Notre Dame and the Field

Breaking down college football’s Sweet Sixteen per the Selection Committee’s rankings with projections for each over the season’s final month.

November is for contenders, but Notre Dame proved that a strong run through October can put a program in position to do just that.

Below is a look at the recently released Selection Committee’s Top 16 teams – where they rank, why, what pitfalls lie ahead, and my best guess on an undefeated finish for each.

The only certainty? Myriad losses are on tap among 12, 13, or as many as 14 of the 16 contenders listed below:

(*Denotes a potential appearance in conference championship games pending other victories.)

1. Clemson (8-0) – Has a puncher’s chance vs. anyone…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Own a top tier win vs. Notre Dame, a dynamite QB and a rock-solid defense.
-- Why they might not be: They’ve looked really good, but have had only one major test. Also, do you think they’re the nation’s best team?
-- Ranking their remaining: Florida State, at rival So. Carolina, *the ACC Championship game, at Syracuse, Wake Foest
-- How they impact the Irish: The Tigers are Notre Dame’s Trophy Wife
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Yes

2. LSU (7-0) – Their Game of the Year awaits…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Two high quality wins including one on the road and highlighted by Top 10 Florida
-- Why they might not be: I have no strong argument against them
-- Ranking their remaining: at Alabama, at Ole Miss, at Texas A&M, *the SEC Championship game, Arkansas
-- How they impact the Irish: With one loss including a win in the SEC Championship game, they would likely finish among the Final Four
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Absolutely not

3. Ohio State (8-0) – Will not get in with one loss this time…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: At they’re best, they’re arguably the best (Part I)
-- Why they might not be: A decidedly underwhelming slate played to date
-- Ranking their remaining: at Michigan, Michigan State, *the Big 10 Title Game, at Illinois, Minnestoa
-- How they impact the Irish: Finish undefeated and they’re in; but with one loss, Notre Dame earns the nod
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? I lean toward Yes.

4. Alabama (7-1) – At their best, they’re arguably the best (Part II)
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Possess nearly a full handful of high quality wins including one out of conference
-- Why they might not be: Lost at home to two-loss Ole Miss
-- Ranking their remaining: LSU, *the SEC Championship game, at Mississippi State, at Auburn, Charleston Southern
-- How they impact the Irish: One loss Alabama likely gets in head-to-head vs. one loss Notre Dame. Period.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Changed my projection to “I don’t think so” prior to publishing.

5. Notre Dame (7-1) – In position despite the loss of six crucial starters before mid-September…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: October’s four foes are a combined 26-5 (three of the five losses are to the Irish)
-- Why they might not be: Best outing to date is a close loss
-- Ranking their remaining: At Stanford, at Pittsburgh, BC (neutral), Wake Forest
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? I lean toward no, but they have one of the easier November slates.

6. Baylor (7-0) – Welcome to November…and the 2015 season
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They can score 40 – or 50 points – on anyone. ANYONE…
-- Why they might not be: So can a lot of teams that face the worst collection of foes they can find to sign up for a game
-- Ranking their remaining: at TCU, Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State, Texas
-- How they impact the Irish: If Baylor wins out, they’re clearly in the Final Four
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? That’s a tall order for a team previously competing in high-level intramurals…

7. Michigan State (8-0) – A definitive top 10 team, of that there is no doubt…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: A high-quality road win at Michigan and are solid on both sides of the ball
-- Why they might not be: Early-season win over Oregon has been rendered relatively meaningless other than in the scheduling effort
-- Ranking their remaining: at Ohio State, *the Big 10 Title Game, Penn State, at Nebraska, Maryland
-- How they impact the Irish: If MSU wins out, they’re clearly in the Final Four
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Only “guaranteed” win is home against Maryland, so one loss appears the most likely final result.

