Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff hopes have taken a drastic hit the last two weeks largely by no fault of their own. Georgia lost to South Carolina two weeks ago, essentially removing ND’s razor-thin defeat to them from the “good loss” category. Last weekend, ND really needed Michigan to beat Penn State and vault into the top ten right before the Irish come to Ann Arbor on Saturday, but they lost in the final seconds. ND has no remaining games on their schedule after this weekend that could generate a marquee win, which is why Saturday against Michigan is so crucial. While many fans will be happy with any margin of victory so long as the Irish win, if the goal is to get back to the CFP, ND needs to look like they’re on a different playing level than Michigan to make any sort of impression that will resonate with the committee for the rest of the season.
This is especially true because ND won’t have an opportunity to play a contending team in a conference championship game right before the CFP Committee makes their selections. I am by no means saying ND should join a conference, as being independent allows scheduling freedom which is imperative for ND to successfully recruit nationally, but they are at a drastic disadvantage when it comes to getting a CFP bid with one loss. This disadvantage is exasperated when tradition-rich programs such as USC and Stanford, who are on ND’s schedule every year, are having down years. It results in ND having zero margin for error when it comes to wins and losses in addition to the margin of victory. Originally, I wrote a month ago that the Georgia loss was enough for the Irish to get a bid with one loss. However, this argument was entirely built upon the foundation that Georgia is a national title contender. They aren’t anymore. Theoretically, the Bulldogs could still run the table in the SEC to be that type of contender, but honestly, they look more likely to finish with four losses than that happening.
I understand winning at Michigan is by no means a cakewalk and the Irish will have their hands full, but on the surface, it’s not a marquee win that moves the needle in the committee's eyes. Michigan has beaten nobody this year. This is why the eye test is absolutely crucial for the Irish to receive a bid at 11-1. And you know what? Beating a mediocre USC team by three points at home isn’t exactly impressive in that regard. ND had an opportunity to make a statement win after being up 17-3 at the half, but a lackadaisical second half hindered that scenario from coming to fruition. It seems like ND consistently lacks the killer instinct as a team to put inferior opponents away and hypothetically “step on their throat.” This year is no exception to that, and it could leave them on the outside looking in when the committee makes their decisions in early December, even with an impressive 11-1 record.
With Stanford on track to have their worst season in a decade and the Irish having a very mediocre schedule after Michigan this weekend, Saturday's showdown is of great consequence. There's no reason to sugarcoat this. The entire country will be watching and how ND performs on the national stage this week will dictate if they have a shot to be selected at 11-1. On the flip side, the Wolverines would like nothing more than to end ND’s CFP hopes at home. It would turn their season around and potentially even save Jim Harbaugh’s job. ND is coming off a bye week and Michigan just came off a heartbreaking loss, so that’s an advantage for ND. If the Irish want a chance to redeem themselves at the CFP this year, they need to walk into The Big House and dominate Michigan in every facet of the game. They need to leave no doubt in everyone’s minds as to who the superior football team was on that Saturday night. Barring a considerable amount of help from external factors, sheer domination this week is ND's only chance to receive a bid at 11-1.
Featured Photo: The Wolverine Lounge