College Football Playoff

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A final summary of Notre Dame bowl possibilites

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UPDATE: Wisconsin ranked at No. 6, with Auburn somewhere behind the Badgers and Alabama in the College Football Playoff, removes the Camping World Bowl from these considerations. If Notre Dame is in the top 12, it will head to a playoff-eligible bowl, most likely the Cotton Bowl. If not, then the Irish will be in the Citrus Bowl facing an SEC team on Jan. 1.


By the time today’s first NFL game kicks off, Notre Dame will know its bowl destination. If not then, shortly thereafter. It entirely depends on the final College Football Playoff selection committee poll, though not entirely concerning where the committee slots the Irish. The poll is scheduled to be announced at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Three possibilities remain plausible enough to be outlined.

Playoff-eligible bowl, most likely the Cotton Bowl
This is the most unlikely outcome, but also the one deserving of the most debate. After the weekend’s conference championships, Notre Dame is one of three teams in the rational discussion for the 12th and final spot in the six playoff-access bowls.

In last week’s poll, TCU ranked No. 11, Washington at No. 13 and the Irish were No. 15. Since then, the Horned Frogs lost 41-17 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Neither the Huskies nor Notre Dame played, while No. 12 Stanford fell 31-28 to USC on Friday.

There is logic to elevating the Irish past TCU and Washington.

There is also one fact: The committee ranked the Huskies ahead of Notre Dame last week. It is a stretch to think Georgia’s and USC’s victories were enough to change that, especially when considering Miami’s face plant (lost 38-3 to Clemson) diminished the Irish claim.

If the Irish finish at No. 12 in the ranking, then a playoff-eligible bowl it is, and the Cotton Bowl seems the most likely destination. Central Florida is a near lock for the Peach Bowl due to proximity. USC is headed to the Fiesta Bowl for similar reasoning, and Miami is obligated to the Orange Bowl. Avoiding regular season rematches, Notre Dame would not head to either of those latter two.

An SEC team will almost undoubtedly oppose the Knights in Atlanta, and one way or another it is natural to move a Big Ten team to face the Pac 12 champion, befitting tradition. Then, either a remaining SEC team or Big Ten team — whichever conference does not snag the fourth spot in the Playoff — will face the Hurricanes.

That leaves the Cotton Bowl and, presumably, Penn State (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Don’t hold your breath.

Citrus Bowl; Orlando, Fla. (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC)
For the Irish to head to the New Year’s Day lead-in to the Playoff, Wisconsin must head to the Orange Bowl. The Badgers get that right only if they are ranked ahead of all non-Playoff SEC teams. In other words, Wisconsin needs to be ranked ahead of Auburn and possibly Alabama, if Ohio State claims the fourth and final Playoff spot.

The Buckeyes cannot go to the Orange Bowl, a quirk included in the contracts as something of a concession to the Rose Bowl in years where the Rose Bowl is a semifinal. Thus, even if Alabama makes the Playoff, it is the Badgers who need to fit in ahead of Auburn, not Ohio State.

In the case of Alabama making the Playoff, a conspiracy theorist could see the committee putting Wisconsin ahead of Auburn to be sure to send an SEC team to the Peach Bowl, held at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. If the Tide do not make the Playoff, then that would no longer be a concern as the SEC would have two teams floating amongst the eight to be assigned to eligible bowls.

If any of this comes to be, Notre Dame would face an SEC team in the Citrus Bowl, theoretically LSU.

Camping World Bowl; Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 28, 4:15 p.m., ESPN)
If Alabama is not in the Playoff, then this is the reality awaiting the Irish. The Tide would head to the Orange Bowl, a Big Ten team to the Citrus Bowl and then Notre Dame plays the Thursday evening following Christmas.

This all also applies if Alabama is in the Playoff, but Auburn finishes ranked ahead of Wisconsin. The Tigers would subsequently head to the Orange Bowl, and the dominoes fall right back into place.

The Irish would face a Big 12 foe, perhaps Iowa State.


Nailing down which of the latter two scenarios is most likely hinges largely on if Ohio State or Alabama claims the final Playoff spot. If the Buckeyes do, then the odds tilt heavily toward Notre Dame going to the Camping World Bowl. If the Tide gets a chance to face Clemson for the third January in a row (from a selfish view, please let that be case), then the question would be if the committee gives merit to how close Wisconsin kept the Big 10 title game compared to the SEC’s blowout with Auburn on the losing end.

