Notre Dame’s Road To The Playoffs – Week 10

I was going to make this post yesterday, but decided to wait until after the official playoff committee rankings announcement.  I wish I hadn’t.  I was expecting the rankings to resemble something similar to the AP/USA Today polls.  I was wrong.  Just like many of you on twitter, I was disheartened when I saw the Irish come in at 10.  However, I wasn’t outraged. 

Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Despite coming into the season with one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Notre Dame’s opponents have not held up their end of the bargain.  Based on the preseason polls, the Irish had 5 top 25 teams on their schedule (FSU, Stanford, ASU, USC, UNC).  They also were to play 4 teams that received votes (Michigan, Navy, Louisville, Northwestern).  It’s not exactly the SEC schedule, but top to bottom, that’s a pretty solid slate of games.  All that remain ranked are FSU, who beat us, albeit probably shouldn’t, have and ASU, who we have a game with in a few weeks.  USC and Louisville still received some votes, with L’ville coming in at 25 in one of the polls. 

The only quality win the Irish have/had was Stanford, but the Cardinal are proving to be no where near as good as people thought they were in August.  So the Irish really have an uphill battle to climb.  They need to go into Arizona State and dominate them. This will be their statement win.  You couple this with the way the FSU game played out, and then the Irish can at least maintain some respectability in the eyes of the playoff committee. 

Just a little background on how the committee comes up with it’s rankings. It will be based on several factors including strength of schedule, team records, head-to-head match ups, weather and injuries.  The major polls will not be used in coming up with the rankings.  The most weight will be placed on a team’s strength of schedule.  So as I noted earlier, Notre Dame is hurt by the teams they play having down years.  So as fun as it is to root for Michigan and USC to lose every Saturday, we as fans should be rooting hard for our rivals each week, as painful as it may be.

So now I’m going to list all 9 teams ahead of the Irish, and their key remaining match ups.  Since the AP and USA Today polls aren’t accounted for in the playoff rankings, I’m not going to waste my time by listing them on here.  We are going straight off the committee rankings.

1. Mississippi State – 7-0 – SEC

Key games: 11/15 – Alabama, 11/29 Ole Miss, SEC Championship

Like I noted last week, The best case scenario is for Mississippi St. to win out and hand both Alabama and Ole Miss their second losses.

2.  Florida State – 7-0  – ACC

Key games: 10/30 – at Louisville, ACC Championship

This is a common opponent with ND, so it’ll be another tool used to gauge how the Irish stack up

3.  Auburn – 6-1 – SEC

Key games: 11/1 @ Ole Miss, 11/15, @ Georgia, 11/29 @ Alabama, SEC Championship

Auburn controls their own destiny with this schedule.  If they get thru it, they earned their way in.  Can’t do anything about that.

4. Ole Miss – 7-1 – SEC

Key games: 11/1 Auburn, 11/29 Miss St., SEC Championship

The biggest problem I had with the rankings was that there were 3 SEC teams in the top 4.  Not to take anything away from Ole Miss, but I thought the whole point of the playoff was to make it fair for everyone else.   

5. Oregon – 7-1 – Pac 12

Key games: 11/8 @ Utah, 11/29 @ Oregon State., Pac 12 Championship

I thought Oregon should be #4 just for balance purposes.  They have quality wins over Michigan state and UCLA to help their resume.

6. Alabama – 7-1 – SEC

Key games: 11/8 @ LSU, 11/15 Miss St., 11/29 Auburn, SEC Championship

Plenty of chances for them to get knocked off.  They’re playing much better lately though,

7. Texas Christian University – 6-1 – Big 12

Key games: 11/1 @ West Virginia, 11/8 Kansas State, Big 12 Championship

This team can score and have a legit shot to get into the final 4.  They have quality wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and a nailbiter loss to Baylor.

8. Michigan State – 7-1 – Big Ten

Key games: 11/8 Ohio State, Big Ten Championship

I have real issues with the Spartans being ranked over the Irish.  They don’t play a great schedule, and got smacked around by Oregon.  Their quality win is a 5 point victory over Nebraska.  They have 2 common opponenets with Notre Dame (Michigan & Purdue)  ND had more imppressive victories against both teams.

9. Kansas State – 6-1 – Big 12

Key games: 11/1 Oklahoma State, 11/8 @ TCU, 11/20 @ West Virginia, 11/6 @ Baylor, Big 12 Championship

K-State doesn’t have an easy road to the final 4.  Personally I don’t think they will remain in the top 10 by seasons end. They have a quality win against Oklahoma and lost early in the year in a close one ot Auburn.

