Path To The College Football Playoff: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
What does Notre Dame have to do to get to the College Football Playoff?
What’s Notre Dame’s path to get to the College Football Playoff?
Q: How can Notre Dame get to the College Football Playoff?
A: Buy a ticket.
That’s hardly original, but it sums up the feelings and reaction of a weary nation tired of any and all Notre Dame hype and attention.
However, with the right breaks, it’s possible.
It would’ve been a massive test of the CFP committee and system two years ago if the Irish had hung on to beat a Stanford team that went on to win the Pac-12 Championship. It’s all speculation, but considering Notre Dame beat a Texas team that beat Oklahoma – the Sooners ended up in the CFP – and the lone loss was on a missed two-point try at Clemson, yeah, it probably would’ve happened.
Of course, now head coach Brian Kelly is on a hot seat and the Irish have to step back up after a brutal 4-8 2016 season, but they really and truly do have a path to the College Football Playoff.
Step One: Get Great Quarterback Play
Notre Dame is going from the DeShone Kizer vs. Malik Zaire question at the beginning of last season, to hoping untested dual-threat option Brandon Wimbush is ready for primetime. If he’s not the guy, star recruit Avery Davis might need to be ready, or it’ll be some option from out of left field.
It’s Wimbush’s gig unless he falls flat on his face, and he needs to be fantastic to ramp up an inconsistent offense that almost never seemed able to come through in key moments. Quarterback play wasn’t a problem – Kizer was more than fine. Now the quarterback play has to be great.
Step Two: Win Every Close Game
The 2015 team was terrific, but it also had a knock of pulling games out of the fire with four wins by eight points or fewer, while hanging close with special Clemson and Stanford teams in tight losses.
Last season, the Fighting Irish seemed to find ways to play up or down to the competition, but too often coming out on the wrong side, with seven losses by eight points or fewer. Of course it doesn’t work this way, but there it is – win those seven with a team that knows how to close, and it’s 11-0 going into the USC showdown. Win six of them, and 10-1 would be good enough to get to the USC game with a shot at the CFP.
But certain teams have it, and certain ones don’t.
Some teams handle adversity well and can turn around negative momentum, but the 2016 Fighting Irish couldn’t.
Would things have been different if they could’ve hung on the double-overtime loss in the opener against Texas? Not when it comes to being CFP-good – the team had too many problems – but it might not have been quite as miserable as the final record.
Step Three: Beat Temple and Georgia
Temple might be the defending American Athletic Conference champs, but it’s a shell of its former self and in a rebuilding mode with a new coaching staff. Just to make everyone feel good, and to take the early pressure off, the Irish can’t mess around against the Owls – they need to piledrive them in an ugly, dominant blowout.
It might seem simplistic to suggest that confidence will play a big role, but after last season, yeah … confidence will play a big role with Georgia up next.
The Bulldogs are going to be good enough to win the SEC East, with an NFL-caliber backfield and a defense loaded with veterans. Win this, and the memory of the 2016 season gets shoved to the back of the closet.
Step Four: Get Ready For The Road
Part of the pain of last season was the missed opportunity, with just one true road game between the opener at Texas and the finale at USC. This time around, the Irish have to get used to the road with three away games in four weeks – not counting the dates at Miami and Stanford in November.
Getting by Georgia is hard enough, but follow that up with a trip to face the nasty Boston College defense, and then go to Michigan State, and later deal with North Carolina in Chapel Hill before finally getting a week off.
Considering the toughest games on the schedule come in the second half, somehow the Irish have to be 6-0 going into the break despite those three road games. 5-1 might be a deathblow considering what’s coming next.
Step Five: Get On A Roll Coming Off The Break
USC has to take a break from its Pac-12 schedule to make the trip to South Bend, playing Utah the week before and on a run of seven straight games. Notre Dame can rest up and prepare.
While the second half of the season is a bear, three of the next four games after the off-week are at home, with NC State, Wake Forest, and Navy aren’t USC, but they’re tricky – the Irish lost to the Wolfpack and Midshipmen last season. If that’s not enough …
Step Seven: Beat Miami, Beat Stanford. Pray.
If the Irish head into the finishing kick 9-0, the can survive a loss to the Canes or Cardinal and still get into the CFP – they’ll have wins over Georgia, Michigan State North Carolina and USC on the resume. They can’t lose both.
Step Eight: Hope There Aren’t Four Other Obvious Options
12-0? Of course? 11-1? Probably. 10-2, though, doesn’t get it done without a major meltdown in the world of Power Five conferences.
Here’s the problem. Even with this schedule, if there’s a 13-0 Power Five champ and three other 12-1 Power Five champs, it’ll be tough even if Notre Dame goes 11-1. Winning a conference championship and taking that one extra game might be enough to knock out the Irish.
What if Notre Dame goes 10-2 and there are three major conference championship upsets and/or multi-loss Power Five champs? It could happen, but the Irish almost certainly has to go 11-1 at worst.
So … What Are The Chances Notre Dame Gets Into The 2017-2018 College Football Playoff?
Not good, considering the Irish have to go at least 11-1 with a schedule against 11 bowl teams from 2016 – and Michigan State being the one that didn’t.
Even if the Irish can rebound and improve, they’re not going to the 11-1 better. The opportunities will be there to shine, and the hype will be there with a hot start, but even if they win all the close games this time around, no. It’s not going to happen.