Sep 26, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly leads the team onto the field before the game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The third installment of the 2015 College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, with Notre Dame landing in the fourth spot for the second consecutive week.
The Fighting Irish outed both Iowa and Oklahoma State in respective fashion with neither team holding a firm edge over Notre Dame in the eyes of both reality and the committee. What’s cause for concern with Notre Dame is what happened on the field this past weekend to two of their opponents in Temple and Stanford; both of whom suffered losses. Notre Dame’s brand is carrying them right now, because of the fact that they’re not tied into any specific conference; so every game is that much more crucial when considering playoff rankings.
The Irish control most of their destiny if they win their final two games, both on the road against Boston College and the aforementioned Stanford. If the Irish win out, they’re likely to hold onto and secure that fourth and final playoff seed. However, if The Irish win out, as well as Oklahoma, there could be cause for concern in South Bend when the final playoff rankings are released on December 6, with Oklahoma bringing the holding power of a Power Five conference to the table. What works out in the Irish’s favor is that Oklahoma lost to Texas earlier in the year, a team Notre Dame decimated in week 1 to the tune of 38-3.
Many pundits claim that if Oklahoma wins out, by beating TCU and Oklahoma State, that their case for the fourth and final seed will be too strong to overlook against Notre Dame, despite the Texas blunder. Unfortunately, the reality of the Oklahoma case is simply hollow. Oklahoma just went on the road last weekend and “upset” a previously undefeated Baylor team, who, oh by the way, was without starting quarterback Seth Russell for the second-straight week. Their game this weekend against TCU could see the Sooners facing a Horned Frogs offense that could possibly be without quarterback Trevone Boykin, after already losing star wide receiver Josh Doctson for the season. Additionally, both TCU and Baylor have zero out-of-conference marquee victories, so if both were to end up losing to Oklahoma, the Sooners’ case would only worsen in the eyes of the committee.
The Playoff Committee works a lot like a movie critic. They’re working on the side of putting the best four college football teams in the playoff, and letting the games play themselves out. On the other hand, they’re also a fan of the game just like we all are. They grade these teams on style as well as substance. They nitpick and dissect every single angle of a team’s season to date, and look to find any reason why they shouldn’t be deserving of their blessing. So, in that case…
If any team is going to find a soft spot in the hearts of the Playoff Committee, it’s going to be Notre Dame. The Irish have lost six starters to injury, and their only loss came on the road against the No. 1 team in the country in Clemson, in the rain, with a backup quarterback. Outside of their loss to Clemson, Notre Dame has handled their schedule quite respectably.
What’s unique about Notre Dame’s situation, is that they’re essentially the BCS-Busters of the Playoff era. They’d be solely responsible for withholding a playoff spot for two of the Power Five conferences. So, for Notre Dame, they continually keep a close on how their past, current, and future opponents are playing throughout the season. It was a smooth ride when Temple and Stanford were both ranking in the Playoff’s Top-25, but the road became unclear when both lost in upset fashion last weekend. It doesn’t help either that USC, Georgia Tech, and Texas have all fallen to the way side this season after underachieving most of the year. What helps Notre Dame’s one-loss case is Georgia Tech’s “quality win” against Florida State. If Navy, a team Notre Dame essentially handed their heads to, beats unbeaten Houston, the committee could also see that as a plus for the Irish, only strengthening their case against the Big-12.
In conclusion, the Irish still remain mostly in the driver’s seat of their own destiny regarding a playoff spot, but it’s not going to come without controversy. What the Irish need to focus on is winning their final two games in relatively dominating fashion, and hope that the teams they’ve beaten to this point remain winners also in these final weeks. A Clemson loss to UNC would be an absolute nightmare for Notre dame, and completely turn the playoff rankings upside. Let’s not predict the end of the world, just yet though.
Chris has covered college football for various media outlets since 2004. You may have seen his previous work on outlets such as USA Today, Yahoo! Sports and Athlon Sports. Chris is also a Crystal Ball Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports. You can follow Chris on twitter @warontheweekend.