Notre Dame rises to No. 3 in Playoff poll

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As things stand after these most-recent rankings, Notre Dame may be able to avoid Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals. The selection committee moved the unbeaten Irish to No. 3 on Tuesday, a one spot jump thanks in part to winning 31-21 at Northwestern and in part to the Tide’s 29-0 rout of then-No. 3 LSU.

It is reasonable to think these top three, with Clemson at No. 2, will remain unchanged if none lose. In that situation, Notre Dame would meet the Tigers in one semifinal while Alabama awaits either No. 4 Michigan (8-1) or whomever emerges as the final Playoff entry should the Wolverines stumble.

Splitting hairs between the top-three teams is an unnecessary exercise as long as all three remain undefeated. Suffice it to say, the winners of the last three national championships have shown a level of dominance this season that has evaded the Irish, even as they have gelled with junior Ian Book starting at quarterback the last six games.

“Notre Dame has had that steady defense and then you’re seeing some growth with Ian Book at quarterback,” committee chair Rob Mullens said Tuesday night during ESPN’s rankings reveal. “At the end of the day, after 10 weeks, you still have that head-to-head, so the committee felt it appropriate to have Notre Dame at No. 3 and Michigan at No. 4.”

Syracuse moved up to No. 13 in the rankings from No. 19 a week ago, the only remaining Notre Dame opponent in the poll.

This coming weekend includes just four top-25 matchups, though they do include the duo atop the poll. Alabama hosts No. 16 Mississippi State (3:30 ET; CBS) while Clemson visits No. 17 Boston College (8 ET; ABC). Each is favored by at least 20, so any changes in next week’s poll will be very much unexpected. No. 5 Georgia also hosts No. 24 Auburn and No. 10 Ohio State heads to No. 18 Michigan State.

1: Alabama 9-0.
2: Clemson 9-0.
3: Notre Dame 9-0.
4: Michigan 8-1, 24-17 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 1.
5: Georgia 8-1, 36-16 loss at LSU on Oct. 13.
6: Oklahoma 8-1, 48-45 loss vs. Texas on Oct. 6.
7: LSU 7-2.
8: Washington State 8-1, 39-36 loss at USC on Sept. 21.
9: West Virginia 7-1, 30-14 loss at Iowa State on Oct. 13.
10: Ohio State 8-1, 49-20 loss at Purdue on Oct. 20.

The College Football Playoff semifinals are Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl (Miami) and the Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas). The national championship will be Jan. 7 in northern California.