Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s Playoff path tradeoff, schedule shifts and another Hinish

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One - Alabama v Notre Dame
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The middle of June marks the tail end of the heart of college football’s offseason. Notre Dame has another 82 days until it faces Florida State. And around here, that has meant some offseason indulgences.

In many respects, there was no 2020 offseason. The stress of a potentially canceled season rolled right into a canceled season which then became a hurriedly revived season. No days off were had, more literally than many realize.

If you noticed these Leftovers & Links have come out about only every other week this summer, if you noticed Monday was simply a vacancy in the content calendar, if you noticed more May and June ambivalence than usual, that is why. There is no apology here, simply an acknowledgment. Finding some time off now will hopefully restore energies before Labor Day Eve, if not before August’s preseason practices.

But, of course, that does not mean there is no college football news. Most notably, welcome to a 12-team College Football Playoff … someday.

That may not arrive until 2026, and certainly no sooner than 2023, but such a reality is firmly headed this way. When that time comes, the Irish will be better off.

They would have made the Playoff in 2015, for example. Furthermore, but less definitively, that 2017 season-ending loss at Stanford would have carried with it genuine stakes. Maybe Notre Dame would still lose that game two weeks after the 41-8 faceplant at Miami, maybe the comical fourth-quarter collapse at The Farm would have cost the Irish a Playoff berth rather than just a New Year’s Six chance, but maybe not, and either way, more intrigue would have been afoot, and intrigue is what makes any fall Saturday so worthwhile.

Much is still uncertain about the 12-team bracket. While Notre Dame will not be able to enjoy a first-round bye — reserved for the top-four conference champions — would it slot in at No. 5 after a first-round win even if ranked No. 3, or would it then move up to No. 3 in the continued bracket? To put that more bluntly, would the Irish face the No. 4 team or the winner of the No. 6 vs. No. 11 game?

Even if assuming they would slot in at No. 5 and face No. 4, not having the first-round bye works out for Notre Dame in the long run. Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick had two choices:

Either Notre Dame would need to beat Clemson (or another top ACC team) in a neutral-field conference championship game, enjoy a month off, and then beat No. 6, No. 2 and No. 1 on neutral fields …

Or the Irish could enjoy a month off after finishing their regular season, and then beat No. 12 at Notre Dame Stadium before working through No. 4, No. 1 and No. 2 on neutral fields.

The latter path comes across as easier, partly because that No. 12 will, more often than not, be the likes of Memphis, Coastal Carolina or Boise State. Strong opponents, to be sure, but less so than the fourth game in the gauntlet being an ACC division champion.

And if arguing, “Well, that ACC title game would not be win-or-go-home, simply win-or-bye,” then you are simply pointing out the option after that loss would be the same as the Irish will face now, just from a lower seed and thus a more difficult path.

Swarbrick, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, said, “I look forward to never hearing again how we got to play one less game,” and that is legitimately a narrative that will now hold no weight, not that it ever logically did, but what is being overlooked in this setup is the home game awaiting the Irish.

Maybe not every year, but at least every few years, Notre Dame will host a Playoff game. It will simply need to be one of the top-eight teams in the country. Three of the last six seasons would have led to such a moment.

That Playoff game looks to be likely the weekend after students finish finals, in the snow, with a crowd staying on campus and coming in from Chicago already in the holiday spirit. Not to speak for every college student ever, but that should be a good time.

SPEAKING OF A GOOD TIME
Some schedule updates, beginning with the kickoff time for the game against Wisconsin at Soldier Field on Sept. 25. Tailgates will lose out to nights out at the bar, as the game will kick off at 12 ET, 11 a.m. local.

To be brutally honest, every media member rejoiced at this announcement, no matter how much we might want you to enjoy your tailgates.

Maybe you can make up that lost time on Sept. 5, 2026, when the Badgers and Irish finally meet at Lambeau Field, the game that the pandemic scrapped. I will try to be a man of my word and host the tailgate, but we are now pushing a decade since I first made that vow.

In another pandemic makeup game, Arkansas will visit South Bend in 2028. To accommodate that, Notre Dame’s series with Alabama was pushed back a season, to 2029 (in Indiana) and 2030 (Tuscaloosa).

WHAT IS THE PLURAL OF HINISH? HINISHES? HINISHS? HINII?
During these days focused more on sleep than on the size of the Irish class of 2022, more on friends and weddings than on football and wagers, Notre Dame pulled in a commitment from defensive tackle Donovan Hinish, younger brother of current Irish fifth-year defensive tackle Kurt Hinish. The consensus three-star out of Pittsburgh, and the No. 39 defensive tackle, per rivals.com, will not play alongside his older brother, but he could still be on the roster for that game at Lambeau.

For all the obvious reasons, Notre Dame always had an edge in the younger Hinish’s recruitment, particularly over the likes of Pittsburgh, Central Florida and Coastal Carolina.

“[Notre Dame’s] big thing is four years for 40 years. Kurt is grinding it out now so that he can set himself up for the rest of his life,” Donovan said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “As you’d expect, he’s partial for the school he wants me to choose. He always says how much he loves it up there.”

Kurt’s greatest assets are all present in Donovan, too, the traits that made Kurt a day-one contributor and will make him the all-time leader in games played in an Irish uniform. In addition to that, Donovan is a bit more athletic. Big brother did little brother a favor in leaving those genes in the gene pool.

“All the coaches out there are always joking around with me and talking about stuff that he’s better at than I am,” Kurt said in mid-April. “So we’re about the same size, if not, he might be an inch or two taller than I am, give or take. He’s about 275 (pounds) right now. My dad has him in the gym working out, putting some weight on him, he looks real good.

“The one thing my younger brother does a lot better than I do, just naturally he’s a lot more athletic than I am, laterally. He’s a better all-around athlete than me. I kind of got the #$%^ end of the stick. It is what it is. The youngest get it all.”

That’s true in the Farmer family, too.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
Reports: Speedy sophomore Jay Brunelle to transfer from Notre Dame
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard

OUTSIDE READING
In Memoriam: Lou Somogyi
Notre Dame and independents college football offseason preview
Can Notre Dame win the national title? ‘We don’t have forever’
Notre Dame, Justin Tuck and the great 2005 what-if: Would one more year have changed Irish history?
Blue-Chip Ratio 2021: The 16 teams who can win a national title
College football’s 50 greatest wide receivers of the past 50 years
Browns sign Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah