Breaking Down The New Year's Six Path For Notre Dame

Bryan Driskell

Notre Dame’s chances at a New Year’s Six game took a bit of a hit last night when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out, but the path is still there.

The Irish remained at No. 16, which certainly didn’t help their cause. Neither did three-loss Auburn staying head of Notre Dame after its 21-14 loss at Georgia.

With the season entering its final two weeks of the regular season, the pathway to a New Year’s Six Bowl got harder, but there is still a path. Below is a breakdown of that path, and what games most impact the Irish chances for a NY6 berth.

First things first, if Notre Dame is going to have a chance to make a NY6 game is must dominate Boston College and Stanford. A close win doesn’t move the needle for the Irish, but a pair of impressive blowout victories would certainly change the current perception.

I will break down the open spots and every Power 5 team in contention for a Playoff or NY6 bid. It will be a lot of information, but there is a more quick-hitting “what needs to happen” at the bottom of the article if you want to skim through the rest.


Notre Dame is obviously out of the Playoff hunt, so the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl are out.

The Rose Bowl will be a matchup between a Big Ten and a Pac 12 team.

The Sugar Bowl will be a matchup between a SEC and a Big 12 team.

The Orange Bowl will have an ACC team against an opponent from the Big Ten, the SEC or Notre Dame, assuming Notre Dame is ranked higher than the best available SEC and Big Ten school. The caveat is the Orange Bowl can pass on Notre Dame even if its the highest ranked team in order to eliminate a rematch.

The Cotton Bowl will match two at-large opponents, but one will be the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five.

Now let’s look at the teams in contention for the NY6 games by conference.

PAC 12

What happens in the Pac 12 could very well have the biggest impact on where Notre Dame falls in the final rankings. Oregon and Utah are the only two squads from the Pac 12 to worry about.

#6 Oregon (9-1) — The Ducks play at Arizona State (5-5) this weekend and host rival Oregon State (5-5) in the regular season finale. Oregon has already clinched the Pac 12 North title, so it will play in the Pac 12 title game on Dec. 6.

#7 Utah (9-1) — The Utes travel to Arizona (4-6) this weekend to take on the struggling Wildcats and then conclude the season against Colorado (4-6). If Utah wins either of those games it clinches a spot in the Pac 12 title game against Oregon.

The worst case scenario for Notre Dame is that both win out in the regular season and the winner of the Pac 12 title doesn’t get into the Playoff. That would mean the winner gets into the Rose Bowl and the loser ends up ranked ahead of Notre Dame, which would essentially knock the Irish out.

Notre Dame needs one of those two squads to drop a game before the title game, and for that team to also lose the the conference title game. The best case scenario then for Notre Dame is that the winner of the Pac 12 is then snubbed from the Playoff for a SEC or Big Ten team.


Auburn staying ahead of Notre Dame did damage for Notre Dame, but even if four SEC teams stay ahead of Notre Dame the path is still open.

The reality, however, is that the more SEC teams that stay ahead of Notre Dame the greater the odds the Irish are left out because it would require a lot of chaos in the other leagues. Notre Dame needs to jump at least one SEC team, and if two SEC squads make the Playoff that could actually help Notre Dame.

#1 LSU Tigers (10-0) — LSU hosts Arkansas (2-8) and Texas A&M (7-3) before the SEC title game. Beating Arkansas this weekend would clinch a spot into the SEC title game for the Tigers. A two-loss LSU team will be ranked ahead of Notre Dame, so seeing the Tigers in the Playoff is the best-case scenario for Notre Dame.

Assuming LSU earns a Playoff berth, the next highest-ranked SEC squad would then secure a trip to the Sugar Bowl. If two SEC teams make the Playoff then the third-best team from the SEC would secure the automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl.

#4 Georgia Bulldogs (9-1) — I’m a bit surprised to see Georgia as the fourth team in the Playoff based on its subpar offense and overall ugly play over the last month, but the Bulldogs do have three good wins (Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn). Georgia hasn’t scored more than 27 points in each of its last five games, but the Bulldogs have already clinched a spot in the SEC title game.

Notre Dame fans should be pulling hard for former coordinator Mike Elko to have a great game plan for the Bulldogs. If Georgia loses to Texas A&M this weekend and then loses to LSU in the SEC title game it would surely drop them behind a 10-2 Notre Dame team. Based on how bad Georgia has been on offense the last six weeks this is not a far-fetched scenario.