A meaningless prediction from these parts: Alabama gets in, Wisconsin heads to the Orange and Notre Dame beats LSU to start 2018.

Notre Dame’s bowl projections and opponents’ results

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Notre Dame fell to No. 15 in the most-recent College Football Playoff selection committee poll Tuesday night. At this point, a bowl appearance in Orlando is a near certainty. Three possibilities remain, listed in order from most-to-least likely:

Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET: The Irish head to the Citrus if the Big Ten has a higher ranked non-Playoff participant than the SEC does. A second-tier SEC opponent would await in the Citrus Bowl, most likely LSU or perhaps Mississippi State.

In other words, if No. 8 Ohio State beats No. 4 Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship as bookmakers project, but No. 5 Alabama makes the Playoff rather than the Buckeyes, then a Notre Dame afternoon in the Citrus Bowl seems likely.

Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28, 5: 15 p.m. ET: If an SEC non-Playoff participant is higher ranked than all the Big Ten’s such teams, then the Irish will fall to the Camping World Bowl to face a Big 12 foe — Iowa State, for example.

Should the Tide be left out of the Playoff in nearly any way, it appears destined for the Orange Bowl, opening a Big Ten slot in the Citrus Bowl and moving Notre Dame to an evening discussing camping gear.

ND to the Citrus ND to the Camping World
Big Ten > SEC — Orange SEC > Big Ten — Orange
Big Ten to the Citrus Bowl

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET: What would it take for the Irish to reach a Playoff-eligible bowl? Notre Dame would need to move into the top 12. If No. 10 USC blows out No. 12 Stanford in the Pac 12 championship, the Cardinal could fall below Notre Dame. Subsequently, No. 3 Oklahoma embarrassing No. 11 TCU might drop the Horned Frogs past the Irish. That would still not be enough, though.

What if the Badgers beat Ohio State by something along the lines of 70-0? Then, and only then, the Buckeyes might drop out of the top 12 and open the possibility for Notre Dame to face current No. 13 Washington.


So much chaos is needed to move the Irish into the top 12 despite a rather strong schedule. Ten Irish opponents made bowl games, only Miami (OH) and North Carolina the exceptions. Eight of the 12 exceeded preseason expectations, totaling a 91-51 record, a .641 winning percentage.


Georgia (11-1): The Bulldogs remain in the Playoff hunt thanks to a 38-7 win at Georgia Tech. If Georgia tops No. 2 Auburn in the SEC title game (4 p.m. ET; CBS), then it should leap from No. 6 to the needed top four. It may be difficult, though, with the Tigers favored by two points and a combined point total over/under of 48.5. The Bulldogs will need to flip the script on an expected 25-23 conclusion.

USC (10-2): The Trojans enjoyed their first off week of the season. That rest may play a part in USC being favored by four in the Pac 12 championship against Stanford (8 p.m. ET on Friday; ESPN). An over/under of 58.5 creates a theoretical final of 31-27.

Miami (10-1): The Hurricanes fell 24-14 at Pittsburgh on Friday, endangering their Playoff hopes. A victory over Clemson to claim the ACC could still vault No. 7 Miami into the top four. It would be a notable upset, considering the Hurricanes are 9.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 47. Rough math makes for a 28-19 Tigers victory.

Stanford (9-3): If the Cardinal top USC on Friday, it should be headed to the Fiesta Bowl.


Temple (6-6): A 43-22 win at Tulsa got the Owls to bowl eligibility, though the six triumphs still fall ever so slightly below the preseason win total over/under of 6.5 victories.

Freshman running back A.J. Dillon provided the spark that changed Boston College’s season, carrying the Eagles offense through the latter half of the year. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Boston College (7-5): The Eagles finished the regular season on a high note with a 42-14 walloping at Syracuse, once again carried by freshman running back A.J. Dillon. The stalwart took 23 carries for 193 yards and three touchdowns to finish his debut campaign with 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns on 268 rush attempts. Boston College’s closing stretch of five wins in its final six games cleared the win total over/under of four all on its own. It seems worth noting the Eagles visit South Bend in 2019, before Dillon will be eligible to declare for the NFL Draft.

Michigan State (9-3): The Spartans routed Rutgers 40-7. Much like Notre Dame’s rebound of a season, Michigan State had no trouble surpassing its expected 6.5 wins.

Miami (OH) (5-7): The RedHawks concluded their season last Tuesday with a 28-7 win at Ball State. Miami entered the season favored to win the MAC’s Eastern Division, instead finishing third, so consider the season fitting of the spirit of an under.