So that is that.  It’s not easy.  The Irish still have a chance.  Obviously they need help.  The one thing they have going for them is that a lot of the teams ahead of them have to play each other.  You can only hope that they all knock each other off evenly.  If we can hope for anything, it’s Mississippi State to run the table and take out Ole Miss and Alabama.  Otherwise, the rest will have to play out week by week.  All the Irish can do is play the games they have left and win football games. 

Reach me on Twitter @GetsThruBuckner

Notre Dame’s Road to the Playoffs – Week 9

-Tom

We are merely a week away from the first ever release of the NCAA Playoff Committee’s Rankings.  The Irish hit a bump in the road this week, however, seemed to gain the respect of the pollsters even after a loss.  Notre Dame fell to #7 (AP) & #8 (USA Today) in this weeks voting.  However, it’s not a terrible drop.  They’re still in good position to secure one of the 4 spots. Granted they will need a little help, but as long as they win out, they will be strongly considered. 

I don’t know how this new system will work.  Obviously it’s at the discretion of the voters.  So just because ND is on the outside looking in with the major polls, next week they could be in the top 4, depending on how they’re viewed in those persons eyes.  Under the assumption that the Irish have a few hills to climb, I’m going to look over those teams ahead of us and figure out their road to the final 4 also.

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Notre Dame has a pretty favorable schedule remaining, in terms of quality of opponents and of winnable games.  As of now, two remaining opponants are in the top 25 (at Arizona State, at USC).  They also have a home game against a 6-2 Louisville team.  Louisville’s next opponent happens to be Florida State at home.  Hopefully they give a good showing, maybe pull off an upset.

Now the rest of the field

1) Mississippi State – 6-0 – AP – 1, USA Today – 1

at Kentucky
Arkansas
UT Martin
at #4 Alabama
Vanderbilt
at #3 Ole Miss
SEC Championship

The Bulldogs have 2 games against teams ranked higher then the Irish.  This bodes well for us.  If I had to cchoose, I’d rather they win out.  This will give Alabama their second loss and Ole Miss their first loss, assuming neither team loses along the way

#2 Florida State – 7-0 – AP – 2, USA Today – 2

at Louisville
Virginia
at Miami
Boston College
Florida
ACC Championship

Aside for Louisville, FSU has a pretty easy schedule.  I’m torn over this. Logically it makes sense to want the Seminoles to win out because it looks better for the Irish’s strength of schedule. It also leaves a chance for an epic rematch.

#3 Ole Miss – 7-0, AP -3, USA Today – 3

at #24 LSU
#5 Auburn
Presbyterian
at Arkansas
#1 Mississippi State
SEC Championship

Aside from a cupcake game insterted into the schedule, Ole Miss probably has to run a gauntlet to get to the final four.  If they get through this, they earned their playoff spot.  They have a phenomenal defense. Their rise to prominence makes the SEC even stronger than it was, which is scary.

#4 Alabama, 6-1, AP – 4, USA Today – 4

at Tennessee
at #24 LSU
#1 Mississippi State
Western Carolina
#5 Auburn
SEC Championship

Alabama doesn’t have a very easy road to the dance either. Although this isn’t the dominant Alabama team of the past few years, they have arguably the best coach in the nation and will be tough for whomever they play against.  Since they are one of the 1-loss teams, it would serve ND best if they lose along the way.

#5 Michigan State, 6-1, AP – 8, USA Today – 5

Michigan
#13 Ohio State
at Maryland
Rutgers
at Penn State
B1G Championship

I gotta be honest, I don’t get how the Spartans made such a leap.  It’s also odd to see such a difference in the two polls, with them being 8th in the AP and 5th in USA Today.  Also, they jumped Oregon, who rolled over them earlier in the season.  They have a rather easy schedule remaining, except for Ohio State. Problem there is that if OSU knocks them off, it will draw the Buckeyes into the playoff picture.

#6 Auburn, 5-1, AP – 5, USA Today – 6

South Carolina
at #3 Ole Miss
Texas A&M
at #9 Georgia
Samford
at #4 Alabama
SEC Championship

I can’t see Auburn getting through this stretch unblemished.  3 top 10 teams and A&M, they have their work cut out for them.  They’re battle tested though, coming off an appearance in last years title game. 

#7 Oregon, 6-1, AP – 6, USA Today – 7

at Cal
Stanford
at #19 Utah
Colorado
at Oregon State
PAC-12 Championship

Year in and year out, Oregon is consistently at the top but fails to get over the hump.  They tend to get exposed and fold in big games.  They had a bad lost agaisnt Arizona at home.  The road game against Utah and the Civil War game on the road against Oregon State are the biggest tests remaining. 

