoff race is that an undefeated Notre Dame team is guaranteed a spot in the elusive final four spots come December.

But there’s a reason why widely-held beliefs and facts aren’t synonymous in the English language. 

Let’s not forget the committee’s ultimate goal is to select the best four teams in the nation for the playoff – not the most-deserving four teams in the nation.

Alabama, Georgia and the Two-Team SEC Dilemma:

Unless Alabama loses to LSU by 40+ points in Baton Rouge this Saturday, it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario that doesn’t end with the Crimson Tide in one of the four playoff spots. Alabama is strikingly more dominant than it was last season, and the committee still gave the 2017-18 team the nod for the No. 4 spot after the Crimson Tide failed to even win their own division of the SEC conference.

This allowed a one-loss Georgia team to win the SEC and earn a playoff spot as a second SEC team in the four-team cut last season. Sound familiar after seeing where the Bulldogs stand this season? If they win the SEC Championship, they’re in and, as we mentioned, Alabama probably is too. That leaves only two more spots available.

Clemson and the ACC:

If the SEC delivers two teams, you then need to turn your attention to the Clemson Tigers. Clemson has the easiest path to an undefeated ACC champion finish among all current Power-Five teams, so this one is pretty simple. If the Tigers go 13-0 and win the ACC, they’re in. 

Oklahoma as a Big 12 Dark Horse:

While the Oklahoma Sooners’ playoff hype has died down since losing to Texas on a last-second field goal in the Red River Rivalry back in Week 5, Oklahoma is still in the hunt. Though the Sooners need some help from Texas, with a win over West Virginia this weekend, if Oklahoma can run the table and beat WVU on the road in Week 13 they’re half way there. The Longhorns would need to win out as well leading to a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game, which would put the Sooners are in a prime situation to then make the playoff. 

If their only loss of the season comes from a solid Texas team, and Oklahoma defeats them in convincing fashion in a rematch, the Sooners should be on the forefront of consideration for one of the four bids.

Michigan and the Big Ten:

Finally, we have the Big Ten dilemma. Ohio State’s loss at Purdue is a similarly-damning loss to the way the Buckeyes were beaten by Iowa last season, which means the Big Ten berth effectively rests on Michigan. If Michigan wins out with a win over a one-loss Ohio State team on the road in Columbus and then go on to defeat a two-loss and streaking Iowa Hawkeyes team in the Big Ten Championship, they’re in too.

Even though Notre Dame defeated Michigan in the season-opener at home by seven points, the committee likely isn’t going to put as much stock into that Week 1 result as many Fighting Irish fans might think. Notre Dame won that game with a different starting quarterback, and the Wolverines’ transfer QB Shea Patterson clearly needed at least one game to adjust into Jim Harbaugh’s new offensive system before hitting his stride.

Notre Dame’s Strength of Record (SOR) and Schedule (SOR):

Here’s something that Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Georgia and Oklahoma all have in common: they’re ranked No. 1-5 respectively in current strength of schedule (SOS) by S&P+Résumé rankings. Meanwhile, Notre Dame (No. 17 SOS) sits next to Appalachian State (No. 18) and Purdue (No. 19). Funny you don’t hear much of an argument for the playoff caliber of either of those two teams.

The best two teams remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule are Northwestern and No. 21 Syracuse, which aren’t exactly the marquee wins the Fighting Irish need to edge out a team like Michigan that still has a shot to add wins over a Top-10 Ohio State and Top-15 Penn State team to their résumé by the end of the regular season.

The Importance of Conference Championships:
If the committee doesn’t award a 12-1 Power-Five-conference-champion Michigan a spot in the playoff under these circumstances, then every Power Five team should start refusing to play conference title games to give themselves the same apparent advantage as Notre Dame would have.

If the rest of the college football season plays out this way, then Notre Dame will be out on the outside looking in.


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David Hayes is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, David Hayes also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username DavidWHayes. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.



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