If you sat through the interminable Fox pregame show before the B1G championship, you were subjected to a host’s visible revulsion to your undefeated Fighting Irish being somehow in the mix for a CFP spot. His ire arose from the fact that Notre Dame was not playing in a conference championship. Cheeseburger Saturday.
“Why,” goes my paraphrase of his passion, “should Notre Dame get a look at a playoff spot when they’re not on the field playing against Pitt or Northwestern?” If you sat on public transportation or took your place in the corporate hive on Monday, no doubt you were subjected to something similar from some co-worker from a two-loss school. Years ago, the “problem” was that Notre Dame had descended into irrelevance. Today, it’s that the ascent came without a thirteenth game.
Or that Florida State and Stanford and Virginia Tech were actually really awful when we played them but not when the season started — except for Michigan, who were actually awful when we played them, but that was okay for them because they’re Michigan men and they got a lot better until they played Ohio State but that’s okay too because Ohio State is a playoff-caliber team except for that game against Purdue. See, if you apply college football “logic” to your Notre Dame experience, everything begins to make sense.
Let’s take a look at a team like, well, like Clemson. Very talented team, they’re in the South, they’re coached by a guy named “Dabo,” and they’re in a conference. That ticks all the boxes for the college football gods. Clemson played and defeated eight conference opponents (Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Wake Forest, NC State, Louisville, Boston College, duke) from the ACC. Clemson played and defeated South Carolina, an out-of-conference foe that finished 7-5, and Texas A&M, an out-of-conference foe that finished 8-4. Clemson played and defeated Pitt, an in-conference foe that finished 7-5 in the regular season. Clemson also played Furman and Georgia Southern. Two teams — Boston College and North Carolina State — were ranked — 17 and 16, respectively.
Notre Dame’s 12-0 record is far better than Clemson’s 13-0. Here’s why: Notre Dame played and beat four ranked opponents — Michigan (#14), Stanford (#7), Virginia Tech (#24), Syracuse (#12). Notre Dame played and defeated five ACC teams, two PAC-12 teams, two B1G teams, one MAC team, one AAC team, and one SEC team.
The difference, thus, between Clemson and Notre Dame is that Notre Dame is in the North, is coached by a guy named “Brian,” and is independent. That’s the only thing that makes sense. I mean, those are the only differences.
But they’re not. They only meaningful difference is Clemson’s thirteenth game, against Furman. Furman is a college, true, but it’s an FCS-school, which is meaningful in that IT’S NOT A DIVISION ONE SCHOOL GET OFF MY LAWN. Playing Furman is the equivalent of playing Furman. In any sport. I’d love to think that the tens of you reading this post will somehow result in it’s becoming bulletin board material for the Notre Dame v Furman national championship in 75 years, but that’s not likely because there won’t be tackle football in 75 years and Furman won’t be competing for the national championship in 75 years. No one will. The post-apocalyptic, nuclear winter will have taken care of that.
The reality is that Notre Dame does and always should play a schedule that gets it in the playoffs. Or the round of sixteen. Or whatever the future holds. An undefeated Notre Dame team should be a lock on a playoff berth. A one-loss Notre Dame could be, depending on what else is going on around them. But until no one else is playing FCS-free schedules, Notre Dame’s schedule should not be the problem.