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Notre Dame has a path to the semifinals


It’s not too hard to picture a scenario where Notre Dame returns to the College Football Playoff for the third time in four years.

Step one: Georgia beats Alabama by double digits in the SEC championship game, handing the Crimson Tide a second loss and sending just one team from the conference into the national semifinals.

Step two: Oregon loses to Utah, either in this coming weekend’s matchup in Salt Lake City or in the Pac-12 championship game, eliminating the Ducks from contention.

Step three: Cincinnati loses to SMU this Saturday or to Houston in the AAC championship game, or one of Oklahoma State and Oklahoma lose once in November before claiming the Big 12 championship. Any loss would erase the Bearcats’ playoff chances. No two-loss team has ever reached the playoff, and the winner of this year’s Big 12 won’t be the first.

Georgia and the one-loss winner of the Big Ten would then take up the first two spots of the four-team field. The third spot would go to either unbeaten Cincinnati, one-loss Oklahoma State or one-loss Oklahoma. Notre Dame could then round out the field.

Notre Dame takes to the field prior to its game against Virginia at Scott Stadium.

Notre Dame takes to the field prior to its game against Virginia at Scott Stadium.

Here’s how the top 10 in this week’s playoff rankings could look:

1. Georgia (10-0)

Tennessee was the first team to score more than 13 points, throw for more than 275 yards and gain more than 355 yards against Georgia’s defense. And the Volunteers still lost by 24 points.

2. Alabama (9-1)

With Auburn quarterback Bo Nix expected to miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, Alabama’s biggest hurdle before the SEC championship game could come this weekend against Arkansas, winners of three straight. The series has been a nightmare for the Razorbacks, who have lost 14 in a row to the Crimson Tide, the last four by a combined 156 points. (Alabama is currently favored by nearly three touchdowns.)

3. Oregon (9-1)

You might’ve heard that Oregon beat Ohio State in September. That continues to be the largest asset on the Ducks’ postseason ledger, though Fresno State could sneak back into the playoff rankings after losses by Purdue and Auburn. The Ducks have otherwise faced just one Power Five team with a winning record, beating UCLA, and suffered a dreadful loss to Stanford that looks worse by the week.

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4. Ohio State (9-1)

Ohio State is one week away from making the committee overlook that non-conference loss. Next is Michigan State, and a win against the one-loss Spartans should be enough to lift the Buckeyes ahead of Oregon for good.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) shakes hands with wide receiver Chris Olave (2) after Olave's touchdown reception against Rutgers during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Piscataway, N.J. Ohio State won 52-13. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) shakes hands with wide receiver Chris Olave (2) after Olave’s touchdown reception against Rutgers during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Piscataway, N.J. Ohio State won 52-13. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

5. Cincinnati (10-0)

Saturday’s 45-28 win against South Florida wasn’t even that close: Cincinnati might’ve spotted USF an early touchdown but responded with a 31-0 run to take control before allowing 21 points in the second half. Notre Dame’s continued success keeps helping out the Bearcats, who won in South Bend in early October.

6. Michigan (9-1)

Michigan’s win at Penn State is more impressive by leaps and bounds than the Bearcats’ win against the Bulls. But the Nittany Lions weren’t ranked in last week’s poll despite wins against Wisconsin and Auburn, and won’t be ranked this week after losing for the fourth time. So how can the committee cite the win in bumping the Wolverines ahead of Cincinnati when they haven’t respected the Nittany Lions all month?

7. Michigan State (9-1)

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the committee to rectify last week’s boneheaded decision to place Michigan State behind Michigan despite last month’s 37-33 win. As with Ohio State and Oregon, however, a victory on Saturday would jump the Spartans ahead of the Wolverines. How far could they climb? Leapfrogging Cincinnati and Oregon to get back to No. 3 in the rankings is very possible.

8. Notre Dame (9-1)

This offense ranks 70th nationally in yards gained per play, 55th in yards per pass attempt, 45th in quarterback efficiency, 84th in rushing yards per game, 83rd in yards per carry and 40th in points per game. On the flip side, the defense has climbed into the top 25 in scoring and has been very good in November even with star safety Kyle Hamilton sidelined with knee injury.

9. Oklahoma State (9-1)

Saturday’s 46-point victory against TCU was the program’s largest against a Big 12 opponent other than Kansas since beating Texas Tech 66-6 on Nov. 12, 2011. Oklahoma State unveiled a statue of Barry Sanders before kickoff, and the Cowboys honored the former Heisman Trophy winner by running for 447 yards and eight touchdowns.

10. Baylor (7-2)

Texas A&M would’ve stepped into Oklahoma’s place in the top 10 with a win against Ole Miss. The Rebels, No. 15 last week, will be considered for No. 10. But the spot should go to Baylor, which smothered the Sooners’ offense in a key Big 12 win. Even with two losses, the Bears seem to have more credibility with the committee than 9-1 Wake Forest, even if the Demon Deacons are coming off a very good win against North Carolina State.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings: Notre Dame has path to semifinals



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