Notre Dame and the Field

Breaking down college football’s remaining contenders per the Selection Committee’s rankings with projections for each over the season’s four weekends.

One down, three to go.

And for Notre Dame, the “one” was a potential pitfall, a trip to the Steel City and a Panthers squad that regularly plays its best against the Fighting Irish. Instead, it was Brian Kelly & Co. that ruled the day, winning wire to wire and thus positioning for a “Play-in” game on Thanksgiving Saturday in Palo Alto.

It’s unlikely the Irish will lose prior, while Stanford has a pair of tough tests including their archrival on tap. The Cardinal is not alone in that regard, as November will continue to separate the wheat from the chaff…

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

1. Clemson (9-0) – Passed Test No. 2 last weekend in Death Valley
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Own a top tier win vs. Notre Dame and a high-quality win over FSU. The Tigers are strong on both sides of the ball, especially defensively.
-- Why they might not be: Schedule was top heavy. Plus, do you think they’d be able to score enough to beat Alabama?
-- Ranking their remaining: At rival South Carolina, *the ACC Championship game, at Syracuse, Wake Forest
-- How they impact the Irish: Attached at the hip – the Tigers are Notre Dame’s Ace in the Hole
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Yes (technically 58 percent chance per ESPN’s Football Power Index)

2. Alabama (8-1) – Hell hath no fury…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Um, the Eye Test? Murdered Georgia and bundled LSU. Only hope for defeat is this weekend.
-- Why they might not be: Lost at home to three-loss Ole Miss
-- Ranking their remaining: at Mississippi State, *the SEC Championship game, at Auburn, Charleston Southern
-- How they impact the Irish: One loss Alabama gets in head-to-head vs. one loss Notre Dame.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Odds improved since last week (technically only 27 percent per the FPI) but I think they’ll sail through the final three weeks if they can regroup and win Saturday in Starkville. My guess is “Yes” because they have Derrick Henry.

3. Ohio State (9-0) – It’s about to get more difficult…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: At they’re best, they’re arguably the best. Then again, they haven’t played anyone with a pulse since Labor Day.
-- Why they might not be: Schedule to date stinks
-- Ranking their remaining: at Michigan, Michigan State, *the Big 10 Title Game, at Illinois
-- 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’ll offer a shaky “No” (technically at 31%)

4. Notre Dame (8-1) – One mini-trap and a reckoning remain…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Lost to the nation’s No. 1, beat #20, #22, and USC (could sneak into Top 25 with one more win).
-- Why they might not be: Seems appropriate, but the best outing to date remains a close loss
-- Ranking their remaining: At Stanford, BC (neutral), Wake Forest
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? (Technically 37%). Aside from Clemson, no one has an easier remaining road considering all foes than the Irish, but a a toss-up road game at season’s end against a rival now 44-5 at home (last eight seasons) is no picnic. My new guess is a 50/50 “Yes.”

5. Iowa (9-0) – Cleared their third most difficult hurdle so far last week with a win at Indiana. Think about that…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They won at Wisconsin and Northwestern, both low level Top 25 teams. Offense looks a little better of late.
-- Why they might not be: Avoided Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State (and even Penn State). So who really knows? Too bad they didn’t play Baylor or Oklahoma State…
-- Ranking their remaining: *The Big 10 Title Game, at Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue
-- How they impact the Irish: If they win out and beat undefeated defending champion Ohio State, they’re likely ahead of one-loss ND.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No. (Technically 12% chance). Anyone outside of Purdue could beat them.

6. Baylor (9-0) – Welcome to Hell Month…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: When you can score 60 against West Virginia’s defense, you can probably hang with most teams.
-- Why they might not be: Best win to date was at Kansas State last week.
-- Ranking their remaining: at Oklahoma State, at TCU, Oklahoma, Texas
-- How they impact the Irish: If Baylor wins out, they’re clearly in the Final Four
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? Come on, man…technically 15%

7. Stanford (8-1) – Best team to lose to Northwestern since Notre Dame, 1995
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Handled UCLA, and USC, and they have the look (both sides of the ball) of a Top 7-10 team
-- Why they might not be: That six-spot vs. Northwestern is a bit troubling when comparing one-loss resumes.
-- Ranking their remaining: Notre Dame, *the Pac-12 Championship game, California, Oregon
-- How they impact the Irish: 10-1 Stanford vs. 10-1 Notre Dame would do wonders for Notre Dame’s portfolio.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No (technically 20%). Oregon, California, ND is a tough stretch.

8. Oklahoma State (9-0) – Well that was a pleasant surprise…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They can score, haven’t lost and own one of the better wins of the season with last Saturday’s evisceration of TCU.
-- Why they might not be: Enjoyed two months of pad-free scrimmages each Saturday prior to last week’s outing against the Horned Frogs.
-- Ranking their remaining: Oklahoma, Baylor, at ISU
-- How they impact the Irish: At 12-0, they’d impact everyone.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No (12% chance) and don’t discount Iowa State in Ames.  