#5 Alabama Crimson Tide (9-1) — The Crimson Tide stayed at No. 5 despite losing Tagovailoa. I’m not surprised that Alabama wasn’t dinged for him being out, as the committee will likely want to see how Alabama plays before dropping them.

Alabama hosts Western Carolina this weekend before traveling to Auburn to end the regular season. The reality is there is no scenario where I see Alabama falling behind Notre Dame unless they are blown out by Auburn, but with Auburn hosting Samford this weekend, an Auburn beatdown of Alabama would keep the Tigers ahead of the Irish.

The best case scenario for Notre Dame is that Alabama blasts Auburn, and then Georgia loses to Texas A&M and LSU. That would likely result in both Georgia and Auburn falling behind Notre Dame, Alabama would make the Playoff and Florida gets the Sugar Bowl bid.

A less likely, but still possible scenario is that Alabama blasts Auburn, Georgia loses the two games I discussed and then Florida falls behind Notre Dame after an ugly win over Florida State, but that isn't needed for the Irish to make a NY6 game.

#11 Florida Gators (9-2) — The team whose ranking makes the least sense to me is Florida’s. To be blunt, it’s a joke that Florida is ranked #11 in the current rankings. Yes, they own a 24-13 victory over Auburn, but they are 1-2 against ranked teams and two of their nine wins are against FCS opponents. Florida also has close wins over Kentucky (5-5) and Miami (6-4).

If Florida has an ugly win over Florida State there’s a scenario in which a Notre Dame team with two blowout victories could leap the Gators, but it's not needed for the Irish to make a NY6 game.

The odds of Georgia dropping two games is greater than Florida losing to a scuffling/coachless Florida State squad.

#15 Auburn Tigers (7-3) — This one is simple, Auburn winning out hurts Notre Dame more than anything else. The Irish need Alabama to beat the Tigers next weekend.


Notre Dame fans can root for chaos in the SEC, but more chaos is needed in the Big Ten.

#2 Ohio State (10-0) — Ohio State will play three of the four Big Ten opponents ranked ahead of Notre Dame. Simply put, Notre Dame fans need to not only root for Ohio State to win its next three games, but it needs the Buckeyes to destroy its next three opponents.

Ohio State hosts #8 Penn State this weekend and then travels to #13 Michigan to end the regular season. It will then play the winner of the #10 Minnesota/#12 Wisconsin game in the Big Ten title game.

#8 Penn State (9-1) — The Nittany Lions head to Columbus this weekend before hosting Rutgers to end the regular season. If Penn State beats Ohio State they would have a chance to vault into the Playoff and put Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Of course, there’s also a chance it ends up putting both Penn State and Ohio State into the Playoff, but that seems unlikely.

If Penn State loses a close to Ohio State then the odds of three Big Ten teams finishing ahead of Notre Dame are much greater. Notre Dame needs Penn State to get beat in a big way, otherwise the need would be for three SEC teams to fall behind the Irish.

#10 Minnesota (9-1) — Minnesota is still ranked #10 after losing a tough road contest to #17 Iowa. The Golden Gophers travel to Northwestern (2-8) this weekend before hosting #12 Wisconsin. The winner of the game goes to the Big Ten title game and the loser could very well fall behind Notre Dame.

If Minnesota wins out and beats Ohio State it still likely doesn’t make the Playoff, which would be bad for Notre Dame. If Minnesota wins out and then loses to Ohio State there is virtually no chance they fall behind Notre Dame. So that means Notre Dame fans need to hope that Northwestern pulls off the biggest upset of the season on Saturday.

If that doesn’t happen - and it likely won’t - then Irish fans need to become huge fans of the Badgers. A Wisconsin win at Minnesota and two blowout wins for Notre Dame could very well vault the Irish ahead of the Gophers.

#12 Wisconsin (8-2) — Wisconsin hosts Purdue this weekend, which means Irish fans should hope that Jeff Brohm comes up with a brilliant game plan and that his walk-on quarterback can have the game of his life. I assume Brohm will put together that kind of game plan, but the injuries sustained by the Purdue offense this year makes the upset highly unlikely.

If Wisconsin wins out it will certainly climb up the rankings, it will also get the Badgers into the Big Ten title game against Ohio State. Should the Buckeyes earn another convincing win over Wisconsin the odds are good that a two-loss Notre Dame team moves ahead of a three-loss Wisconsin team. A close Wisconsin loss means the Badgers stay head of the Irish.

If that’s the case then Notre Dame desperately needs Penn State to look really bad the next two weeks.