North Carolina (3-9): The Tar Heels’ misery ended with a 33-21 loss at North Carolina State, finishing the season well short of the preseason’s over/under of seven victories.

North Carolina State (8-4): Speaking of the Wolfpack, it needed that victory to clear its over/under of 7.5

Wake Forest (7-5): The Demon Deacons finished the year on a down note, dropping the finale 31-23 to Duke, yet clearing the over/under of 5.5.

Navy (6-5): The Midshipmen lost 24-14 at Houston on Friday, but will have a chance to further their win total next weekend against Army (3 p.m. ET; CBS).


For thoroughness’ sake, all four teams playing this weekend cleared the overs on their win totals. Georgia — 8.5; USC — 9.5; Miami — 9; Stanford — 8.5.

Friday at 4: Some complaints, some predictions in the balance & one thought experiment

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Finding 40 things, concepts and people somewhat tied to Notre Dame and deserving of appreciation was an appropriate gimmick for yesterday, but it runs contrary to this scribe’s reputation. In an attempt to protect that cynic’s stance and counterbalance that 40, here are a baker’s dozen items worthy of Irish fans’ criticism, regret and/or disappointment:

— The lack of Notre Dame composure from the start at Miami two weeks ago.

— The lack of Irish execution at the end against Georgia in the season’s second week.

— Twitter’s 280 characters. As of now, excluding links and mentions, @D_Farmer has yet to release a tweet longer than 140 characters, and that will continue as long as is feasible due to some misguided and unfounded principle.

— The possibility of losing senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner after this season even though he will have another year of eligibility remaining. Bonner told Notre Dame’s independent student newspaper, The Observer, he does not intend to pursue a fifth year with the team. If that proves true, it will cut into the both the depth and the rotation on the interior of next year’s defensive line.

Bonner’s mother having cancer may be part of his motivation to move on to the next stage of his life, understandably so if so.

— Injuries throughout the NBA, including to Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Patrick Beverley. Each one diminishes an outstanding product.

— Ankle injuries, as suffered this season by Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, Tony Jones and Bryce Love.

— Brandon Wimbush lucked out of a number of interceptions in September’s first few weeks. Perhaps a humbling moment then may have forced the issue of earlier growth.

In a shortened season, sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson has made his presence quite known. Notre Dame fans will have to wait until 2018 to see what he can do when incorporated into a September. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

— Kevin Stepherson missing the first four games. The suspension was presumably warranted — there has been no reason to think otherwise — but given the sophomore receiver’s progress the last few weeks, it is tantalizing to think what he could already be if he had played a full fall.

— Sometimes, the toughest of times, the bacon-wrapped shrimp dish has only three such delicacies. Has that ever been enough? No. It has never been a satisfactorily-filling serving.

— Football season is only three months long. File that under the disappointing category.

— Notre Dame’s safety play remains undeniably underwhelming. Fortunately, there is an entire offseason to learn the grammatical nuances of Aloha and workshop the appropriate Aloha Alohi headlines.

— Online commentators. As advertised, this segment is intended to counterbalance yesterday’s good will.

More than a quarter of the 40 preseason predictions will be determined tomorrow.

A total of 11 of those 40 stand very much in the balance, including three in direct conflict with two others.

19) If junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown plays (concussion protocol), he will need two catches and 34 yards more than sophomore receiver Chase Claypool records to take the lead in those categories and a touchdown more than sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson scores to lead the Irish in the third receiving category.

24) Notre Dame currently averages 36.7 points per game. To fall within the predicted range of 34.9 to 36.4 points per game, the Irish would need to score between 15 and 34 points at Stanford.

His tackle totals are not astronomical, only third on Notre Dame’s defense, but senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill has affected the season in big ways, nonetheless. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

26) Statistically speaking, senior linebacker Drue Tranquill and junior linebacker Te’von Coney are tied for “big” plays this season. August’s prediction No. 26 implied Tranquill would lead Notre Dame in the category.

27) With 20 sacks to date, the Irish defense would need to record five more to reach the projected range of 25 to 29.

28) The exact same numbers apply to turnovers forced.

31) This space predicted Notre Dame would beat Stanford. It also predicted the Cardinal would fail to reach nine wins (No. 32) in the regular season and only four Irish opponents would finish the season ranked (No. 35). If Stanford wins Saturday, all three of those predictions will be foiled with one fell swoop.

