Analysis: Notre Dame needs help in shaping postseason destiny

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In a not too terribly convoluted scenario, Everett Golson could still have his fingerprints on the Notre Dame football team’s eventual postseason destination.

Very peripherally of course, which still matters, even with ND’s surprisingly swanky No. 5 designation from the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first set of weekly rankings, unveiled Tuesday night.

The top four teams in the final rankings Dec. 6 make the second-ever college football playoff, with semifinal games set for Dec. 31 in the Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas) and Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.).

Clemson (8-0), which edged the visiting Irish 24-22 on Oct. 3, landed at No. 1, followed by LSU (7-0) at 2, defending national champ and the No. 1 team in both the AP and coaches polls — Ohio State (8-0) — at 3, and Alabama (7-1) at No. 4.

The oversimplified conclusion is that Notre Dame (7-1) completely controls its destiny.

LSU visits Alabama Saturday night, with the loser falling out of the top four, presumably, and then Notre Dame moving into the vacated top-four spot as long as the Irish keep winning? Right?

Well, it’s hardly a two-plus-two-equals-four world as far as the selection committee is concerned, with plenty of gray area ahead. It’s algebraic. It’s fluid. It’s a snapshot.

But it’s a great place for the Irish to start, three spots ahead of where both the AP and coaches polls currently have them.

“We won't think much about it at all other than talking about what we need to do better as a football team,” Kelly said Tuesday before he and the Irish saw the ranking.

“There's a lot of areas within each group (offense, defense, special teams) that we felt like after the Temple game that we've got to focus all of our time and energy on if we want to be in this conversation next week and then the week after.

“So our goal is to be in this conversation into December. The only way we can do that is if we clean up some of the things from the Temple game. That's how I've addressed it to our team.”

What he presumably didn’t’ address is that the Irish still need some help.

The committee sent a very clear message about strength of schedule Tuesday night. And the Irish just finished a stretch of playing four teams in October with a combined record of 26-5, the most recent of those games being a 24-20 road win against Temple (7-1), which itself came in at No. 22 in the rankings.

For that strength of schedule to hold up over time, there are five teams the Irish and their fans will want to root for in every game moving forward, save No. 11 Stanford’s Nov. 28 clash with the Irish.

And those peripheral games that matter start with No. 1 Clemson’s Saturday clash with No. 16 Florida State and presumably Everett Golson.

The former ND starting quarterback, who transferred to FSU over the summer, missed the Seminoles’ 45-21 rout of Syracuse last Saturday with a concussion. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher hasn’t yet committed to Golson being healthy enough to play Saturday.

Even if Golson is, Fisher hinted that fill-in Sean Maguire may share time with Golson.

If the Seminoles can pull off the upset, it won’t likely be enough for them to leapfrog the Irish in the standings, but it will devalue ND’s close call in Death Valley, a missed two-point conversion away from an overtime game in crazy weather conditions.

“We discuss playing conditions, absolutely,” committee chair Jeff Long said in a teleconference with the media. “That was part of our discussion about Clemson and Notre Dame. Yeah, weather conditions, unusual plays, those are things that we discuss.”

Here are the five teams outside of Notre Dame to watch (and their remaining schedules) that can most affect the committee’s future perception of the Irish.

• Clemson: vs. Florida State, at Syracuse, vs. Wake Forest, at South Carolina, likely ACC Championship Game

• Temple: at SMU, at South Florida, vs. Memphis, vs. UConn, likely AAC Championship Game

• USC: vs. Arizona, at Colorado, at Oregon, vs. UCLA, outside shot at Pac-12 Championship Game

• Navy: vs. SMU, at Tulsa, at Houston, vs. Army, possible AAC Championship Game

• Stanford: at Colorado, vs. Oregon, vs. Cal, vs. Notre Dame, likely Pac-12 Championship Game

Because some of the teams ranked behind the Irish are back-end loaded, Notre Dame must continue to improve, or risk getting jumped late in the process.

“What I've told them is they've been tested,” Kelly said of the November stretch run. “Their mettle has been tested over the last four weeks. Let's use that to our advantage in the way we play. Don't worry about the score. You can't control those things.”

ND’s best-case scenario with the things it can’t control concerning the teams that look to surge past it would be for an already once-beaten Oklahoma team (ranked 15th) to win the Big 12 and No. 11 Stanford to win the Pac-12.

“It’s the balance of the team,” Long said when asked on ESPN what factor was most influential when it came to football/eye-test judgment.

“We have teams that are one-sided offensive teams or one-sided really strong defensive teams. That combination of offense and defense. Sometimes that’s probably the hardest thing to judge, teams that have very explosive offenses, but we haven’t seen their defenses tested.”

Kelly said he feels the best game on ND’s win to date is the 38-3 waxing of Texas in the season opener Sept. 5.

“I thought that was probably our most complete game,” he said. “I look at it as a head coach in terms of all three units playing together at the same time.”

“I think there's some times where offensively we've been dynamic, then defensively for three and a half quarters we played as well against Georgia Tech as any time we've played at all.

“I think complete game, Texas, then I'd have to probably lean toward segments of games that we played really well. Second half against Clemson defensively. Last quarter against USC offensively. You're picking different times. That's why we think our best football is still ahead of us.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Linebacker Joe Schmidt (38) and the Irish need to improve on the field and get some help elsewhere to improve their lofty No. 5 standing in the College Football Playoff rankings. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

The first set of rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee, released Tuesday night:

1 Clemson 8-0

2 LSU 7-0

3 Ohio State 8-0

4 Alabama 7-1

5 Notre Dame 7-1

6 Baylor 7-0

7 Michigan State 8-0

8 TCU 8-0

9 Iowa 8-0

10 Florida 7-1

11 Stanford 7-1

12 Utah 7-1

13 Memphis 8-0

14 Oklahoma State 8-0

15 Oklahoma 7-1

16 Florida State 7-1

17 Michigan 6-2

18 Mississippi 7-2

19 Texas A&M 6-2

20 Mississippi State 6-2

21 Northwestern 6-2

22 Temple 7-1

23 UCLA 6-2

24 Toledo 7-0

25 Houston 8-0