Notre Dame’s dismal end to its regular season, a 34-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC title game, did not cut short Irish dreams. They can still cling to hope for a national championship, holding onto the No. 4 spot in the final College Football Playoff committee rankings released early Sunday afternoon.
Notre Dame will face No. 1 Alabama (10-0) in the Rose Bowl-replacement in AT&T Stadium outside Dallas on New Year’s Day. The Irish and Tide have not met since the 2012 BCS title game rout, a 42-14 undressing that played a narrative role in turning the data-driven, two-team BCS into the current four-team Playoff led by a committee.
This is not that Alabama, though. It would be misguided to argue which version is better because they are so dramatically different. The 2012 Tide relied on defense and a brute-force offense. This Alabama may end up with the three Heisman Trophy finalists in quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and receiver DeVonta Smith. Giving up 46 points to Florida in the SEC championship game on Saturday was hardly considering given those three kept flying down the field when they had the ball, racking up 52 points, a third straight showing of 52 or more.
Just before those fireworks, Notre Dame was run off the field by the Tigers — who will face No. 3 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl in the other Playoff semifinal — but the Irish maintained a belief they were one of the top-four teams in the country, even if no team had previously reached the Playoff after a loss in a conference championship game or after suffering a loss at any point in the season by 24 points.
“There’s no doubt this football team is one of the four best teams in the country,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “We’ll leave the rest up to the committee.”
The committee apparently valued Notre Dame’s wins over then-No. 1 Clemson and now-No. 13 North Carolina in November more than Texas A&M’s seven straight SEC wins, including one against Florida. It never gave Cincinnati much consideration, despite beating three top-25 teams, finishing unbeaten and winning its conference.
“In the end, the committee felt Notre Dame had earned its way there based on the analysis of the complete résumé, and that probably came down to the additional win against a top-15 team,” Playoff committee chairman Gary Barta told ESPN.
The marks against the Irish and Aggies were similar, coming down to timing more than anything else. While Notre Dame fell in humbling fashion to Clemson less than 24 hours ago, Texas A&M lost 52-24 to Alabama on Oct. 3. Both instances proved Irish fifth-year quarterback Ian Book‘s Saturday night takeaway.
“Tonight wasn’t our night,” Book said. “Everybody who has played football before understands there are just bad nights. That was tonight.”
For Notre Dame to have any chance against Alabama’s historical offense, Book will need to be proven right.
“You play football again, you get back out there,” he said. “We say all the time, you have 24 hours to let it suck, because it does. It should hurt, remember this feeling, it’s what we’ve been talking about already. It’s a pretty bad feeling. You’ve got 24 hours to let it hurt, then it’s on you and this team to forget about it and work together toward a common goal, and that’s to win another football game.
“Whoever that is, wherever that is, whenever that is, we just want to play again.”
Alabama, the Playoff semifinal, New Year’s Day.
Opening CFP lines @SuperBookSports:
Notre Dame vs Alabama -20.5
Ohio St vs. Clemson -7
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) December 20, 2020
The committee gave deference to the Tide in sending that matchup to Texas rather than New Orleans, opting to send the No. 1 team in the country to the venue that will host 16,000 fans rather than the one that will host 3,000.