Analysis: First CFP rankings reveal puts No. 10 Notre Dame on a Peachy trajectory
If there is a path to the College Football Playoff for the Notre Dame football team this season, it became clear Tuesday night that it would have to be paved with a plethora of “ifs” and wildly unlikely hypotheticals.
And even then, the Irish (7-1) would likely get rerouted into another New Year’s Six destination, one that dead-ends rather than leads to the Jan. 10 national championship game, staged this postseason 150 miles south of South Bend at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“I don’t see Notre Dame losing another (regular-season) game this season,” ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit offered Tuesday night during the first CFP rankings reveal of the season, after seeing the Irish slotted at No. 10.
That’s two spots below their current status in the AP and coaches polls heading into Saturday’s rivalry renewal with three-touchdown underdog Navy (2-6) at Notre Dame Stadium.
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The CFP selection committee features seven new members among its 13 overall, and they didn’t disappoint in providing drama and surprises.
Cincinnati (8-0), the team that handed the Irish their only loss this season, and Oklahoma (8-0) each landed four spots below where the AP and coaches ranked them, at Nos. 6 and 8, respectively.
There was lots of disparity between the CFP rankings and the AP Poll, and not just in order.
Six teams in the AP poll were excluded from the CFP rankings — five of them Group of Five teams: AP-ranked No. 18 UTSA, No. 20 Houston, No. 21 Coastal Carolina, No. 23 SMU and No. 24 Louisiana. No. 22 Penn State, of the Power 5, was also left out.
In their place were CFP No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 19 NC State, No. 20 Minnesota, No. 21 Wisconsin, No. 24 San Diego State and No. 25 Pitt.
Even among the top four — beyond Georgia being in the top spot — there was shock value in the order of No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Michigan State and No. 4 Oregon.
There wasn’t an expectation that Notre Dame would be close enough to the top four Tuesday that a finishing schedule of Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Stanford could coax playoff consideration, even with hypothetical chaos above and around them.
But at No. 10, the Irish would just eke into the New Year’s Six field if the season ended today.
Here’s a snapshot, which will undoubtedly shift in the coming weeks:
• No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Oregon in the Orange Bowl in one CFP semifinal, and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State in the other semifinal, in the Cotton Bowl.
The rest of the New Year’s Six would look like this:
• Rose: No. 5 Ohio State vs. an unranked Pac-12 team, presumably Utah.
• Sugar: No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Auburn
• Fiesta: No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 7 Michigan
• Peach: No. 9 Wake Forest vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
“Notre Dame has a tough schedule,” committee chair Gary Barta said via teleconference Tuesday night when asked how the Irish stacked up to other one-loss teams.
“And so week in and week out, they're up against strong opponents. Probably their signature win is a win over a Wisconsin team. And even though Wisconsin was referenced earlier and has three losses, Wisconsin is a very good football team.
“So that win was well thought of by the committee. A loss to a very good Cincinnati team, we've talked about that a little bit.
“Offensively they have some playmakers, but just using this last weekend as an example, at halftime in North Carolina the game was 17-13. North Carolina is a good football team, but when you started to compare with the teams above them and then a couple of teams right below them, Notre Dame fit at No. 10 for the reasons I was just talking about.
“Once you get to the point where you're comparing three or four teams with one loss kind of with similar schedules, you can go a lot of different ways.”
But the only way Notre Dame could stay in the New Year’s Six lineup, it appears, is to win out.
Otherwise, Notre Dame would slide into the ACC’s Tier One lineup, most likely the Cheez-It Bowl, Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla., against a team from the Big 12.
The Irish have been there before in earlier, less-delicious-sounding incarnations — the 2019 Camping World Bowl versus Iowa State, and the 2011 Champ Sports Bowl against Florida State.
Eleven different teams have made the playoff field in its first seven years of existence. Notre Dame, with appearances in 2018 and 2020, is one of only five schools to make tit to he playoff more than once.
Tuesday night was the 43rd-ever CFP rankings reveal, and the Irish have now been part of 33 of them since the 2014 inception, including the last 24 straight. Notre Dame has been in the top 4 15 times, with the peak position No. 2.
The next CFP rankings come out next Tuesday at approximately 9 p.m. The sixth and final set, which determines the playoff field and the other New Year’s Six matchups, is set for Dec. 5 at noon.
Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI
HOW TO WATCH NOTRE DAME VS. NAVY
Who: No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1) vs. Navy (2-6)
Kickoff: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
Radio: WSBT (AM 960), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Notre Dame by 21