Notre Dame and the Field

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

And then there were 10. Or if you prefer, nine and another.

Clemson, Alabama and Florida, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and Notre Dame – plus perhaps, North Carolina.

Four among that group will qualify for the national semi-finals on New Year’s Eve. Unless, of course…actually, see below:

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

1. Clemson (10-0) – Win and in, and it’s been that way for awhile…  
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Own a top tier win vs. Notre Dame and a high-quality win over FSU. The Tigers aren’t unimpeachable at No. 1, but that are if you’re considering a top four.
-- Why they might not be: Would they beat Alabama? Ohio State if both teams were at their best on a given day? Would they be able to beat Notre Dame twice?  
-- Ranking their remaining: At rival South Carolina, *the ACC Championship game, Wake Forest
-- Prediction: 3-0 finish and either a No. 1 or No. 2 ranking pending the performance of both Alabama and Ohio State.

2. Alabama (9-1) – Probably better to avoid this team, eh?
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: You mean other than the utter brutality they’ve unleashed of late?
-- Why they might not be: Lost at home to three-loss Ole Miss, and that’s likely to become four, perhaps five-loss Ole Miss in the end.
-- Ranking their remaining: *The SEC Championship game, at Auburn, Charleston Southern. As noted on our message board, you could argue the Iron Bowl at Auburn is more difficult than a neutral site matchup against Florida, but the Tide has a relative bye (Charleston Southern) to get healthy in preparation for the Tigers.
-- Prediction: I thought their best chance at a loss was last week in Starkville, so at this point, it appears 3-0 and yet another shot at the national championship.

3. Ohio State (10-0) – Playtime is over: their three hardest games of the season await…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Team No. 2 Irish fans would like to avoid, because at their best, they’d be tough to stop.
-- Why they might not be: The best part of their resume is last season’s championship run.
-- Ranking their remaining: at Michigan, Michigan State, *the Big 10 Title Game
-- Prediction: I picked a sure-to-be improved Michigan team to upset OSU back in May, and I tend to be a bit stubborn…

4. Notre Dame (9-1) – Did the Stanford game get a touch easier? I’ll explain at the bottom of the page
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Lost to the nation’s No. 1 and beat a full handful of quality foes.
-- Why they might not be: Best win is Navy. Best point on the resume is a loss.
-- Ranking their remaining: At Stanford, BC (neutral)
-- Prediction? 2-0 and in

5. Iowa (10-0) – December’s Sacrificial Lambs?
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: 10-0 is no small feat, and the Hawkeyes won at both Wisconsin and Northwestern.
-- Why they might not be: Avoided Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State (and even Penn State). It’s not their fault, but a big-time win is missing (the same is true for Notre Dame).
-- Ranking their remaining: *The Big 10 Title Game, at Nebraska, Purdue
-- Prediction: Two consecutive losses to conclude a fantastic season.

6. Oklahoma State (10-0) – The end is nigh…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Rolled TCU and showed serious heart coming back to win in Ames last week against Iowa State.
-- Why they might not be: Chose to avoid all potential pitfalls outside of their own conference.
-- Ranking their remaining: Oklahoma, Baylor
-- Prediction: A loss this weekend to the wounded but bitter and potent Bears.

7. Oklahoma (9-1) – Rollin, rollin, rollin…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They are bludgeoning foes of late, including 276 points in their last five games. Won at Baylor and Tennessee.
-- Why they might not be: Have you seen Texas play? The Longhorns beat the Sooners like a rented mule for 60 minutes. Remember that.
-- Ranking their remaining: at Oklahoma State, TCU
-- Prediction: A 1-1 finish, but I’m only 50.1 percent sure of that. As noted in our first edition of this column three weeks ago, if any among the Big 12 contenders can win out, it remains the Sooners.

8. Florida (9-1) – The reality that Crimson Tide Train is headed their way appears to have appropriately sobered the Gators fan base.
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Seems about right, don’t you think? Oklahoma would be favored by a touchdown over the Gators on a neutral field.
-- Why they might not be: Three quality wins and a loss at LSU is nothing to scoff at, but this seems appropriate.
-- Ranking their remaining: *The SEC Championship game, FSU, Florida Atlantic
-- Prediction: Florida State ends their championship dreams on Thanksgiving Saturday

9. Michigan State (9-1) – The dark horse. Not mine, mind you, but A dark horse nonetheless…
-- 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
-- Prediction: If they win as 13-point underdogs at OSU, Penn State will take them out in East Lansing thereafter. 

