It is simple at this point, and this will not be the last time it is said: If No. 3 Notre Dame (11-0) wins at USC on Saturday (8 ET; ABC), it will be in the College Football Playoff. The odds of both No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson losing are utterly slim, so the Irish will rise no higher than No. 2 and conceivably have to face both of them in a chase for a title.
Any hopes of Notre Dame jumping those unbeatens were all-but dashed by Playoff selection committee chairman Rob Mullens on Tuesday night after the most-recent poll was released.
“I want to be clear, we said there was a deep discussion on 3, 4, 5, and the head-to-head at this point still does carry the weight,” Mullens said. “That’s why Notre Dame is 3, Michigan is 4, and Georgia is 5.
“… When you look at those, we see Alabama and Clemson through week 12 as more complete teams with strength on both sides of the ball.”
Whether agreeing with that or not, the committee’s view is unlikely to change, barring an upset. That removes most all drama from the equation if the Irish can prevail this weekend.
If they lose, is there a route to the Playoff still? Yes.
It will help if Alabama and Clemson keep things easy and finish 13-0 each. Then, Notre Dame would need either, or both, Michigan or No. 6 Oklahoma (Friday; 8 ET; ESPN) to lose. No. 10 Ohio State’s body of work is unlikely to top an 11-1 Irish season, meaning the Buckeyes winning the Big Ten should not affect Notre Dame concerns.
Then, to reduce stress, it would help the Irish if No. 8 Washington State also lost, most likely Friday vs. No. 16 Washington (8:30 ET; FOX). Presuming, as an example, the Cougars and the Sooners lose but the Wolverines win out, that would leave a set Playoff field of Alabama, Clemson and Michigan with 11-1 Notre Dame and 13-0 Central Florida the likely candidates for the last spot.
That is far from an outlandish scenario for the Irish to suffer a loss but still reach the Playoff. It is, however, an unnecessary one. For once, Notre Dame controls what comes next. Just win.
Michigan (10-1): The Wolverines struggled for a bit with Indiana, trailing 17-15 at halftime before riding 50 rush attempts for 257 yards to a 31-20 victory.
Michigan now gets its make-or-break moment. Its first one, at least. As 5-point favorites at Ohio State (12 ET; FOX), the Wolverines should put a dagger in the Buckeyes’ faint Playoff hopes. A combined point total over/under of 56.5 paints a 31-26 picture.
Ball St. (4-8): The Cardinals ended their season with a 42-21 loss Tuesday at Miami (OH). For the RedHawks’ concerns, that win brought bowl eligibility to Chuck Martin’s team and kept alive the faintest of MAC title hopes; to reach the conference championship game, Martin now needs Ohio to win as 23.5-point favorites vs. Akron and Bowling Green to upset Buffalo as 14.5-point underdogs. Both games are Friday at 12 ET.
Vanderbilt (5-6): The Commodores beat Ole Miss 36-29 in overtime to bring themselves to the precipice of bowl eligibility, a third SEC win at their fingertips. If Vanderbilt can hold serve as a 3.5-point favorite against Tennessee (4 ET; SEC Network), it will be the third-straight win against the in-state rival.
Wake Forest (5-6): The Deacons were manhandled by Pittsburgh to the tune of 34-13 with only 285 total yards, 79 rushing yards and 20:29 time of possession. Things may not get better at Duke (12:30 ET) as 12-point underdogs with an over/under of 58.5 hinting at a 35-23 loss.
Stanford (6-4): Poor air quality due to the rampant wildfires in northern California forced the Cardinal and Cal to postpone their annual meeting until Dec. 1, a possibility because Stanford is not in conference title contention this season.
The Cardinal are favored by 6.5 points at UCLA (3 ET; Pac-12 Network).
Virginia Tech (4-6): A 38-14 loss to Miami forced the Hokies to conditionally schedule a game with Marshall on Dec. 1 in pursuit of bowl eligibility. If Virginia Tech upsets Virginia (Friday; 3:30 ET; ABC) despite being 4-point ‘dogs, then it will play the Thundering Herd. If the Hokies lose this weekend, though, that December contest will never come to be.
Pittsburgh (7-4): The Panthers won the ACC Coastal courtesy of their dismantling of Wake Forest. As a result, a letdown may be expected this weekend at Miami (3:30 ET; ESPN), with the Hurricanes favored by 4.5 and an over/under of 49 setting the stage for a 27-22 result.
Navy (3-8): The Midshipmen topped Tulsa 37-29 and are now 7-point underdogs heading to Tulane (12 ET; ESPNU). For most this would be the merciful end to a disappointing season, but obviously Army awaits in a couple weeks.
Northwestern (7-4): This screamed a letdown moment for the Wildcats, the week after winning the Big Ten West, but instead they handled their business at Minnesota, 24-14. Doing so again against Illinois (3:30 ET; Big Ten Network) would be impressive in its own right, even if favored by 17.
Florida State (5-6): The Seminoles needed a 74-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 left followed by a two-point conversion to beat Boston College 22-21 and keep their bowl hopes alive. The longest bowl streak in the NCAA will live or die against Florida (12 ET; ABC), with the Gators favored by 6.5 and the over/under of 53 indicating a 30-23 ending to the postseason run.
Syracuse (8-3): Losing by 33 points to Notre Dame may have a residual effect on the Orange, now touchdown underdogs at Boston College (12 ET; ESPN), though the status of senior quarterback Eric Dungey will undoubtedly impact those expectations, as yet unknown.
USC (5-6): The Trojans were outscored 13-0 in the final frame of a 34-27 loss at UCLA, continuing their spiral before facing the Irish (8 ET; ABC) as 10.5-point underdogs. The over/under of 54.5 equals a 32-22 projected score.
Friday 3:30 ET: Virginia Tech vs. Virginia on ABC.
Saturday 12 ET: Michigan at Ohio State on FOX; Navy at Tulane on ESPNU; Florida State vs. Florida on ABC; Syracuse at Boston College on ESPN.
12:30 ET: Wake Forest at Duke.
3 ET: Stanford at UCLA on Pac-12 Network.
3:30 ET: Pittsburgh at Miami on ESPN; Northwestern vs. Illinois on BTN.
4 ET: Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee on SEC Network.
8 ET: USC vs. Notre Dame on ABC.
Favorites: Michigan -5; Vanderbilt -3.5; Stanford -6.5; Northwestern -17.
Underdogs: Wake Forest +12; Virginia Tech +4; Pittsburgh +4.5; Navy +7; Florida State +6.5; Syracuse +7; USC +10.5.