Notre Dame did not play on Saturday, but the playoff picture for the Fighting Irish got brighter anyway. As it stands now, the teams currently projected to participate in this year’s final four put even more distance between themselves and their pursuers.
For obvious reasons, win-loss records are secondary this season to each team’s body of work. The shortened season and the absence of interconference games has not helped teams from certain Power-5 conferences make a convincing case for consideration.
Take the Big-10, for instance. Please. The playoff selection committee has given Ohio State lots of love, but the Buckeyes will not have played anyone except a good but not particularly powerful Indiana team. They held off the Hoosiers by a touchdown at home, and waltzed past a few other mediocrities.
Ohio State’s statement game will have to be the conference championship matchup next week against…wait for it…Northwestern. The Wildcats are not exactly a powerhouse, so the Buckeyes will have proved exactly nothing when they beat them.
The PAC-12 is even worse. USC has entertained us with last minute heroics to edge rival UCLA and the two Arizona schools. In other words, they haven’t beaten anyone with a pulse. The quality of football played in the West this season reminds me of a sandlot seven-on-seven league. The Trojans can capture the conference flag next week by beating a mediocre, unranked Washington squad. Troy does not deserve serious consideration, but they’ll get some because there is no one else left to hype.
A pair of two-loss teams will face each other in the Big-12 championship. Oklahoma and Iowa State will square off in a meaningless contest that will take place only because ESPN is paying the schools to play it.
Alabama is a clear number one team, but even the SEC is having a hard time making a case for a second playoff participant. Florida went down again last night and will earn a third loss next week when the Tide roll over them. Texas A&M will plead its case, but the Aggies lost by 28 to Bama and will end the season with a snoozer against lowly Tennessee.
No one on the Committee is taking Cincinnati seriously, so I won’t, either.
That leaves Alabama, Notre Dame, and Clemson at the top. The rematch between the Irish and the Tigers will be another competitive slugfest, but these teams have clearly separated themselves from the other playoff hopefuls. Miami had been screaming about its omission from the ACC Championship Game, but they were exposed and humiliated by North Carolina this afternoon.
With all that said, only a few questions remain. If Notre Dame beats Clemson again, should the Tigers be displaced by Texas A&M as the fourth seed? Does anyone want to see Alabama pummel the Aggies again? Not me.
If the full-strength Tigers beat Notre Dame, should the Irish victory on November 7 be discounted and the team dropped from the top four? If you watched that game, or any Irish outing this season, you would know that is a ridiculous position. Besides, who among the cast of pretenders has a better body of work? The answer is clearly “No one”.
The only uncertainty remaining is the quality of Ohio State’s resume. By ranking them fourth, the Committee has made it clear they will get a slot over the Aggies and anyone else. The Notre Dame-Clemson game will simply determine the final rankings and the semifinal matchups. The Committee will hear whining from Aggie, Trojan, and even Cincinnati fans, but its just white noise. Besides, the ND-Clemson loser will have to play Alabama next. No one else really wants that.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Florida could beat Alabama next week. Northwestern could take down Ohio State. Notre Dame or Clemson could win convincingly and damage the other team’s chances. Just don’t put money on it. Each of these scenarios is highly unlikely.