With Baylor’s upset win over No. 5 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game, No. 6 Notre Dame’s college football playoff hopes took a big step forward.
The Fighting Irish now sit at No. 6, while No. 4 Cincinnati faces No. 21 Houston hoping to win the American Athletic Conference and solidify its position in the playoff committee’s eyes while Notre Dame waits and watches from home. That’s far from a guaranteed win for the Bearcats, however.
So, can Notre Dame still make the CFP? Sporting News takes a look.
Can Notre Dame make the CFP with a Cincinnati loss?
Notre Dame came into the weekend ranked sixth in the rankings. That meant that the Fighting Irish would need some help from the teams ahead of them to move up since they will not be playing a game.
The Fighting Irish already got one wish with No. 5 Oklahoma State losing to No. 9 Baylor, eliminating one of the teams ahead of them in the CFP chase.
What then happens if Cincinnati loses? For all intents and purposes, that would eliminate the Bearcats from the conversation. A Group of Five team has already never made the playoff, and the committee might have less forgiveness for a Cincinnati team with a loss and no conference championship.
That then leaves an open spot for Notre Dame that at this point, seems likely to be the Fighting Irish’s to lose. They’re ahead of No. 7 Ohio State, which also does not play on Saturday. If any of the top three teams win, they’re in. No. 1 Georgia almost certainly reaches the playoff even if it loses to No. 3 Alabama. And even if the Bulldogs beat the Crimson Tide and the committee elects to put two-loss, non conference champion Alabama into the playoff, that would still leave an open spot for a fourth team.
CFP Scenarios: Can Alabama make the playoff with a loss to Georgia?
So which teams would be available to fill that vacancy? There’s not a ton of options outside of Notre Dame. No. 10 Oregon was drummed by No. 17 Utah in the Pac-12 Championship, putting any chance of the Pac-12 reaching the CFP out of the picture. Baylor could make the leap up five spots, but that’s still a long way to climb.
Could the committee reconsider two-loss Ohio State over one-loss Notre Dame? Chairman Gary Barta had previously said that when the last set of rankings came out, they did not consider coach or player availabilities when putting out the rankings, and that they would when deciding the four teams to reach the CFP. On Monday, a day before the rankings were released, it was revealed that Brian Kelly would be leaving South Bend, Indiana, for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the LSU vacancy.
However, ESPN’s Heather Dinich reported that the committee is no longer considering the coaching change as a factor since Marcus Freeman took over and retained most of the staff.
Committee chair Gary Barta told me earlier today that the coaching situation at ND has become a nonfactor in the evaluation of the Irish. They talked about it last night, and the continuity there w/ Freeman and retaining staff makes it moot in discussion.
— Heather Dinich (@CFBHeather) December 4, 2021
Could the committee leap the Buckeyes over the Fighting Irish? It seems highly unlikely, especially given Barta’s latest position on Notre Dame’s coaching situation.
Ultimately, if Cincinnati loses, there will be a surge of confidence in South Bend that their team could be destined for their second straight CFP trip.
Can Notre Dame make the CFP with a Cincinnati win?
This scenario seems far more unlikely for the Fighting Irish.
If Cincinnati wins, their head-to-head advantage against the Bearcats, not to mention Cincinnati’s two ranked wins to Notre Dame’s zero mean that the Fighting Irish will certainly not leap over Cincinnati.
To get in, Notre Dame would need to see Michigan lose to No. 13 Iowa and Alabama to lose to Georgia, likely in a blowout. Again, Georgia has all but clinched a spot in the CFP regardless of the outcome in the SEC Championship Game. Iowa is too far away from a playoff picture to be considered for a spot, even if it wins the Big Ten.
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In that situation, the only two guaranteed a spot are Georgia and Cincinnati, setting up a debate between two-loss, Big 12 champion Baylor, two-loss Alabama, one-loss Notre Dame, two-loss Michigan and two-loss Ohio State. Notre Dame would seem to be a decent bet to take one of the two remaining spots, but that’s still far from a guarantee.
A Cincinnati win doesn’t completely eliminate Notre Dame’s playoff chances, but it would mean a lot would have to go right for the Fighting Irish to have a chance.