8. TCU (8-0) – End season OU/Baylor two-step will tell the tale…  
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Dynamite offense with a defense that has its moments
-- Why they might not be: Best win is at Iowa State, so…
-- Ranking their remaining: at Oklahoma, Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Kansas
-- How they impact the Irish: If TCU wins out, they’re clearly in the Final Four
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Nah. Three losable games = one likely loss

9. Iowa (8-0) – Technically, it’s not their fault the Big 10 schedule broke as such…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Two decent non-conference victories plus wins at Wisconsin and Northwestern
-- Why they might not be: This is a joke, right? Imagine the good fortune to avoid Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State (and even Penn State) in conference!
-- Ranking their remaining: *The Big 10 Title Game, at Indiana, at Nebraska (if still undefeated), Minnesota, Purdue
-- How they impact the Irish: If they win out, they’re ahead of one-loss ND.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? A reckoning is coming in December, if not in Bloomington…

10. Florida (7-1) – Meet one SEC Championship game participant…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: It’s hard to argue they are. In fact, it’s illogical
-- Why they might not be: Three quality wins and the “second-best” loss among all contenders suggests they should be higher
-- Ranking their remaining: *The SEC Championship game, FSU, at So. Carolina, Vanderbilt, FAU
-- How they impact the Irish: One-loss, SEC Champion UF gets in ahead of the Irish
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No, either FSU on Thanksgiving weekend or the SEC West Champ will prevail

11. Stanford (7-1)
– That no-show at Northwestern is tough to digest…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Handled Utah, UCLA, and USC, the best the Pac-12 has to offer.
-- Why they might not be: Well they scored six points vs. Northwestern, for starters. Need more?
-- Ranking their remaining: Notre Dame, *the Pac-12 Championship game, California, Oregon, at Colorado
-- How they impact the Irish: If Stanford doesn’t win every game other than theirs against the Irish, Notre Dame is in trouble.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? *Four major challenges await, so unlikely. To be sure, they have less of a chance the Notre Dame.

12. Utah (7-1) – Hard to overcome a blowout loss at USC…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Beat Michigan, Oregon by a name-your-score, and California. That’s not bad.
-- Why they might not be: Seems appropriate, don’t you think?
-- Ranking their remaining: *Pac-12 Championship game, at Washington, UCLA, at Arizona, Colorado
-- How they impact the Irish: With a blowout loss to USC, they will not get in ahead of one-loss Notre Dame. Irish fans should cheer for the Utes.

-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? One loss is the most likely scenario, with two more likely than none.

13. Memphis (8-0) – Wait, who?
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Second-best win is Cincinnati
-- Why they might not be: They put a beating on Ole Miss. Roll Tide?
-- Ranking their remaining: at Temple, Navy, at Houston, *American Conference Championship game (I checked, there is one, and it would likely be a home game), SMU
-- How they impact the Irish: Current short-timer head coach Justin Fuentes could cause the Irish problems in the future.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? I’m not sure they’ll finish undefeated this weekend. 

14. Oklahoma State (8-0) – The party’s over, ‘Pokes…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They can score and haven’t lost
-- Why they might not be: I think #14 seems appropriate, don’t you? The Cowboys have beaten one Power 5 team with a winning record, and it was defenseless Texas Tech.
-- Ranking their remaining: Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor, at ISU
-- How they impact the Irish: They won’t
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? It’s more likely they don’t win another game.

15. Oklahoma (7-1) – Ah rivalry games. Gotta love ‘em…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: You can’t lose going away to Texas and be any higher
-- Why they might not be: If every one and two-loss team entered a tournament, Oklahoma would be among the two or three favorites in Vegas
-- Ranking their remaining: At Baylor, TCU, at Oklahoma State, at Iowa State
-- How they impact the Irish: A one-loss Oklahoma would deserve the bid over Notre Dame
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No, but if anyone from the Big 12 does, I think it’ll be OU. Actually, if they’re undefeated, Bedlam will be problematic in Stillwater.   

16. FSU (7-1) – Hanging by a thread, but there’s hope…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: You can’t name their best win
-- Why they might not be: Only loss was in a miracle on the road
-- Ranking their remaining: at Clemson, at Florida, *ACC Championship game, NC State, Chattanooga
-- How they impact the Irish: Indirectly, the Seminoles beating Clemson would hurt Notre Dame’s claim a bit. Undefeated FSU could get in over one-loss ND as well, though that’s an interesting debate.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Nope

Remaining ranked teams Michigan, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Temple, UCLA, and undefeated Houston will be discussed as necessary in future updates.


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