Since the days of Knute Rockne, Notre Dame has been linked to, if not identified with, college football. Look up college football in the dictionary, and you will find a photo of the fighting leprechaun and a shamrock.
While followers of the sport can appreciate what the Golden Domers have meant to college football, that’s no reason they should be allowed to highjack the playoff.
Undefeated Notre Dame and the SEC represent all that is good, and bad, with college football.
Good because it takes some doing to go undefeated, even if their schedules are punctuated with tomato cans; Alabama is a particular culprit, taking time off from its SEC schedule to play The Citadel the week before playing Auburn.
Bad because based on their reputations, if Georgia were to beat Alabama this weekend and Clemson were to win the ACC title, three of the five Power 5 Conferences would probably be out of the College Football Playoffs. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the NCAA and the playoff committee envisioned when the playoff was introduced after the 2014 season.
If you watched ESPN and/or FOX over the weekend and today, you were bombarded with the projection that if Georgia were to upset Alabama this weekend in the SEC Championship game, both teams would go to the playoffs, joining Notre Dame, which can’t be bothered with the inconvenience of playing in a conference title game.
Notre Dame, which prides itself on being an independent and playing a tough schedule, played only three currently ranked teams: Michigan, Northwestern and Syracuse. (Two other teams, Stanford and Virginia Tech, have fallen out of the top 25.) The Irish get away with this because of their history and their rabid fan base, which travels well and boosts television ratings.
When the new system was introduced, it was argued that the conference championship games, for all practical purposes, would act as play-in games for the four-team playoff. However, that didn’t work for Ohio State and USC last year, or Penn State in 2016, or Stanford in 2015.
The current debate — assuming the loser of Alabama-Georgia stays home — is who goes if it comes down to Ohio State and Oklahoma. Ohio State arguably has the season’s most impressive victory of the season with its rout of Michigan, scoring 62 points against a team that had been ranked fourth in the nation and first in defense.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, has the nation’s No. 1 offense, but it gave up at least 40 points five times, including four straight games to close the regular season.
If it comes down to those two, we’ll hear a lot about strength of schedule or which team was more dominant in its conference title game, which has me wondering: If conference championships are that important, then how come Notre Dame gets away with not playing one?
The best part about Notre Dame going undefeated is it could open the door for something that should have been done in 2014: an eight-team playoff. That system could feature each of the Power 5 conference winners — from the Big Ten, the SEC, the PAC-12, the ACC and the Big 12 — plus the three highest-ranked teams regardless of conference affiliation.
This would open the door for smaller-conference teams and, of course, Notre Dame, without bumping off the Power 5 conference champions.