32-33) The other season win total over/unders hanging in the balance are North Carolina State exceeding 7.5 wins (currently at seven), Georgia Tech failing to reach six wins (currently with five) and LSU falling short of nine wins (currently at eight). If all three of these and the Cardinal prediction were to come true, the over/under predictions would finish at 5-5 overall, a losing record when factoring in the discrepancies inherent to such wagers.

38) August predicted Notre Dame would finish ranked between Nos. 13 and 18. It will undoubtedly finish higher than that with a win this weekend.

39) Likewise, a win this weekend will send the Irish to a playoff-eligible bowl, not one of the two options in Orlando as predicted.

Finally, a thought experiment prompted by …

In the last four decades, 21 teams have won national championships. That list, in full, in order of most recent title:

Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Texas, USC, Miami, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Nebraska, Michigan, Washington, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Penn State, BYU, Georgia.

Russo’s point is valid. That is a pretty thorough list. Add in the likes of UCLA and Oregon, perhaps Texas A&M due to its recruiting base, and it may be comprehensive.

One exception needs to be added, though. In basketball, it is referred to as the “Larry Bird factor.” Bird led Indiana State through an undefeated season to the 1979 National Championship game, falling to Magic Johnson and Michigan State.

One player changing every dynamic of a game happens more frequently in basketball than it does in football. In the former, one player is 10 percent of the participants, not less than five percent as he is in football. But every so often, once every five or seven years, a quarterback comes along with that exact effect.

Vince Young at Texas in 2005. Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010. Deshaun Watson at Clemson in 2017. Admittedly, Clemson also won the national title in 1981, but otherwise, none of those three schools make this listing without those quarterbacks.

The four-team Playoff format makes it even more difficult for an upstart program to reach the promised land, but Larry Bird had to navigate four rounds before even facing Magic Johnson. It is rare one player has such an effect, but it is neither unheard of nor impossible to fathom again.

Notre Dame’s Opponents and Playoff Competition: Results and Upcoming

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Winning at Stanford would give Notre Dame its third win over a team in this week’s College Football Playoff selection committee top 25, with the Cardinal moving up one spot to No. 21 on Tuesday.

In Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mind, that résumé might yet warrant Playoff consideration.

“Our mission is still to hold out hope for one of the Playoff spots,” Kelly said Tuesday. “… It’s trying to prepare [his team] for one more game and finishing off the season on a high note.”

Kelly’s mission may be far-fetched, though he is certainly aware of as much. However, it is not yet beyond fathoming.

“If you’re in the top eight, you’re strongly considered,” Kelly said. “… The teams that are up there have all had one bad day, and we had one bad day, too.”

Remaining at No. 8, Notre Dame will need a few teams to have another bad day in the next two weekends. This past bland weekend left the top 12 largely unchanged, only Miami moving up to No. 2, knocking Clemson down to No. 3. A conspiracy theorist might think that set the groundwork for a tight Clemson victory in the ACC title game next weekend leading to both ACC finalists making the Playoff. With that in mind, make the first Irish-preferred domino a Miami victory in that game.

Kelly should also hope No. 6 Auburn beats No. 1 Alabama this weekend before losing to No. 7 Georgia next weekend. No. 5 Wisconsin topping No. 9 Ohio State next weekend in the Big Ten championship would likely aid Notre Dame’s cause, as would No. 12 TCU upsetting No. 4 Oklahoma in the Big 12 final.

For Notre Dame to make the College Football Playoff, Heisman front-runner Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma will likely need to lose at some point in the next two weeks. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

That scenario would leave Georgia, Miami and Wisconsin as likely locks for the Playoff. The conversation around the fourth Playoff spot would revolve around a one-loss Alabama, a two-loss Clemson, a two-loss Oklahoma, a two-loss TCU and a two-loss Notre Dame.

Of course, that all only comes into consideration if the Irish beat Stanford this weekend.

Arguments could be made for each of those five possibilities. Spending time on those could quickly be time spent on fantasy if all five of those dominos do not fall perfectly.

In that case, it remains simple for Notre Dame. Beat the Cardinal and make a Playoff-eligible bowl, which one likely depending on if Miami makes the Playoff or not. If the Hurricanes are in the Playoff, then the Irish may be heading back to Miami Gardens and the Orange Bowl. If Miami lands at its home venue, than a Notre Dame victory this weekend should send Kelly to the Cotton Bowl.

