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 final two weekends.

Well that changed things a bit around here.

At No. 6 entering the season’s final two weeks, Notre Dame needs a little help to make the college football playoffs. If we’ve learned anything from past seasons, they’re likely to get it.

In fact, I guarantee they will. The harder part will be beating Stanford in Palo Alto.

As always, it’s explained below…

1. Clemson (11-0) – No sudden movements…No sudden movements…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Own a top tier win vs. Notre Dame and a high-quality win over FSU. It’s not a great resume, but the Tigers are doubtless a Top Four team, and at base level, that’s all that matters.
-- What happens if they lose? I think they’d fall out of the top four if it happens in the ACC Championship game, because in that event, how do you put in Clemson and not the conference champion with an identical record? Not sure what would happen if they lose at South Carolina but come back and roll an 11-1 North Carolina squad? Intriguing!
-- Ranking their remaining: North Carolina in the ACC Championship game, at South Carolina
-- Prediction: 2-0 and they hold onto the No. 1 ranking entering the Final Four.

2. Alabama (10-1) – They’re about to get punched in the mouth – chances are, they’ll respond with a haymaker or three.
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: By the eye test, they’re the best team in the nation. Again. Not unbeatable because they lack consistent quarterback play. But who wants to face this team rather than another option on New Year’s Eve?
-- What happens if they lose? Out. Period.
-- Ranking their remaining: At Auburn, *the SEC Championship game vs. Florida. (I’ve come around on the rivalry game being tougher than Dead Man Walking Florida).
-- Prediction: 2-0 and #2

3. Oklahoma (10-1) – As noted four weeks ago in this space, if anyone was going to get out of the Big 12 November tournament unscathed, it was these guys. One to go, but it’s a doozie…
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: I think they’re one spot too high and could easily argue two.
-- What happens if they lose: Hope springs eternal (Notre Dame’s game should conclude prior to the OU/Okla State contest.
-- Ranking their remaining: at Oklahoma State
-- Prediction: A harrowing escape. I generally bet the underdog in Bedlam, especially when one stands more to lose than the other – not sure why my gut says to take the Sooners, but that’s indeed the case.

4. Iowa (11-0)Nice Work If You Can Get It, indeed
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Well, I mean, they beat Purdue at home, right? So that deserves a move up the polls, said no one that understands football, ever…
-- What happens if they lose? That’d be Karma, Kramer.
-- Ranking their remaining: *The Big 10 Title Game, at Nebraska
-- Prediction: Pressure affects performance, and Nebraska is free of it.

5. Michigan State (10-1) – Winning at the Horseshoe without Connor Cook? Well done, Sparty, well done.
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Wins over No. 17 Oregon, at No. 8 Ohio State and at No. 10 Michigan (miracle included). A one-point road loss is the only blemish. Great job by head coach Mark Dantonio.
-- What happens if they lose? Out, and the winner of Michigan/Ohio State will meet Iowa for a potential Final Four spot.
-- Ranking their remaining: *the Big 10 Title Game vs. Iowa, Penn State
-- Prediction: This sets up well for Penn State. 

6. Notre Dame (10-1)“When the gun fires you must concentrate for every second on the way to that finish line.” – Maurice Greene
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They’re one spot too low, from my perspective. And I could argue two spots too low, though not with fervor.
-- What happens if they lose: Hello Fiesta Bowl
-- Ranking their remaining: At Stanford
-- Prediction? The best game they’ve played this season, at which point, we’ll know if they’re a clear-cut Top 4 quality team.

7. Baylor (9-1) – They need is MSU, Iowa, Oklahoma, and ND to lose and there are five combined chances for those four teams.
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: O-F-F-E-N-S-E 
-- What happens if they lose?: Irish fans can breathe easily.
-- Ranking their remaining: at TCU, Texas
-- Prediction: 2-0. I think the air came out of TCU’s balloon when the potential game winning (wide open) conversion pass was batted away last Saturday in Norman. And then Baylor is going to ABSOLUTELY ROLL Texas on Dec. 5.

8. Ohio State (10-1)“Now ya don’t talk so loud. Now ya don’t, seem so proud…” – Bob Dylan
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: I agree they’re deserving of sixth highest among a viable 10 one-loss teams.
-- What happens if they lose: It’s going to be a long, long off-season if said loss happens to be this weekend in Ann Arbor.
-- Ranking their remaining: at Michigan, *the Big 10 Title Game vs. Iowa
-- Prediction: I’ll guess it was a tough week of practice in Columbus and stick with my summer prediction of Michigan, but the set-up is far worse. For one thing, the Wolverines are actually favored and playing for something.

9. Stanford (9-2) – Had quarterback Kevin Hogan not fumbled two red zone snaps vs. Oregon, Stanford would be the No. 3 or No. 4 ranked team in the nation.
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: It’s fair to surmise they’re either the best or the second best two-loss team – 1A or 1B alongside Michigan.
-- What happens if they lose? Well I think we know the answer to that one.
-- Ranking their remaining: Notre Dame, *PAC-12 Championship vs. the winner of USC and UCLA this weekend.
-- Prediction: 1-1 finish (see what I did there?)

