After losing at Georgia, Notre Dame’s résumé was never going to be enough to get the Irish into the College Football Playoff this season. Even just three weeks into September, it was clear no other Notre Dame opponent would qualify as a marquee win. There was (is) plenty of time for USC, Michigan and/or Stanford to turn around their seasons, but that as a likelihood never existed.
Losing at Athens cost the Irish résumé any hopes of stacking up against other title contenders. Going 11-1 with a loss at Ann Arbor but a win between the hedges would have given Notre Dame a semblance of a chance to claim superiority to other one-loss teams but even that would have been a narrow path to tread.
It is not that the Irish always need to go undefeated to make the Playoff; it is that as soon as they lose a game, their résumé will no longer be what gets them into the top four. If both California schools are atop the Pac 12 and the ACC happens to rotate Clemson onto Notre Dame’s calendar the same year, and then the Irish go 11-1, a schedule argument might hold water. Otherwise, Notre Dame needs chaos.
And that is why Georgia losing to South Carolina last weekend should be viewed as a good thing for Irish dreams. While the Bulldogs’ overtime loss hurts Notre Dame’s résumé, it also lessens the SEC’s chances of getting two teams into the Playoff. If that happens, there is little-to-no chance a one-loss team with the Irish slate gets one of the other two spots, not while Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State/Penn State/Wisconsin run rampant.
With the possible, though arguable and probably mistaken, exception of the Tigers, any one of those teams would get into the Playoff with a loss before Notre Dame would. The chances of two of the three conference champions losing multiple games are slim.
Georgia losing, however, creates a plausible pathway toward only one SEC team finishing with no more than one loss. (The most-obvious path: Alabama finishes 13-0, giving the Bulldogs and Auburn each a second loss, as well as one to LSU, who also loses to Auburn or Texas A&M.)
If only one SEC team reaches the Playoff, then the Irish, at 11-1, would need only one of the Clemson, Oklahoma and Big Ten triumvirate to utterly stumble. It is still unlikely, but it is feasible.
Notre Dame’s résumé was never going to stand up against other one-loss contenders’. Chaos is the only way for the Irish to make the Playoff, even if that chaos began with the weakening of Notre Dame’s own strength of schedule.
In the name of chaos, this weekly piece will begin rifling through those necessities at the expense of some detail on the escapades of the lesser Irish opponents. Starting with an idea of who might fall from those contenders this weekend, if anyone …
No. 1 Alabama: vs. Tennessee, favored by 34.5.
No. 2 LSU: at Mississippi State, favored by 18.5.
No. 3 Clemson: at Louisville, favored by 23.5.
No. 4 Ohio State: at Northwestern on Friday, favored by 28.
No. 5 Oklahoma: vs. West Virginia, favored by 33.5.
No. 6 Wisconsin: at Illinois, favored by 31.
No. 7 Penn State: vs. Michigan, favored by 9.
Louisville (4-2): The Cardinals beat No. 19 Wake Forest, 62-59, to already top their season win total over/under, despite losing quarterback Jawon Pass for the season. Micale Cunningham has played better than Pass, anyway, including going 5-of-6 for 99 yards and two touchdowns in limited action last week with a knee injury. He is expected to be alright moving forward.
The Cardinals still gave up 668 yards and can thank a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown and a plus-1 turnover differential for that victory. They will need much, much more than those breaks to beat No. 3 Clemson (12 ET; ABC) as 23.5-point underdogs with a combined point total over/under of 60.5 as of Wednesday evening. A 42-18 blowout would be generous if the Tigers play to their abilities.
New Mexico (2-4): The Lobos lost 35-21 against Colorado State, getting outgained by 206 yards and leading to head coach Bob Davie to say things like, “The bottom line (is) you’re expected to win, and I take full responsibility.”
The march toward Davie’s dismissal continues at Wyoming (3 ET). As 19.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 49, New Mexico is looking at a projected defeat to the tune of 34-15.
Georgia (5-1): Reasons for the now-No. 10 Bulldogs to panic after their loss to South Carolina? Junior quarterback Jake Fromm threw three interceptions and senior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed two field goals.
Reasons not to panic? Win the SEC and Georgia will still be in the Playoff; it outgained the Gamecocks by 171 yards. If not for a negative-4 turnover differential, the Bulldogs would have cruised, not to completely discuss the quality of a Ford’s Theatre production.