An Irish loss in Palo Alto still sends them to Orlando in one form or another, be it the Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET) or the Camping World Bowl (Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m.).

As a refresher of the Playoff contenders and their remaining slates:
1) Alabama: at No. 6 Auburn; with a victory in the Iron Bowl, then head to face No. 7 Georgia in the SEC championship.
2) Miami: at Pittsburgh, vs. No. 3 Clemson.
3) Clemson: at No. 24 South Carolina, vs. No. 2 Miami.
4) Oklahoma: vs. West Virginia; most likely vs. No. 12 TCU in the Big 12 title game, though the Horned Frogs have not secured that finish just yet.
5) Wisconsin: at Minnesota; vs. No. 9 Ohio State.
6) Auburn: vs. No. 1 Alabama; with a victory in the Iron Bowl, then head to face No. 7 Georgia in the SEC championship.
7) Georgia: at Georgia Tech; vs. the Iron Bowl victor.
8) Notre Dame: at No. 21 Stanford.
9) Ohio State: at Michigan; vs. No. 5 Wisconsin.

Notre Dame’s Opponents
Temple (5-6): The Owls lost 45-19 to undefeated Central Florida. Temple now needs to beat Tulsa (4 p.m. ET; ESPN News) to secure bowl eligibility. The Owls are favored by three with a combined point total over/under of 59, indicating a 31-28 conclusion.

Georgia (10-1): The Bulldogs trounced Kentucky 42-13, cashing in on another efficient performance from freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who finished 9-of-14 passing for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Georgia is favored by 11 against Georgia Tech (12 p.m. ET; ABC), an over/under of 51.5 pointing to a 31-20 result.

Boston College running back A.J. Dillon is the Eagles offense sole reliable producer at this point. (Getty Images)

Boston College (6-5): The Eagles secured a 13th game to the season by beating Connecticut 39-16 in Fenway Park, even though they were without starting quarterback junior Anthony Brown. Freshman running back A.J. Dillon picked up the slack, taking 24 carries for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Boston College now travels to Syracuse (12:20 p.m. ET; ACC Network) as 3.5-point favorites with an over/under of 56.5, roughly equaling a 30-27 score.

Michigan State (8-3): The Spartans moved up one spot to No. 16 in the CFP poll after beating Maryland 17-7. They can’t win the Big Ten, but they can win at Rutgers (4 p.m. ET; FOX), favored by nearly two touchdowns with a 26-13 decision sounding reasonable only if Michigan State comes out flat.

Miami (OH) (5-7): The RedHawks season ended Tuesday night with a 28-7 win at Ball State. Entering the year with seemingly-realistic aspirations of winning the MAC, missing out on a bowl game entirely makes for quite the disappointing season for former Irish assistant Chuck Martin.

North Carolina (3-8): The Tar Heels won their second straight, beating FCS-level Western Carolina 65-10. That win streak is likely to come to an end at North Carolina State (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPNU) this weekend. The Wolfpack is a 16-point favorite with an over/under of 56. Quick math makes for a 36-20 Tar Heels loss.

USC (10-2): After a 28-23 victory over UCLA, the No. 11 Trojans can finally enjoy a week off, their first of the season, before the Pac 12 title game next Friday. They will face either Washington State or Stanford then, depending if the Cougars beat Washington this weekend.

North Carolina State (7-4): A 30-24 loss to Wake Forest is the first real letdown of a loss for the Wolfpack since the season opener, only otherwise dropping games to Notre Dame and Clemson.

Wake Forest (7-4): Head coach Dave Clawson can put the final cherry on top of a resoundingly-successful 2017 with a victory against Duke (12:30 p.m. ET; ACC Network). Bookmakers certainly expect as much from the Deacons, making them 12-point favorites with an over/under of 58, leading to a 35-23 projected score.

Miami (11-0): The Hurricanes overcame a slow start to top Virginia 44-28. Just shy of two-touchdown favorites for its trip to Pittsburgh on Friday (12:00 p.m. ET; ABC), Miami will be fine with a 33-19 victory.

Navy (6-4): The Midshipmen will look to rebound from their 24-17 defeat at Notre Dame by traveling to Houston on Friday (12 p.m. ET; ESPN). While it would be an upset, Navy just might win, only a 4.5-point underdog with an over/under of 55. That’s a theoretical 30-25 nod toward the Cougars.

