Notre Dame’s Opponents: Ranked No. 15, Irish have a Pac-12 problem


Thanks to a last-minute touchdown drive against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame can still hope to end its season in a “New Year’s Six” bowl, specifically the Cotton Bowl. When the first College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, including the Irish at No. 15, they revealed the biggest hurdle between Notre Dame and a return to Dallas exactly one year after its Playoff wreck.

The Irish will need either No. 7 Oregon or No. 8 Utah to stub its toe before the two likely meet in the Pac-12 title game. The problem is, neither is at all likely to.

As laid out a week ago, Notre Dame making the Cotton Bowl is contingent on winning its next four games, obviously, and on not finishing behind more than … 

— A combined total of three non-Playoff SEC and Big Ten teams.
— Only one non-Playoff Pac 12 team.
— Only one non-Playoff Big 12 team.
— Only one non-Playoff ACC team.
— And only one Group of Five team.

Without jumping through many hoops, the latter three categories should not be of much concern. No. 12 Baylor will need to split its presumed pair against No. 9 Oklahoma for two Big 12 teams to finish in the top 10. No. 19 Wake Forest will need to beat No. 5 Clemson for the ACC factor to come into play. The Group of Five will chip away at itself throughout November.

Even the SEC and Big Ten combination should not matter if expectations hold. Of course, expectations will not hold, but they establish a baseline for how much chaos can be tolerated.

No. 11 Auburn has to face No. 6 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama, a loss in either probably knocking the Tigers behind the Irish.
No. 13 Wisconsin would need to beat No. 17 Minnesota and then the Big Ten East champion, be that No. 4 Penn State or No. 1 Ohio State.
No. 14 Michigan would also need to beat the Buckeyes.

If none of that happens, if everything goes chalk, if November becomes anything but dramatic, the Pac-12 problem will still linger. Neither the Ducks nor the Utes should lose before the first week of December, and at that point, a competitive loss would doubtfully be enough to drop the Pac-12 runner-up behind the Irish.

Oregon’s remaining schedule: idle, vs. Arizona, at Arizona State, vs. Oregon State.
Utah’s remaining schedule: idle, vs. UCLA, at Arizona, vs. Colorado.

Notre Dame may need to hope Kevin Sumlin finally figures out how to best utilize Khalil Tate at Arizona, and soon. Otherwise, the only fix to the Pac-12 problem is for the champion to make the Playoff, but if that becomes a reality, then the SEC/Big Ten combination would be back in the mix as an issue.

At that point, the Irish would be destined for the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla. Barring Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State trading losses, that remains the distinct non-Cotton Bowl likelihood.

Louisville (5-3): The Cardinals enjoyed a week off readying for a trip to Miami (3:30 ET; ESPN2) as 6.5-point underdogs, as of late Tuesday night, with a combined point total over/under of 51.5 setting up expectations of a low-scoring affair in the range of 29-23.

New Mexico (2-7): The football field matters little for the Lobos this week; senior defensive end Nahje Flowers died Tuesday morning.

“Our entire football team and everyone who knew Nahje are devastated by this loss,” New Mexico head coach Bob Davie said. “Nahje was a wonderful person and great teammate.”

Flowers had 13 tackles this season, including 1.5 sacks.

Over the weekend, New Mexico lost 21-10 at Nevada and is a hefty 21.5-point underdog against Air Force (2 ET). The over/under of 56.5 suggests a 39-17 result.

UPDATE: This game has been moved to Nov. 23 due to Flowers’ death.

No. 6 Georgia (7-1): The Bulldogs kept control of their Payoff hopes with a 24-17 victory against Florida. The Cocktail Party was not as close as that score makes it seem, the Gators using a late touchdown to cover up some of the discrepancy built by getting out-gained by 120 yards.

Georgia now hosts Missouri (7 ET; ESPN) as 17-point favorites with a 47-point over/under. A 32-15 final should be pretty mundane, but all the Bulldogs need to worry about right now is winning.

Virginia needed every one of senior quarterback Bryce Perkins’ five touchdowns to hold off a late charge from North Carolina and stay in ACC title contention. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Virginia (6-3): A total of 35 fourth-quarter points made the Cavaliers’ 38-31 win at North Carolina a chaotic one, with three touchdowns coming in the final five minutes, but five total scores from Bryce Perkins proved to be enough to keep Virginia in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal.

To stay there, the Cavaliers will need to handle Georgia Tech (12:30 ET; ACCN), though that is the wide assumption as 16-point favorites. An over/under of 47 points hints at a 32-15 conclusion.

Bowling Green (3-6): The Falcons proved how bad Akron is by routing the Zips, 35-6. Let that be more a reflection on Akron than on Bowling Green, which will ride that high for an additional week.

USC (5-4): The reason the above Pac-12 problem stands out so strongly is because the Trojans fell to Oregon, 56-24. If they had won that, Notre Dame’s Cotton Bowl hopes would have much better chances of being fulfilled. Instead, USC gave up 35 unanswered points. Trojans head coach Clay Helton may not be fired until after the season, but he can look to that stretch if wondering exactly when he lost his job.

Helton and USC now head to Arizona State (3:30 ET; ABC) as 1.5-point underdogs with a 56.5-point over/under arguing for a 29-27 scoreboard reading.

No. 14 Michigan (7-2): The Wolverines had no trouble at Maryland, as so few do, in a 38-7 win.

Virginia Tech (5-3): Coming off a 21-20 loss at Notre Dame in which the Hokies defense gave up a last-minute score after holding up well most of the afternoon, Virginia Tech will now honor retiring defensive coordinator Bud Foster with Wake Forest (3:30 ET; ACCN) visiting Lane Stadium. The thing is, the Demon Deacons are favored by 2.5 points and have made a habit of scoring more than expected this season, of note even with a 63.5-point over/under bracing Foster’s defense for a 33-31 disappointment.

Duke (4-4): The Blue Devils have been prepping for Notre Dame (7:30 ET; ACC Network) for a week longer than usual. An 8-point edge toward the Irish, along with an over/under of 51.5, indicates Notre Dame should prevail 30-22.

No. 24 Navy (7-1): The Midshipmen boat-raced Connecticut on Friday, 56-10, and now get the week off to watch the Irish at Durham.

Boston College (5-4): The Eagles’ week has been defined by fired opposing coaches. After they ran for 496 yards and gained 691 total at Syracuse in a 58-27 victory, the Orange fired its defensive coordinator. To be blunt, even once the Irish had kicked off Saturday, some corners of the Notre Dame Stadium press box continued with updates of Boston College’s yardage total because it was that absurd.

A day later, Florida State fired head coach Willie Taggart, a related event because the Eagles welcome the Seminoles this weekend (12 ET; ACCN). When Taggart was fired, that spread was Florida State by 2. It quickly moved to pick’em, and has since settled at Boston College by 2.5. One way or another, a 32-30 ending may entice some interesting coaching decisions.

Stanford (4-4): The Cardinal come off an idle week with a trip to Colorado (3 ET; Pac-12 Network) as 3.5-point favorites. A 54.5-point over/under makes for a 29-26 anticipated tally.