Notre Dame (10-1) moved up two spots to No. 6 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, which means the Fighting Irish are knocking on the door of their third playoff appearance in four seasons. Notre Dame has just one game remaining, which means the Irish still need some help.
Ole Miss already helped Notre Dame last night by knocking off Mississippi State, which keeps Alabama from adding yet another Top 25 win to their resume. There are a number of games on Friday and Saturday that will have a HUGE impact on Notre Dame's playoff chances.
With Notre Dame not playing until 8:00 PM ET on Saturday night, Irish fans will get to watch almost all of the games that could have an impact on Notre Dame's ranking on Tuesday. Here are those games and who Irish fans need to cheer for.
#4 Cincinnati Bearcats at East Carolina Pirates
Game Time: 3:30 PM ET
Spread: Cincinnati -14.0
If Cincinnati wins out they are in, if Cincinnati drops a game the Irish have a chance to jump them. A loss to an unranked East Carolina team would certainly hurt Cincinnati's resume, and it would set up an AAC title game matchup against Cincinnati that could completely knock the Bearcats out, assuming they lost twice. It's a long shot for sure, but it would certainly greatly improve Notre Dame's chances, and it could protect Notre Dame should Alabama knock off Georgia.
North Carolina Tar Heels at #20 NC State Wolfpack
Game Time: 7:00 PM ET
Spread: NC State -6.0
Notre Dame needs more quality wins on its resume, and North Carolina gives the Irish a chance to have a somewhat decent late season victory. If the Tar Heels beat NC State it would give them three wins in their final four games, including two over ranked teams (UNC beat Wake Forest 58-55 the week after they lost to ND). It doesn't necessarily move the needle, but it certainly helps.
#2 Ohio State Buckeyes at #5 Michigan Wolverines
Game Time: 12:00 PM ET
Spread: OSU -8.0
Assuming Notre Dame beats Stanford in convincing fashion the odds are strong the Irish finish the regular season ranked 5th, and the winner of this game clinches a spot in the Big Ten Championship game. There are a couple ways to look at this. One is do you want a Notre Dame playoff team to have to face the best teams, and Ohio State is clearly one of the two best teams in the country. If you want a bit of an easier playoff path for Notre Dame then you need to root for Michigan. I also think Wisconsin has a better shot at knocking off Michigan in a rematch than it does Ohio State, so a Michigan upset would also increase the chances that the Big Ten ultimately gets knocked out of the playoff.
#3 Alabama Crimson Tide at Auburn Tigers
Game Time: 3:30 PM ET
Spread: Alabama -20.0
This is a major long shot, especially with Auburn QB Bo Nix being out for the season with an injury, but it's worth pulling for. The worst case scenario for Notre Dame is that Ohio State or Michigan wins the Big Ten, Cincinnati wins out and Alabama upsets Georgia. If that happens the Irish are out. If Alabama loses to Auburn they are out, which means what happens in the SEC title game really doesn't matter. We have precedent (Penn State, 2016) of a 2-loss conference champ not getting in over a 1-loss team (Ohio State) that it beat.
Indiana Hoosiers at Purdue Boilermakers
Game Time: 3:30 PM ET
Spread: Purdue -16.0
Right now Notre Dame has just one win over a Top 25 opponent. A convincing Purdue victory would end their season at 8-4 and give them a good chance at finishing back in the Top 25. That would give Notre Dame's resume a much-needed boost.
#14 Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Game Time: 4:00 PM ET
Spread: Wisconsin -7.0
A Wisconsin win clinches their spot in the Big Ten title game and allows them to continue climbing up the rankings. If Minnesota wins, Purdue wins and Iowa loses to Nebraska it would create a four-team tie atop the West standings. In that scenario it would send the Gophers to the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin has the best chance at knocking off one of the East teams, and the Badgers making the title game would certainly boost Notre Dame's resume.
#10 Oklahoma Sooners at #7 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Game Time: 7:30 PM ET
Spread: Oklahoma State -4.0
There are three options for the Big 12 that would help Notre Dame, and none of them involve Oklahoma State winning out. But that doesn't mean that Oklahoma beating Oklahoma State is the only, or best way for Notre Dame to make the playoff. If Oklahoma State wins the Bedlam matchup it sends them into the Big 12 title game against Baylor if the Bears beat Texas Tech, or in a rematch against Oklahoma if the Bears lose. If Oklahoma wins it sets up a rematch with the Cowboys next weekend.
No matter who wins this game the Irish still have a great shot at getting in over the Big 12 champ, but Oklahoma's resume is far less impressive, so when looking at this matchup alone Irish fans should pull for the Sooners. The committee clearly doesn't love Oklahoma, and a win over Oklahoma State likely doesn't change that enough to jump Notre Dame, even if it happens twice.
OTHER GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON
*** Pull for any team that is ranked 20-25 to lose. The reason is it would open up a spot for Purdue should the Boilermakers beat Indiana. That would give Notre Dame a second Top 25 win. A loss by #25 Arkansas (home against Missouri) would take away a Top 25 win from Alabama and Georgia.
*** #1 Georgia (11-0) at Georgia Tech (3-8) - No, you aren't watching this noon game on Saturday to see the Bulldogs get beat by the Yellow Jackets. Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech 55-0 last weekend, and if the Irish can beat GT more impressively than Georgia is does give the Irish a small data point that continues to help boost its resume.
*** Texas Tech (6-5) at #8 Baylor (9-2) - Notre Dame fans should be huge Baylor fans right now. There's a Big 12 scenario that involves Oklahoma and Oklahoma State splitting games the next two weeks, but the other ideal Big 12 scenario is 2-loss Baylor winning the Big 12.
*** South Carolina beating Clemson and Louisville beating Kentucky would guarantee that Georgia has at most one Top 25 win this season. Arkansas losing to Missouri would mean the Bulldogs have zero. It's a very, very, very long shot, but if Georgia loses badly to Alabama in the SEC Title game it could be enough to drop the Bulldogs out of the Top 4.
Strength Of Schedule Assist
There are a number of Irish opponents that have big games that could help boost Notre Dame's strength of schedule. I already talked about Purdue, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Georgia Tech, but there are others.
*** Florida State (5-6) at Florida (5-6) - Both teams are playing to get bowl eligible, and a win would be HUGE for the Seminoles both from a bowl eligibility standpoint and from a momentum standpoint.
*** Akron (2-9) at Toledo (6-5) - Toledo is looking to win its third straight game, which would be good for the Rockets and Irish.
*** #13 BYU (9-2) at USC (4-6) - USC is a train wreck right now, but if the Trojans knock off the Cougars it would help Wisconsin jump up even further in the rankings and it would help boost Notre Dame's strength of schedule.
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