Stanford (8-3): The Cardinal put the pressure on Washington State to keep it out of the Pac 12 title game by beating Cal 17-14. After starting 1-2, this has been a strong turnaround for David Shaw’s charges. As of this early Wednesday a.m. typing, Stanford welcomes Notre Dame as 2.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 57. Hypothetically, that points to the Irish prevailing 30-27.

It should be noted, that over/under ticked upward by two points after Shaw said star junior running back Bryce Love is “day-to-day” Tuesday.

Questions for the week: If without St. Brown, who will Notre Dame turn to?

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Equanimeous St. Brown may not have matched his breakout sophomore season of a year ago, but his junior year has been nothing to scoff at. Despite being held without a catch in Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday, primarily due to injury, the junior receiver stands second in all Irish receiving categories.

If St. Brown is not cleared from the concussion protocol by the end of the week, he will be missed at Stanford (8 p.m. ET; ABC).

How will Notre Dame adjust without its most consistent receiver?

St. Brown has 26 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns this season. Sophomore Chase Claypool exceeds the first two figures and sophomore Kevin Stepherson caught his third and fourth touchdowns against the Midshipmen. Those two are the obvious candidates to replace St. Brown’s production.

Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson led all Irish receivers with five catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns during Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

That applies to Stepherson more than Claypool, despite the greater physical disparity from St. Brown. Simply enough, Stepherson’s continued increase in prevalence in the Irish passing game would likely surpass a healthy St. Brown this weekend.

The other possibility is junior Miles Boykin. In St. Brown’s absence this past weekend, Boykin caught two passes for 33 yards. His physicality and skillset most mirrors St. Brown’s, and plugging him into any three-receiver sets would allow Stepherson and Claypool to stick to the roles they regularly rehearse.

Will Notre Dame slow Stanford star running back Bryce Love? Rather, will the Irish need to?

Continued ankle and lower leg injuries have hampered Love for much of the season now. They kept him on the sidelines when the Cardinal barely slipped past Oregon State a few weeks ago, and they limited his fourth quarter this past weekend during Stanford’s 17-14 victory against Cal. The junior finished with 101 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Backup Cameron Scarlett added 61 yards on 14 carries.

Injuries have been about the only thing capable of consistently stopping Stanford running back Bryce Love this season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In the fourth quarter, Love took four carries for 11 total yards. For a running threat rarely stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, it was startling to see him take one of those carries to the line and no further while another gained just one yard.

Thus, there seems to be some logic to Stanford keeping Love sidelined once more. If Washington beats Washington State on Saturday — played concurrently on FOX with the game at hand — then the Cardinal heads to the Pac-12 title game. As much as Stanford undoubtedly wants to beat Notre Dame, there are many more rewards available for winning the conference, such as a nice New Year’s holiday spent in Phoenix, Ariz., instead of a Christmas week spent at home preparing for the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif.

Will there be any movement within the College Football Playoff poll?

When it comes to tonight’s poll, not much, if any, of note. Few games registered on the national radar last week, and none resulted in top-10 upsets.

One development affects it looking forward, though. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier underwent finger surgery Sunday and will not lead the Mountaineers against Oklahoma as a result (3:45 p.m. ET; ESPN). If West Virginia ever stood a chance at the upset — and greatly helping any Irish dreams of still reaching the Playoff — it was likely going to need an otherworldly performance from Grier.

With a win this weekend, the Sooners would all but assure themselves priority over Notre Dame, even if Oklahoma loses to TCU in the Big 12 championship.

Will Miami finish the regular season undefeated?
Similarly, a win this weekend should lock the Hurricanes ahead of the Irish no matter next week’s results. Miami heads to Pittsburgh (12 p.m. ET on Friday; ABC), but that should not be seen as the sure thing instinct might imply it is. A mere 54 weeks ago, a middling Panthers team upset the No. 3 team in the country, stopping Clemson’s pursuit of a perfect slate.

Can Georgia survive Georgia Tech’s option?
Again, a Bulldogs win (12 p.m. ET, ABC) should secure them a nice spot in any chaos-filled future pecking order. However, that will not be an easy task. Paul Johnson will be sure of that.

Can North Carolina State hit the over?
This may not be as consequential, but before the season, this space predicted the Wolfpack would exceed 7.5 wins this regular season, and a win over North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPNU) is needed for that cause.

Lastly, remember folks, you won’t nod off late Thursday afternoon because turkey has an excess of tryptophan. Chicken actually has more per ounce. Rather, you simply ate too much of the fowl.