-- We Interrupt These Official Rankings to Highlight Teams With a Decent Shot at the Playoffs --

Potential Contender #10: North Carolina (9-1) – Wait, what?
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: The Tar Heels are technically way down at #17, but two more wins would pit them in an ACC Title tilt vs. the nation’s No. 1 team. With a little help (including an ND loss and both the Big 10 and Big 12 devouring themselves), the Tar Heels could sneak in at No. 4.
-- Why they might not be: Have won nine straight (lost the opener to South Carolina) but the best win is against Pittsburgh.
-- Ranking their remaining: Clemson in the ACC Championship, at North Carolina State, at Virginia Tech
-- Prediction: A loss before their golden opportunity against the Tigers.

Potential Contender #11: Michigan (8-2) – Defense has been a bit more leaky of late…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Technically ranked #12. Losses are to a quality Utah team and contender Michigan State – on the Worst. Play. Ever. 
-- Why they might not be: Seems right, the reality is, if they beat Ohio State and Iowa, they’re going to have a resume worthy of at least No. 6…which means they need help.
-- Ranking their remaining: Ohio State, *Big 10 Championship Game, at Penn State
-- Prediction: An Ann Arbor-rocking upset of Ohio State, leading to the most insufferable post-game press conference in world history.


10. Baylor (8-1) – Not impossible, but implausible to say the least. Regardless, look for the suddenly unfettered Bears to eliminate Oklahoma State this weekend in Stillwater.

11. Stanford (7-2) – The season finale against Notre Dame is now clearly the third-most important game remaining among Stanford’ remaining Saturdays. This week’s matchup against archrival California is clearly No. 1, as with a win, Stanford will play for the PAC-12 title on Dec. 5. In that event, Notre Dame’s visit to the The Farm on Nov. 28 becomes nearly inconsequential. The PAC-12 championship will take clear precedent over a chance to ruin Notre Dame’s season.

13. Utah (8-2) – With two wins, would face Stanford, Oregon, or Washington State in the PAC-12 Championship.

14. FSU (8-2) – Relevant in that they can take out the Gators…

15. LSU (7-2) – Allowed Alabama too beat them twice. They are completely out of it barring an apocalyptic next two Saturdays…

16. Navy (8-1) – At 5-5 Tulsa (they’re not bad) this week to be followed by a date with 10-0 Houston on Thanksgiving Friday. Prepare your knees, Cougars, it’s going to be a long 60 minutes.

18. TCU (9-1) – In the role of spoiler this weekend at Oklahoma. The Horned Frogs then host Baylor on Thanksgiving Friday.

19. Houston (10-0) – Play at Connecticut Saturday before hosting #16 Navy next Friday.

20. Northwestern (8-2) – At No. 25 Wisconsin Saturday
21. Memphis (8-2) – Wait, why are they still ranked?
22. Ole Miss (7-3) – Ah, a three-loss Top 25 SEC West Team. Some things never change. Might fall all the way to #25 with a fourth loss to LSU this weekend.
23. Oregon (7-3) – Extracted a measure of revenge last week for Stanford ruining their 2012 title dreams
24. USC (7-3) – Welcome back. Travel to Eugene this week to take on the Ducks so the Trojans stay might be short-lived.
25. Wisconsin (8-2) – Lost only to Alabama and Iowa, by the way.

Final Rankings Prediction According to the Words Written Above:
1. Alabama or Clemson
2. Clemson or Alabama
3. Notre Dame
4. Oklahoma

Ranking This Weekend’s Potential Upsets:

1. Baylor at Oklahoma State (-1) – In fact, I assume it will happen
2. Penn State vs. Michigan (-4) – Look-ahead, anyone?
3. TCU at Oklahoma (No Line) – Letdown potential for the Sooners
4. Michigan State at Ohio State (-13) – OSU has however had 10 months to prepare…
5. Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina (-6.5) – Game pressure is upon the Tar Heels
6. Connecticut vs. Houston (No Line) – I must say, Connecticut is far better than they were last season
7. Tulsa vs. Navy (-12) – Ill-timed fumbles can always doom the Mid’s
8. California at Stanford (-11) – Doubt it, but emotions run high
9. BC vs. Notre Dame (-16.5) – Ditto, but BC’s offense is horrid
10. Florida Atlantic at Florida (-31) – Not out of the question because Florida can’t, you know, “Score”
11. Purdue at Iowa (-21) – Tell me you’d be shocked if it’s 24-17 Hawkeyes entering the fourth quarter?

Not happening: Wake Forest at Clemson; Charleston whoever at Alabama Top Stories