Associated Press

Notre Dame a step behind the finalists, but only a step behind and behind only them

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An old gambling adage insists, “No team is as good as its most-recent game, and no team is as bad, either.” The logic applies far beyond wagering. It is, simply put, a guard against recency bias.

A week ago, such poor judgement insisted Notre Dame never belonged in the College Football Playoff, its 30-3 Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson an inarguable indicator the Irish were overrated and more comparable to three-loss Florida, Michigan or Syracuse than Oklahoma, Ohio State or Georgia. As a program, Notre Dame was closer to the Camping World Bowl than a title.

Following Monday’s title game rout in which the Tigers rolled past Alabama 44-16, recency bias points out the Irish lost by 27 to the national champions, a point better than the Tide managed. Notre Dame’s loss was entirely a reflection of how good Clemson is. Dropping the Irish to No. 5 in the final AP poll was nothing but evidence of national prejudice.

None of those conclusions are accurate. Notre Dame is not as bad as the Cotton Bowl showed. Alabama is not as bad as the title game. Clemson is not — well, actually, the Tigers might be thaät good, and with quarterback Trevor Lawrence and receiver Justyn Ross only freshmen and running back Travis Etienne a sophomore, do not expect them to fall off in the next 12 months.

Neither the Tide nor the Irish may be on Clemson’s level at the moment, and it is reasonable to pair Alabama and Notre Dame in that thought, though the former would have beaten the latter if the semifinal pairings had been inverted.

That should not be forgotten just because the Tigers got on a role Monday night. The Irish are still in the second tier, nationally speaking. Just as the Cotton Bowl loss should not have knocked them down to the third or fourth, Alabama’s missteps do not elevate Notre Dame to a 2019 frontrunner. Having gone 22-4 across the last two seasons, the Irish have pushed their way into the conversation containing Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia.

Way-too-early to be considered way-too-early odds on winning next year’s title put Notre Dame at 25-to-1, tied for eighth-best. Those chances are lowered by having two trips to similar teams (Georgia and Michigan, both 12-to-1).

It remains a narrow needle to thread, and the Irish do not yet have the talent to take a week off. Then again, neither did Ohio State or Georgia this season. Only Clemson and Alabama have shown depth that talented. But Notre Dame is far ahead of Syracuse and probably even a few of those viewed similarly by bookmakers. Those Nebraska odds, in particular, raise an eyebrow.

In 229 days, this all begins again. That time does not need to be spent lamenting the end of the Irish season. Monday night’s result, however, also does not give credence to the text, “So maybe ND isn’t that bad after all?”

That was a question that never should have been asked in the first place, last week or this week.

FINAL AP POLL
The last ranking of the season slotted the Irish at No. 5, behind Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, respectively. Not to jump to September too quickly, but only two 2019 opponents finished in the top 25, Georgia at No. 7 and Michigan at No. 14.

229 DAYS
Yes, that seems like a big number, but it becomes more tolerable when realizing the Kentucky Derby, on May 4, represents the halfway point.