There is still a College Football Playoff in 2021. It may have been a historical and unexpected week at Notre Dame, but the most important part of the 2021 season for the Irish may yet lay ahead of them. That is, in fact, why Brian Kelly jumping to LSU was so unexpected because no head coach has ever voluntarily left a team still clinging to championship hopes.
Just five days ago, after No. 6 Notre Dame (11-1) finished its season with a 45-14 win at Stanford, Kelly was making the Irish argument for Playoff inclusion.
“We made our case,” he said Saturday. “We’ll now sit back and see what other people think, but we have one of the best four teams, without question in my mind, in the country.
“We’re ready to prove it. We’ll take the week off, and get this team ready for postseason action.”
Kelly’s plans have obviously changed, but Notre Dame’s have not. Even when Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was telling the offensive half of the team that he would remain in South Bend on Wednesday, he alluded to the remaining Playoff possibility.
“We have work to do this year,” Rees said in the video Notre Dame posted on Twitter. “We have a lot ahead of us.”
That Playoff possibility is, however, completely out of Irish control.
Two scenarios exist tomorrow for Notre Dame to reach its third Playoff in four years. For these purposes, let’s name those two constructs after the SEC championship game participants.
SCENARIO GEORGIA: No. 1 Georgia beats No. 3 Alabama (4 ET; CBS) and that is enough to knock the Tide out of the Playoff conversation. As of early Friday morning, PointsBet considers the Bulldogs 6.5-point favorites.
In this scenario, the Irish would need one of the following three upsets to unfold.
— No. 9 Baylor beats No. 5 Oklahoma State as a 5.5-point underdog (12 ET; ABC).
— No. 21 Houston beats No. 4 Cincinnati as a 10.5-point underdog (4 ET; ABC).
— No. 13 Iowa beats No. 2 Michigan as an 11-point underdog (8 ET; FOX).
Roughly speaking, there is a 62.8 percent chance of at least one such upset, if turning gambling odds into percentages.
SCENARIO ALABAMA: Either Alabama beats Georgia or the loss is not enough to knock the Tide behind the Irish in the Playoff conversation. The argument for an 11-2 Alabama getting into the meaningful postseaeson ahead of an 11-1 Notre Dame boils down to the quality of their wins.
Top 40 Wins Per
FPI Sag SP+
Georgia 6 6 6
Michigan 4 3 5
Alabama 8 7 6
Cincinnati 1 1 1
Oklahoma St 3 4 3
Notre Dame 3 2 1
— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) December 1, 2021
In this scenario, the Irish would need two of those aforementioned upsets to occur, something that has roughly an 8.7 percent chance of occurring.
If no upset gives Notre Dame title hope, a berth in either the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1) or the Peach Bowl (Dec. 30) would await the Irish, with possible opponents including Michigan State, Mississippi or the ACC champion, Wake Forest or Pittsburgh (8 ET; ABC).
In short, and in Saturday’s chronological order, Notre Dame fans hoping for a Playoff appearance for what is expected to be Marcus Freeman’s first game as Irish head coach should cheer for …
Baylor at 12 ET on ABC.
Houston at 4 ET on ABC.
Georgia in an absolute blowout of Alabama at 4 ET on CBS.
And last, but not least, Iowa at 8 ET on FOX.
In order of likelihood, from most likely to least likely, those would present as the Baylor upset, the Georgia blowout, the Houston upset and the Iowa upset.