10. Michigan (9-2) – I liked them a lot better this weekend when OSU was undefeated
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: Losses are to a quality Utah team and No. 5 Michigan State – and, let’s face it… 
-- What happens if they lose? Their punter will be off the hook.
-- Ranking their remaining: Ohio State, *Big 10 Championship Game vs. Iowa
-- Prediction: I’ll stick with my longstanding prediction of a Michigan win this weekend, but the game situation has been turned on its head.

11. Oklahoma State (10-1) – Baylor putting one on the Cowboys…fait accompli, my friends
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They’re ahead of Florida, Florida State, and North Carolina – seems appropriate
-- What happens if they lose? Notre Dame is in trouble
-- Ranking their remaining: Oklahoma
-- Prediction: An outstanding effort by the Cowboys in the annual Bedlam rivalry, but I think they’ll come up a play short.  

12. Florida (10-1) – If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They’re about to be ranked more appropriately after Florida State comes to town…
-- What happens if they lose? We’ll all nod our heads.
-- Ranking their remaining: *The SEC Championship game vs. either Alabama or Ole Miss; home vs. FSU (Seminoles are favored by 2.5 in Gainesville)
-- Prediction: Florida State pulls the plug.

13. FSU (9-2) – Doesn’t really matter much if the Seminoles win, because Florida is likely to get hammered one week later, but at least an FSU victory Saturday in Gainesville would allow the world to cheer for the 200-point underdog Gators vs. the Evil Empire on Dec. 5

14. North Carolina (10-1) – Two FCS wins. Two. Come on, man!
-- Why they’re ranked appropriately: They’re not. Navy should be ahead of the Tar Heels on merit.
-- What happens if they lose? No one will blink.  
-- Ranking their remaining: Clemson in the ACC Championship, at North Carolina State
-- Prediction: A 0-2 finish. (I love Rivalry Week)

15. Navy (9-1) – One more, Mid’s. One more. (At 10-1 Houston on Friday afternoon in a game Irish fans will surely monitor.) Should Navy defeat the Cougars, they would then host the AAC championship game vs. either Temple or South Florida.

Ranking This Weekend’s Potential Upsets:

1. Ohio State at Michigan (-1) – Wouldn’t actually be an “upset”
2. Nebraska vs. Iowa (-2) – Lincoln will be rocking Friday afternoon
3. North Carolina at North Carolina State (+6) – I expect it to happen, actually
4. Notre Dame at Stanford (-4) – Cardinal is favored by 4 points due in large part to the absence of C.J. Prosise and KeiVarae Russell. Notre Dame will in no way resemble the team that played in Fenway.
5. Florida (+2) vs. Florida State – I think the Seminoles will win, but they’ve been a shaky proposition all season. Florida is definitely capable of shutting down FSU’s offense.
6. Oklahoma State (+6) vs. Oklahoma (-6.5) – A home underdog in Bedlam is awfully enticing, especially considering the events of last weekend.
7. TCU at home vs. Baylor (No Line) – Horned Frogs certainly capable of rising up vs. high-powered rival on Friday night.
8. Penn State (+11) at Michigan State – Big 10 Game #2 in which one side houses all the pressure.  
9. Auburn (+14) vs. Alabama – The level of hatred here is, admittedly, refreshing.
10. South Carolina (+17.5) vs. Clemson – Stranger things have happened.
 
On the Irish Fan’s Radar: (In order of importance, and assuming an ND win Saturday, because otherwise, this column wouldn’t exist.)

-- USC (-3.5) over UCLA: Would put USC in the PAC-12 Championship game vs. Stanford. In other words, Notre Dame would be PAC-12 Champions.

-- Navy over Houston (-1): Puts Navy in the AAC Championship game, and likely ranks them among the nation’s Top 12.

-- Temple (-12) over Connecticut (in Philly): Puts Temple in the AAC Championship game, potentially against Navy, which would make Notre Dame the AAC Champions. (Who needs to join a conference!?)

-- Pittsburgh (-6) to win at home vs. Miami: Makes Notre Dame’s FIFTH best win over a 9-3 Panthers team that lost to Iowa by a field goal.

-- South Florida to lose at Central Florida: Would put Temple in the AAC championship game by default. (This is clearly less important than the following, but I figured ending with “USF vs. UCF” isn’t that compelling.)

-- Texas Tech (+1) to win at Texas on Thanksgiving: Makes Texas look worse, which in turn makes Oklahoma’s loss to them worse. Texas will thereafter lose by about 600 to Baylor on the Bears Dec. 5 Senior Day, and Oklahoma’s lone loss will thus be to a 4-8 Texas team. Notre Dame’s defeat would be at the hands of likely undefeated Clemson. It’d then be harder to argue the Sooners over the Irish.

Regardless, the best sports weekend of the year is upon us…


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