Conversation around No. 3 Notre Dame changes, even as the Playoff poll does not

Associated Press

The top 10 of the College Football Playoff poll did not change this week, meaning Notre Dame remained at No. 3 with Michigan just behind the Irish at No. 4. In something resembling newsworthiness, though, the immediate analysis credited Notre Dame (10-0) for once. Perhaps, finally, against all odds, logic has prevailed over attention-seeking takes.

“What kind of defensive line do you have, and Notre Dame has an excellent defensive line,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said at the end of the below clip. “And about their secondary, they might be able to get away with not having superior secondary play because they’re so good up front and they can get pressure with four.”

As a whole, the ESPN panel discussing the weekly presentation of the selection committee’s rankings spoke favorably of the Irish schedule — in part because Syracuse moved up to No. 12 and Northwestern showed up at No. 22 — and recent performances.

It is impossible to know just how secure Notre Dame is at No. 3 as long as it is unbeaten, but it may be worth noting the Irish did not come up during a conference call with committee chairman Rob Mullens after the release Tuesday evening. As much as Notre Dame fans may be trained to panic, fret, expect the worst and fear a non-existent prejudice, such concern is unfounded.

Much of that paranoia hinges on Michigan’s recent play, as dominating as anyone’s in the country save Alabama. Yet, it cannot be forgotten the Wolverines’ win streak is only nine games, not 10, because they lost their season opener to the Irish.

“If we’re going to eliminate head-to-head with two teams that are that close in the poll, given that it happened in September, and there’s no other extenuating circumstance with Notre Dame — they haven’t lost a game to this point — it makes no sense,” said Mike Tirico during Saturday’s NBC broadcast of the 42-13 Irish victory against Florida State.

Tirico is right, and it is important to note the phrase he slipped in: “they haven’t lost a game to this point.” As long as Notre Dame is undefeated, no worry need be wrought. If that changes, losses in the Big Ten and/or Big 12 will become paramount.

Although the Irish are not playing as well as Michigan, they are clearly not winning by the thinnest of margins. Even the 19-14 victory against Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 came with a 97 percent postgame win expectancy upon a closer look at the box score. The same number applies to the 31-21 win at Northwestern. In fact, Notre Dame has not had a postgame win expectancy — essentially a retrospective estimation of control of the game — lower than 95 percent since switching to junior quarterback Ian Book, and that includes the 99 percent against the Seminoles with senior Brandon Wimbush starting in place of an injured Book (ribs).

“If you compare this Notre Dame to where they were in ‘12 … this feels very, very different,” Herbstreit said.

The doomsday scenario of No. 5 Georgia beating No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game would (possibly) knock out the No. 4 team in the country, not the No. 3.

Any Irish record that ends with “and-oh” will suffice to get into the Playoff. Claims otherwise are born from idle minds.

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

Only one of those 10 faces another ranked opponent, Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Syracuse at Yankee Stadium at 2:30 ET on NBC.

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.

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