Could Notre Dame Create the Nightmare Playoff Scenario (for Everyone Else)?

In this week's mailbag: How good can Notre Dame be, and is college football ready for the Irish's best-case season? How much heat should be on Jim Harbaugh? And what's Penn State's toughest roadblock on the way to another Big Ten title?
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We’ve reached the point in the season where everyone wants to fire everyone…

From David: Hoke: 24–7. Harbaugh: 24–7. If Jim loses to Ohio State, is he on the hot seat next year?

No. Harbaugh will not be on the hot seat next year even if he loses to Ohio State in November. The Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh through 31 games stat is a fun comparison, but the Big Ten East is a tougher place to play than the Big Ten Legends Division that Hoke walked into.

That said, the idea that Harbaugh can walk on water has been retired at this point. He likely will be judged more harshly by his own fan base and administration until he can even out the numbers against Michigan State and Ohio State. The rise of Penn State under James Franklin has further complicated matters. Michigan has too much invested in Harbaugh to even consider a change, but expect more cold, rational analysis from all parties involved from this point forward. Michigan’s administration wants Big Ten championships, and you can’t win those if you can’t occasionally beat Michigan State and Ohio State in the same year—or if you can’t beat Ohio State at all. But the administration will be as patient as possible with Harbaugh. His contract is fully guaranteed through 2021, after all.

From @Tails_Not_Heads: Can Notre Dame go 10–2? Are they somewhat under the radar still? [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this story.]

From Edmund: Penn State has a tough three-game stretch coming up. Which game do you see as the toughest: Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State?

Tough probably isn’t the correct word. Brutal is more like it. If I had to rank those games from most awful to least awful—because none are anywhere near easy—it would go like this:

1. Oct. 28, at Ohio State

The Buckeyes are the most complete of the three opponents, and this game is on the road a week after a Michigan game that would grind any team down physically. 

2. Nov. 4, at Michigan State

The Spartans had a terrible season last year, but they’ve spent most of this season proving 2016 was the aberration rather than the new normal. (That 20-point loss to Notre Dame may say more about the Fighting Irish than it does about Michigan State.) This game is in East Lansing, and it will mark the third consecutive week the Nittany Lions will face an athletic, well coached defense. Even if Penn State gets through the first two, watch out for this one. Colleague Bruce Feldman’s Body Blow Theory could be in full effect here. 

3. Oct. 21, vs. Michigan

The Nittany Lions will be coming off a bye, and the Wolverines are the most one-dimensional of this trio. Michigan’s defense is great, maybe the best Penn State will see all year, but if Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley & Co. can punch in a few scores, the Wolverines’ offense could struggle to keep up. Or it could turn the ball over and make the Penn State offense’s job easier.

From Nick: What is Texas A&M’s record from here on out? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Andy: When NIU's Jordan Lynch broke the QB single-game rushing record it was a big deal. Why hasn't anyone noticed Arizona’s Khalil Tate?

There’s actually a pretty good explanation for why a MAC quarterback got more attention than a QB in a Power 5 league for the same achievement, but neither Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott nor Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez will like the answer.

Jordan Lynch got a lot of attention when he ran for 321 yards against Western Michigan in 2013 for a couple of reasons. First, that performance came on a Tuesday night on ESPN2. It was the only college football game that night, so every die-hard college football fan (and every degenerate gambler) was watching. Tate ran for 327 yards in a win against Colorado on Saturday in a game on the Pac-12 Network—which has the lowest distribution of any channel that shows Power 5 games—while interesting games were being played on ESPN, Fox, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1 and even Fox Business Channel (where Stanford-Utah started while the Kansas State-Texas double overtime game finished on FS1). 

Lynch also got attention because he was a known commodity in 2013. He had put up huge numbers in ’12, and he was on his way to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist as a senior. Tate, meanwhile, didn’t even start the Colorado game. He replaced an injured Brandon Dawkins. Why wasn’t Tate starting all along? Because he wasn’t completely healthy. Tate injured his shoulder in Arizona’s season opener and wasn’t 100% until this past weekend.

But fear not. We’ll all have an eye on Tate when Arizona plays UCLA this week—and not only for what he does on the ground. Obscured by the record-breaking performance was the fact that Tate completed 11 of 12 passes for 142 yards. It makes sense that a defense terrified of what a quarterback might do on the ground will leave receivers open.

Tate won’t be a surprise this week. UCLA will have a chance to create a game plan to stop him. But the Wildcats will have had a week to prepare with Tate as the starter, so they may add a few wrinkles as well.

And even if Tate never matches his historic game against the Buffaloes, it seems he gives Arizona a chance to win more games than expected. That ultimately might save Rodriguez’s job.

From Stuart: Nole fan here needing advice. Since your squad has been through it recently, how do you emotionally cope with a 4–8 type season? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]