9. LSU (7-1) – On familiar ground: looking up at ‘Bama
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Two high quality wins and a loss to perhaps the best team in the nation.
-- Why they might not be: Quarterback play against top tier teams could be an issue. And they took one on the chin last week.
-- Ranking their remaining: at Ole Miss, *the SEC Championship game, vs. rival Arkansas, at Texas A&M.
-- How they impact the Irish: With one loss including a win in the SEC Championship game, the Tigers could finish among the Final Four. But Alabama has to lose for LSU to in any way impact the playoffs.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No, not with three, potentially four tough matchups afoot.

10. Utah (8-1) – The least watched team among the Top 10, of that I’m certain.
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Beat Michigan, Oregon by a name-your-score, California, and at Washington. To be sure, they’re a solid team.
-- Why they might not be: Speculative, but do you think they’re better than Oklahoma?
-- Ranking their remaining: *Pac-12 Championship game, 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.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? One loss is the most likely scenario. (Technically have a 13% chance).

11. Florida (8-1) – Hey there’s no shame in beating Vandy by two at home. Actually, wait a second…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They occasionally fail the eye test.
-- Why they might not be: Three quality wins and the “third-best” loss among all contenders. But this seems appropriate.
-- Ranking their remaining: *The SEC Championship game, FSU, at So. Carolina, FAU
-- How they impact the Irish: One-loss, SEC Champion UF gets in ahead of the Irish, because they will have likely beaten Alabama. But um, I wouldn’t worry about that…
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No, either FSU on Thanksgiving weekend or the SEC West Champ will take down the Gators.

12. Oklahoma (8-1)
– Hook ‘Em…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Ugly, ugly loss, though the Committee (and fans) are ignoring the rivalry aspect of a 24-17 defeat against sub.-500 Texas.
-- Why they might not be: Won at K-State by 55, won at Tennessee, beat West Virginia by 20, and have scored 232 points in their last four games. (Holy Moses!) Are you sure they’re not more deserving than Florida and Utah?
-- Ranking their remaining: At Baylor, TCU, at Oklahoma State
-- How they impact the Irish: A one-loss Oklahoma vs. one-loss Notre Dame…Oh my. The Texas comparison vs. a month that includes wins over Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No, but if anyone from the Big 12 does, I think it’ll be OU, because they prepared themselves for Big Boy football prior to November.

13. Michigan State (8-1) – That’s Karma, Kramer…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: None of this matters unless they beat Ohio State.
-- Why they might not be: None of this matters unless they beat Ohio State
-- Ranking their remaining: at Ohio State, *the Big 10 Title Game, Penn State, Maryland
-- How they impact the Irish: If MSU wins out, they’re likely in, so that takes one spot of four.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No, they could lose to anyone other than Maryland.

14. Michigan (7-2) – Why couldn’t they have hired Kiffin instead of Harbaugh?
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Have a heckuva defense and lost to #10 and #13.
-- Why they might not be: Seems about right. I’d take the Fighting Harbaugh’s over the softies from Texas Christian.  
-- Ranking their remaining: Ohio State, *Big 10 Championship Game, at Penn State, at Indiana
-- How they impact the Irish: As first noted in my Summer Musings, they’ll impact Notre Dame on Thanksgiving Saturday when Ohio State travels north.
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? No, but here’s to an undefeated Thanksgiving Weekend… 

15. TCU (8-1) – I think they’re out, regardless of what happens next. In fact, why am I writing about this team?
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They’ll always have Minnesota…
-- Why they might not be: They got WORKED in Stillwater
-- Ranking their remaining: at Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas
-- How they impact the Irish: They can help by beating the winner of the Oklahoma/Baylor game thereafter
-- Will they enjoy an undefeated final month? I think they’ll enjoy an undefeated Saturday against Kansas.

16. FSU (7-2) – Yeah I don’t care…
17. Mississippi State (7-2) – Moment in the sun this weekend hosting the Crimson Tide. Get your Cowbells ready…
18. Northwestern (7-2) – I think Navy would beat them
19. UCLA (7-2) – I think Navy would beat them
20. Navy (7-1) – Mid’s have lost twice in the last 15 games – both to Notre Dame.
21. Memphis (8-1) – Not that fun getting a helmet buried in your knee on every play, is it?
22. Temple (8-1) – Irish hope Owls take flight to AAC Title Game
23. North Carolina (8-1) – Prepping for matchup with Clemson in Conference Championship. Might be underrated here.
24. Houston (9-0) – Finish at home with Memphis and Navy among final three foes.
25. Wisconsin (8-2) – Lost to two Top 5 teams (Alabama, Iowa) and avoided all others with a faint pulse.


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