Can Notre Dame kill Pac-12’s playoff chances?

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After eight weeks, the forecast for the first College Football Playoff is coming into focus. After falling to Florida State last weekend, the Irish lost pole position. But as a one-loss team now likely competing for one of the final spots in the four-team event, Notre Dame remains one of the top dark horse candidates.

Right now, just about everyone concedes the top seed to an SEC team. And with Florida State likely to run the table the remainder of the way, the Seminoles, as the defending national champs, feel like a lock for another spot.

Oddly enough, Bovada in Las Vegas has Nick Saban’s Alabama program as the odds-on favorite to win the playoff, making it pretty obvious that the smart money thinks two SEC teams will get invited to the party.

That leaves major conference champions from the Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-12 all likely fighting for a single invite. And doing so with a Notre Dame team that could be 11-1 with a last-second, controversial loss to the defending national champ, a loss that would seemingly be hard to beat for a quality defeat.

As we begin to explore what the political landscape will be like as team’s jockey for positioning with the selection committee, the Oregonian’s John Canzano gives us a look at some of the thinking in Pac-12 country, where Canzano views Notre Dame as the conference’s biggest threat.

“Undeniably, and without question, if you’re a Pac-12 fan, you have to like what you see on the committee. Pat Haden, athletic director at USC, is on the committee. So is former Cardinal and Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham. So is former Stanford provost Condoleeza Rice, who is chummy with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. Also,  ex-NCAA executive Tom Jernstedt, who played for Len Casanova at Oregon, is on the committee. If the Pac-12 gets shut out, it wasn’t because nobody knew where Pullman, Wash. is.

Feel good about that.

Also, if you’re a Pac-12 fan, the team you most need to focus your voodoo doll on right now is Notre Dame. The Irish present a problem for the Pac-12 champion. Given that ND played Florida State to the final snap on Saturday, there has the potential to be a lot of clamoring for a ND-FSU rematch if the Irish win out.

The Irish beat Stanford earlier this season, and have Pac-12 games remaining at Arizona State (Nov. 8) and at USC (Nov. 29). There isn’t a non-conference opponent who threatens to do more damage to the Pac-12’s brand this season than Notre Dame, which could finish 3-0 against the conference. I don’t think the Pac-12 is very good this season. Lots of flaws. But Notre Dame has a chance to say that to the selection committee in a way that exposes the conference as weak. So yeah. Root against the Irish if you care.

Rule one: If Notre Dame wins out, they’re in the final four. No question.

Rule two: If Florida State wins out, they’re in, too. (No currently ranked teams left on the Seminoles schedule, by the way).

Rule three: Whoever wins the SEC is in. No question.

Rule four: This is ridiculous. That leaves only one spot for everyone else.”

That Notre Dame’s season — not to mention the Pac-12’s hopes for a spot in the Playoff — depend on either Arizona State or USC knocking off Notre Dame adds a new complexity to these proceedings. That the Irish have to travel to both Sun Devil Stadium and the Coliseum to do it adds drama as well.

As we look at scheduling, Jack Swarbrick has been wise to continue to keep Notre Dame’s slate as difficult as humanly possible. Some years (like this one), that doesn’t matter. Down seasons for Michigan and Stanford made an early grinder, not to mention the travel-averse home slate, look a lot less difficult.

But as conferences and teams understand the selection committee’s process, and their value on a challenging schedule, a November spent politicking for BCS bids could turn into a debate over four coveted seats at the postseason table. Let the fun begin.