ESPN.com currently has the 4 playoff teams as Mississippi State, Florida State, Ole Miss and Alabama.  ND is 7th.  The one issue thats going to come into play is whats the point of having a playoff if there’s going to be 3 SEC teams in it.  As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t win your conference, you shouldn’t play for a national championship.  Obviously I don’t make the rules, and when it comes down to it, I can see why you’d want it more open.  SEC teams can’t help that the SEC is so damn good.  This is just one of the many questions that will start to be answered next week

Depending on how you look at it, the Irish are either at an advantage or a disadvantage in that they don’t play a conference championship.  The championship games are just another opportunity for teams to get knocked out.  On the other hand, they’re also an opportunity for bubble teams to pick up a quality win, especially in regards to the SEC. The lack of a championship game didn’t hurt Notre Dame in 2012.  But this year is a whole new ball game

There’s plenty of other teams in the picture, such as Georgia, Ohio State, Kansas State and Baylor.  I’m going to leave them out today because they’re all still behind the Irish in the polls.  Weekly I will update all of this based on how Notre Dame is standing.  Next week should be very interesting when the new rankings come out.  I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions, and as always, a lot of contreversy.  The Irish can only control what they do.  Hopefully the boys can win out, and look good while doing it, and let the people in charge do what they have to do.

Follow me on twitter @GetsThruBuckner

I Want Jameis Winston To Play This Week

There’s an old saying in sports.  It is “In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.”  These are words this Notre Dame football program will have to live by in order to be serious championship contenders.  So, as much as you’d like to see any opponent be at a disadvantage, it would serve no purpose to the Irish to play Florida State this week without Jameis Winston under center.

I’m going to save debating the moral issues behind Winston’s off field situation for another day.  Whether he should or shouldn’t be playing isn’t for me to decide.  However, it can alter my opinion of my team.  Coming into the season, I wasn’t expecting much from this Irish team.  I felt like they were an 8 win team, which isn’t bad, but it’s not where you want to be, especially in Kelly’s 5th season at ND.  What I think you’re seeing from this team this year though is a full squad of Kelly recruits in his system playing in a way tailored to his coaching style.  I think that’s part of the reason they came into the year a little under the radar.  They’re more athletic then any Irish team we have seen in a while. Kelly finally has his team.

If you look back to 2012, they had a great run.  Kelly was able to guide them to the title game with a team of mostly Charlie Weis’ recruits.  He dumbed down his offense and relied mostly on a physically dominating defense.  But let’s be honest with ourselves here.  The Irish caught plenty of breaks that year to get them to Miami.  When they finally played in the BCS Championship, they were overmatched.  It was like men against boys out there. Whenever you saw Kelly onm camera, he looked like he saw a ghost.  He didn’t know what hit them.  It was a real wake up call for the program.  Kelly saw that in order to compete with the teams from the south, you have to change the type of team you put on the field, which includes being faster and more explosive. Also, in order to do that and draw recruits, you have to play those teams, which you can see they are scheduling games against.

That brings me to this weeks game.  I want to play the defending national champions with the reigning Heisman trophy winner playing.  This game will show how far this program has come, and how much further they need to go.  If Jameis winds up suspended, and ND beats the Seminoles, it doesn’t really guage where this team stands in regards to playing with the big boys. Don’t get me wrong.  It is still impressive to beat Florida State without Winston.  He’s not the whole team.  But if they beat the  Seminoles at full strength in Tallahassee, It will make a statement that this program is back to being elite, and it can play with anyone.

This post seems pretty negative.  I’m not trying to be.  Consider me cautiosly optimistic.  But going into the game it’s hard to not think about that title game in 2012. If they beat a Winstonless FSU, they’ll probably win out and wind up in the playoffs. Then it’s a crapshoot.  There’s still uncertainty about where this team stands. The last thing I want to see though is them get the floor wiped with them by teams that are more superior. 

Winston or no Winston, I think the Irish will do alright this weekend.  I think the -12 point spread is a little much.  Florida State isn’t as good as they were last year.  It’s a winable game. They went into Oklahoma two years ago as big underdogs and pretty much dominated them.  This team is battle tested.  Kelly is a great strategist and will be prepared for the game.  I expect them to compete.  There’s no shame in losing a close game under those circumstances.  Win or lose, the Irish are better off if either result comes with Florida State’s best player on the field.

Talk Irish football with me on Twitter.  @GetsThruBuckner  -Tom