Georgia will presumably not underestimate a feisty Kentucky team (6 ET; ESPN), but the 25-point spread combined with a 46.5-point over/under indicates bookmakers already have, estimating the Bulldogs get back to winning with a 35-10 final.
Virginia (4-2): The Cavaliers falling 17-9 at Miami on Friday put the ACC Coastal into disarray once again. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has no one but himself to blame, twice opting for field goals within the 10-yard line, not a strong way to chase victory. Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins continued to struggle on the ground, needing 12 carries to gain 55 yards (sacks adjusted).
Virginia still controls its own division hopes (Miami lost to both North Carolina and Virginia Tech) but will need to top Duke (3:30 ET) while favored by just three points with an over/under of 45. A 24-21 conclusion would presume Mendenhall still leans into field goals.
Bowling Green (2-4): The Falcons inexplicably beat Toledo, 20-7, behind quarterback Grant Loy’s efficient 14-of-21 for 185 yards and a touchdown with another 137 yards and a score coming on 19 carries. Brian VanGorder’s defense gave up only 132 yards on 39 carries, a 3.4 yards per rush against average.
Continuing that success seems unlikely against Central Michigan (2 ET; ESPN+). The usual metrics favor the Chippewas by 11 points with an over/under set at 54. The quick math results in a 33-21 expectation.
USC (3-3): The Trojans’ 30-27 loss at Notre Dame was their 19th consecutive game not winning the turnover battle. Hosting Arizona (9:30 ET; Pac 12 Network) should be a ripe chance to end that streak, with the Wildcats coming off a negative-three showing against Washington, turning a one-possession fourth-quarter game into a 51-27 loss.
If USC forces a few turnovers, maybe it can cover a 9.5-point spread, though fireworks will be needed to reach the 67-point over/under and get into the neighborhood of 38-29 on the scoreboard.
Michigan (5-1): Coming off a top-15 win and readying for a top-10 matchup, the Wolverines should not be faulted for looking ahead once they jumped out to a 28-0 lead at Illinois. Even when the Illini rattled off 25 unanswered points, Michigan re-focused for a 42-25 victory, one with a total yards difference of 233 yards in the Wolverines’ favor. To say they got momentarily exposed is to overlook that they held Illinois to 64 rushing yards on 43 carries.
A trip to Happy Valley and No. 7 Penn State (7:30 ET; ABC) was clearly on Michigan’s mind. Not often is the No. 16 team in the country a 9-point underdog, but such is the lack of faith inspired by the Wolverines thus far this season. A 28-19 ending would be about as low-scoring as the Wolverines’ defense somewhat demands and fitting with a 47-point over/under.
Virginia Tech (4-2): Much like Notre Dame’s win against USC, the Hokies’ 34-17 victory against Rhode Island was not as close as it sounds. Once Virginia Tech went up by two possessions in the second quarter, Rhode Island never had the ball within one score.
The Hokies now meet North Carolina (3:30 ET) as 3.5-point underdogs, quite a shift in outside evaluations of both programs this season. A 57-point over/under sets up a 30-27 contest, something that would not only be possibly dramatic but also quite impactful on ACC Coastal hopes.
Duke (4-2): The Blue Devils led Georgia Tech 38-7 in the first half en route to a 41-23 victory. Want chaos not only in the national picture but also in the Coastal? Cheer for Duke to upset Virginia.
Navy (4-1): Senior quarterback Malcolm Perry led the way in a 45-17 win at Tulsa with 20 carries for 218 yards and three scores. He should find success again against South Florida (3:30 ET; CBSSN) with the Midshipmen favored by 14 amid an over/under of 51.5, making for a 33-19 hypothetical.
Boston College (3-3): The Eagles indeed lost junior quarterback Anthony Brown for the season to injury, explaining some of why they are 3.5-point underdogs against North Carolina State (12 ET). The 51.5-point over/under argues for a 28-24 Wolfpack triumph.
Stanford (3-3): If the Cardinal wants to keep its momentum building through its bye week, that will begin tonight against UCLA (9 ET; ESPN). Bluntly speaking, Stanford should have no trouble with the Bruins, even as only 4.5-point favorites, but understanding anything in Palo Alto is difficult this year. If those who know the numbers best are correct, a 50.5-point over/under will equate to a 28-23 decision.