No surprises as Notre Dame holds steady at No. 3 in latest CFP rankings — again

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame was an afterthought during the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings reveal Tuesday night on ESPN.

And that’s a good thing for ND.

The Irish (12-0), following their 24-17 win over rival USC Saturday night in their regular-season finale, landed at No. 3 — the same spot they’ve occupied for four weeks now. Notre Dame was fourth in the initial CFP rankings of the season, unveiled on Oct. 30.

No doomsday scenarios, involving the Irish anyway. No talking heads making a case for No. 5 Oklahoma (11-1) or No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) to jump the Irish with a 13th game and a potential conference championship added to their résumés.

Show host Rece Davis didn’t even bother to ask about the Irish during his short Q-and-A with CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens, and Mullens didn’t bring them up on this own.

Notre Dame’s inclusion in the playoff field for the first time in the five-year history of the format will become official on Sunday. ESPN’s coverage of the final top 25, the playoff semifinal pairings and site assignments, and the other New Year’s Six matchup, starts at noon (EST).

Alabama (12-0) remained No. 1 and Clemson (12-0) held at No. 2, with Georgia (11-1) moving up a spot to No. 4 on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs replaced Michigan (10-2), which got pummeled by Ohio State, 62-39, Saturday and slipped to No. 7 in Tuesday’s new rankings.

The media banter Tuesday night centered on the No. 4 spot that would go presumably to Oklahoma or Ohio State on Sunday, should those two teams win Saturday, and should Alabama beat Georgia — as expected — in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.

What Notre Dame knows for certain is that it would play Dec. 29 in one semifinal. The start time would be either 4 p.m. or 8 p.m. (EST), to be set by the committee. The sites, the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla., or the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, are also set by the committee.

The No. 1 seed gets preferential treatment from the committee in terms of geography. And until Michigan’s loss Saturday, the Tide projected into the Cotton Bowl against the Wolverines, with Clemson and ND defaulting to the Orange Bowl.

But if Oklahoma is the 4 seed, the committee way rethink Alabama’s site.

Arlington is only 195 miles from the Sooners’ Norman, Okla., campus. So a shift to Miami Gardens would make sense for Alabama. That’s just over 1,500 miles away from Oklahoma’s campus and not much farther (774 miles to 605) than Arlington is for Alabama.

Clemson and ND, in the scenario, would shift to the Cotton Bowl.

Another intriguing scenario would be if Georgia upset Alabama in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs could jump all the way to No. 1, and Alabama could slide to 4, but the committee likely would want to avoid an immediate rematch.

So that would break up a potential Clemson-ND semifinal.

If Notre Dame does make the field, as expected, it would be the third straight season a team without a 13th game or a conference championship was included in the CFP semifinals. Ohio State (11-1) was the No. 3 seed in 2016, and Alabama (11-1) was the No. 4 seed last season.

Notre Dame’s Te’von Coney (4) celebrates during ND’s 24-17 victory over USC, Saturday night in Los Angeles.

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Notre Dame

4. Georgia

5. Oklahoma

6. Ohio State

7. Michigan

8. UCF

9. Florida

10. LSU

11. Washington

12. Penn State

13. Washington State

14. Texas

15. Kentucky

16. West Virginia

17. Utah

18. Mississippi State

19. Texas A&M

20. Syracuse

21. Northwestern

22. Boise State

23. Iowa State

24. Missouri

25. Fresno State