Notre Dame fell to No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night, through no fault of its own. The one-slot drop was a consequence of Minnesota leaping nine spots to No. 8 after topping Penn State. What does the change matter? It doesn’t.
The Gophers’ rise does not much change the sequence of results needed for no more than a total of three Big Ten and SEC teams to finish between the Irish and the Playoffs, the first requisite to Notre Dame’s slim hopes of reaching the Cotton Bowl.
Those results include, obviously in addition to the Irish winning their remaining three games …
— No. 12 Auburn losing to both No. 4 Georgia this weekend and No. 5 Alabama on Nov. 30.
— No. 9 Penn State losing at No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 23.
— No. 14 Wisconsin losing at Minnesota on Nov. 30.
— No. 15 Michigan losing to Ohio State on Nov. 30.
— Minnesota losing at No. 20 Iowa this weekend and against the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game.
Let’s be clear, a grand total of none of those would be an upset, but it is nonetheless a series of seven outcomes.
What would be an upset? Arizona State beating No. 6 Oregon on Nov. 23. The Sun Devils would be 8- or 8.5-point underdogs. Not only that, but Notre Dame’s Cotton Bowl chances would also need the Ducks to lose to No. 7 Utah in the Pac 12 title game, although that would not be an upset.
So to the texts from Dallas, any possibilities of the Irish making a New Year’s Six bowl now hinge on one Herm Edwards-helmed upset and eight moments of chalk.
Presuming all that does not unfold, Notre Dame will head to the Camping World Bowl, where it will face the No. 3 Big 12 finisher, presuming No. 10 Oklahoma does not make the Playoff. The Sooners will go to the Sugar Bowl, currently-No. 13 Baylor will fill in the Alamo Bowl and the Irish will meet Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State or Iowa State.
That quartet each has three losses, and three of them should endure at least one more, Iowa State being the exception. In that scenario, Notre Dame should meet the Cyclones in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 28.
There are, however, two games between the four teams that could alter that reality. Texas heads to Iowa State this weekend, with the Longhorns 7-point underdogs. If Texas springs that upset, that would put it on pace for an 8-4 finish (presuming a loss at Baylor next week) and a trip to Disney.
The Wildcats could yet knock the Cyclones out of Camping World poll position in the regular-season finale, when Iowa State should be approximately 3.5-point road favorites.
The most likely Irish opponent in the Camping World Bowl? Iowa State, but both Texas and Kansas State will get their chances to change that.
For the sake of filing a prediction, this space will boldly put its hypothetical money on the Longhorns, which is essentially a longshot on them to beat the Cyclones this weekend.
Louisville (5-4): The Cardinals fell 52-27 at Miami, even though they outgained the Hurricanes by 47 yards and possessed the ball for 33 minutes. The problem? Three turnovers, of course.
Louisville should now reach bowl eligibility at North Carolina State (7:30 ET; ACCN), favored by four points with a combined point total over/under of 58.5 as of late Tuesday night. Quick math sends the Cardinals bowling with a 31-27 win.
New Mexico (2-7): The Lobos postponed their game against Air Force after the death of defensive end Nahje Flowers. They will return to the field at No. 21 Boise State (10:15 ET; ESPN2) as four-touchdown underdogs. The over/under of 59 will lean heavily on the Broncos, obviously.
Georgia (8-1): The Bulldogs had no trouble in a 27-0 win against Missouri, as has been the case for Georgia since its stumble against South Carolina. That will change abruptly at Auburn (3:30 ET; CBS). Injuries have the Bulldogs’ offensive line in a precarious position as it faces an intimidating defensive front, yet Georgia remains favored by a field goal. If the Bulldogs want to stay in the Playoff conversation, the over/under of 41 does not matter, just that they win in Jordan-Hare.
Virginia (7-3): The Cavaliers considered giving one away to Georgia Tech but held on 33-28 to stay in control of the ACC Coastal, largely thanks to senior quarterback Bryce Perkins throwing for 258 yards, rushing for 106 more and scoring a touchdown in each manner. Perkins gets the weekend off to refresh both his shoulders and his legs.
Bowling Green (3-6): The Falcons will grace your televisions tonight at Miami (OH) and former Notre Dame assistant Chuck Martin (8 ET; ESPN). Miami is in position to win its half of the MAC, so it will have plenty of motivation to make good on being favored by 17.5 points. Amid some Midwestern weather, the over/under sits at 50, although it would be a mild surprise to see Bowling Green score 16.
USC (6-4): The Trojans reached bowl eligibility with a 31-26 win at Arizona State, courtesy of freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis throwing for 432 yards and four touchdowns. If you aren’t ready for an offseason of Slovis hype, you are in for a problematic summer.
Slovis will get a chance to further those future headlines at Cal (11 ET; FS1). USC is favored by 6.5 with an over/under of 48.5, but #Pac12AfterDark requires more scoring than 27-21 would include.
Michigan (7-2): After a week off, the Wolverines head to Michigan State (12 ET; FOX) as 13.5-point favorites and an over/under of 44. Put those numbers together and Jim Harbaugh gets to kick Mark Dantonio while he’s down to the tune of 29-15.
Virginia Tech (6-3): The Hokies kept their ACC Coastal hopes alive with a 36-17 victory against Wake Forest, entirely dependent on a strong second half in which Virginia Tech outscored the Demon Deacons 30-7. Another test awaits at Georgia Tech (3:30 ET; ACCN Extra), with the Hokies favored by 5.5 points and an over/under of 51.5, making for a projected 28-23 ending.
Duke (4-5): After the Blue Devils lost to Notre Dame, they get a chance to rebound against Syracuse (4 ET; ACCN). As a 10.5-point favorite, Duke should take a step toward bowl eligibility. Needing two wins in its last three games, this will be the only one in which the Blue Devils are favored.
Navy (7-1): The Midshipmen had a week to prep for the Irish (2:30 ET; NBC). As 8-point underdogs, they will have their work cut out for them, but the triple-option can always make those things interesting. That offensive attack also throws into question an over/under of 54, suggesting a 31-23 conclusion.
Boston College (5-5): The Eagles lost to coach-less Florida State, 38-31, in a game that saw 28 points scored in its final 2:33. That stretch began with Boston College tying things at 24 before sheer chaos ensued. It will have the week off to forget about the blown opportunity.
Stanford (4-5): The Cardinal let Colorado chew up 12:31 of the final 14:05 to kick two field goals, including the game-winner, in a 16-13 Stanford loss. As bowl hopes slip away, the Cardinal may once again be without quarterback KJ Costello at Washington State (4:30 ET; Pac 12 Network), part of why it is a 10.5-point underdog in a game estimated to hit four zeros at 37-26.