Notre Dame awaits bowl destination with the Playoff now unlikely

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New Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman does not care if the Irish are in the Playoff. Well, he assuredly does want the College Football Playoff selection committee to announce Notre Dame is in one of the two semifinals in the bracket reveal at 12 ET on ESPN, but Freeman’s first address to the Irish as the newly-hired head coach on Friday morning included an emphasis otherwise.

“I don’t care who we play,” he said to an excited locker room. “I don’t care who the opponent is, in 48 hours when we get together, we’re going to get going toward our mission.”

After Saturday’s results, that mission almost certainly does not include a spot in the Playoff.

No. 9 Baylor upsetting No. 5 Oklahoma State to start the day made Notre Dame’s slim hopes more attainable, but No. 3 Alabama then upsetting No. 1 Georgia all but dashed any chance of the Irish reaching the Playoff. Notre Dame’s postseason case would now hinge on the Playoff committee elevating the Irish above 13-0 AAC champion and previously-ranked No. 4 Cincinnati, which boasts a 24-13 win at Notre Dame.

To be quick and blunt about it, Cincinnati’s case for Playoff inclusion, alongside Alabama, Michigan and Georgia:

— Unbeaten.
— Impressive win at Notre Dame, a quality victory even in the eyes of those not biased toward the Irish.
— Quality win against No. 21 Houston on Saturday.

Compared to that, Notre Dame’s case for Playoff inclusion:
— Excellent play for the second half of the season.
— Only loss was to a top-5 team.
— Narrative, thanks to the Brian Kelly-into-Freeman transition.

Every expectation is that the Bearcats will make the Playoff and not the Irish, especially since Cincinnati was ranked ahead of Notre Dame to start the week, and the Irish did not do anything to burgeon their résumé while the Bearcats beat the Cougars, 35-20.

Yet, Freeman will double down on the importance of his first game as head coach, no matter the opponent, and in no part because it is his first game as the 30th head coach in Notre Dame football history.

“We owe it to the seniors,” Freeman said Friday morning. “This isn’t about the future. Let’s be clear, that’s a disservice to this group. This isn’t about the future. This isn’t about next year, this isn’t about five years from now. This is about right now.

“It’s about finishing this season off the right way for these seniors. Everybody clear? I don’t care about anything else.”

The Irish are likely to head to either the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 30 or the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 in Phoenix. That “mission” will be determined during the rankings reveal beginning at 12 ET.