#13 Michigan (8-2) — There are two chances left for Notre Dame fans to root hard against Michigan. Indiana almost pulled off an upset of #8 Penn State this past weekend, and it has played Michigan tough the last four years, losing by 11, 7, 10 and 7 points. An Indiana upset would certainly drop the Wolverines behind Notre Dame.

If Michigan wins - and I would predict a Wolverine victory if I was a betting man - a matchup against #2 Ohio State will the next weekend would be huge for Notre Dame. A close Michigan loss could very well keep the Wolverines ahead of Notre Dame. A blowout loss to the Buckeyes would likely drop the three-loss Wolverines below Notre Dame thanks to two of its three losses being blowouts.

While much of the focus will be on the SEC, chaos in the Big Ten and Pac 12 would have a much greater impact on Notre Dame’s NY6 bid. If that happens then we could see four SEC teams make the Playoff/NY6 and Notre Dame still makes the NY6.

BIG 12

Right now there are just two Big 12 teams ranked ahead of Notre Dame. One of them will end up in the Sugar Bowl, so Notre Dame needs to jump just one of those teams.

#9 Oklahoma (9-1) — Oklahoma can clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game with a home win over TCU (5-5) this weekend. Before the title game, however, the Sooners will have to travel to Stillwater to take on rival Oklahoma State (7-3), who checked in at #21 in the latest rankings.

#14 Baylor (9-1) — Baylor hosts Texas this weekend, and like Oklahoma, a win at home clinches a spot in the Big 12 title game. If Baylor loses to Texas it can still clinch a spot the next weekend by beating Kansas on the road.

Oklahoma winning out helps Notre Dame because it would likely drop Baylor below Notre Dame, although I don’t necessarily agree with how low the Bears are ranked right now. Of course, the ideal scenario for Notre Dame is that both Oklahoma and Baylor drop a regular season game, which would all but ensure that Notre Dame gets ahead of at least one of those two teams, and that’s all it needs.


Of course there are a lot of different scenarios that could happen, but here is what needs to happen for Notre Dame among the most realistic options that could open up a NY6 bid for the Irish.

1. Notre Dame must dominate both Boston College and Stanford.

2. Oregon drops a regular season game and Utah wins the Pac 12 title.

3. Georgia loses to Texas A&M this weekend and LSU wins the SEC title.

4. Alabama beats Auburn.

5. Ohio State destroys Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. (Indiana beating Michigan this weekend would be icing on the cake)

6. Wisconsin beats Minnesota and gets dominated by Ohio State.

7. Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State but beats Baylor in the Big 12 title game, or Baylor loses to Texas this weekend and beats Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

If all this happens, here’s how I see the Playoff/NY6 shaking out.

Fiesta Bowl — LSU vs. Alabama
Peach Bowl — Ohio State vs. Clemson

Sugar Bowl — Florida vs. Oklahoma or Baylor
Rose Bowl — Penn State vs. Utah
Orange Bowl — Virginia vs. Georgia, Minnesota or Wisconsin
Cotton Bowl — Notre Dame vs. Memphis, Cincinnati or Boise State

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Comments (15)
No. 1-12

Coach, what are your thoughts philosophically on where ND stands with the bowl system? We “play for championships”, of course, but in a season like this, it’s depressing to see that a team playing really well (assuming the season ends strong) still is looking at the Camping World Bowl, when there are worse teams who will get major bowl bids. With the bowls unwilling to sacrifice conference affiliations, there just isn’t much access for us, especially if the Fiesta is in the playoff. Heck, a team we beat will play in the Orange Bowl.

Do you see anything at Swarbrick’s disposal to improve major bowl access? Revenue sharing with the ACC to allow us into the Orange Bowl lineup? Or, is this just the price of independence?


The answer is 12?


I've seen more chaos happen.


Bryan, thanks for sorting that out, my friend. Blow out BC this weekend and hope for at least 50% of the other dominoes to fall.


I would love for this to happen but I think the chances of it are pretty slim. ND also got screwed that the playoff games are bowls that take at large bids


Love it!!!


Bryan... assuming ND plays at its potential. Where do you think ND is ranked ?


Thanks Bryan. Excellent, as always. Here's hoping!


Great breakdown! All this information for FREE?!?! Anyways, it is very unlikely that all of these things happen. The most unlikely part is #2. The PAC 12 is pretty average and Oregon/Utah are actually good teams. They won’t lose.


Hell of a parlay that would be!


Outstanding Article