Another weekend of college football games in 2021 means another weekend of upsets and wild games. This week No. 2 Iowa got thumped at home by unranked Purdue, while #11 Kentucky got smacked by the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
No. 9 Oregon needed a second half comeback to beat the now 1-5 California Golden Bears by a 24-17 score.
This weekend is yet another example of why Notre Dame’s early October loss to Cincinnati was not a season-ending affair. There is still plenty for the Fighting Irish to play for, including a very outside shot at the College Football Playoff. At the very least the Irish are still very much in play for a New Year’s Six Bowl. This weekend was yet another perfect example of why the notion to focus on next season needs to be eliminated from the discussion as long as the Irish only have one loss.
Let’s take a look at where things stand in the conferences, and why Notre Dame still has a lot to play for.
The Hawkeyes will likely still be ranked ahead of Notre Dame in this week’s polls, but they still have road games against Wisconsin and Nebraska on their docket, and if they win out a Big Ten title game matchup against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Michigan State. It certainly doesn't hurt Notre Dame's resume that the team that knocked off the Hawkeyes - Purdue - is a squad the Irish beat 27-13 earlier in the season.
All four of those Big Ten teams are going to be ahead of Notre Dame when the latest polls are released, but all four teams still play each other.
Ohio State hosts Penn State on October 30, hosts Michigan State on November 20 and travels to Michigan on November 27.
Penn State has its aforementioned trip to Columbus, which is followed by a November 13 home matchup against Michigan and a November 27 road game against Michigan State. The Wolverines and Spartans face off in two weeks in East Lansing.
Right now there is only one unbeaten team in the ACC, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who are actually ranked behind Notre Dame. Wake Forest was off this week but still has to travel to Army (4-2), North Carolina (4-3), Clemson (4-2) and Boston College (4-2).
At 5-1, NC State certainly has a chance to make a hard charge up the rankings should it win out, but it has road games left against a struggling but still dangerous Miami team, an ascending Florida State and they travel to Wake Forest on November 13 in what will be an elimination game. NC State finishes the regular season with a home matchup against North Carolina.
With two losses on the resume it’s hard to envision Clemson going from unranked to past an 11-1 Notre Dame team in the polls, although a road game against soon-to-be ranked Pitt and a home matchup against Wake Forest could give it some ammunition, but I still don’t see it happening.
There are still two unbeaten teams in the Big 12, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Baylor is also sitting pretty at 6-1 and will likely jump back into the polls with a 38-24 victory this weekend over 19th-ranked BYU.
Baylor hosts Oklahoma on November 13 and also has to play Texas at home on October 30th, which is followed by road games against TCU (3-3) and Kansas State (3-3). It ends the season at home against an improved Texas Tech (5-2) squad.
The Sooners (7-0) and Cowboys (6-0) square off in Stillwater to end the regular season (Nov. 27), and there’s an outside chance they have a Big 12 title game rematch a week later.
Oklahoma’s remaining schedule prior to that contest isn’t daunting, but there are some potential pot holes. There is the Nov. 13 matchup at Baylor, and a week later the Sooners host Iowa State (4-2). Oklahoma also hosts Texas Tech on October 30.
Oklahoma State has been winning much like Notre Dame, a lot of close games, although the Cowboys have defeated better teams so far than the Irish. Next weekend the Cowboys travel to Ames, Iowa to take on the Cyclones and then trail to West Virginia two weeks later before finishing a stretch that consists of home games against TCU and Oklahoma sandwiched around a road game against Texas Tech.
Plenty of potential pitfalls for all three Big 12 contenders.
There is only one Pac 12 team with a chance to finish ranked higher than a one-loss Notre Dame squad, and that would be the 9th-ranked Oregon Ducks. They are the last team in the league with one loss.
Oregon travels to UCLA next weekend and also plays at Washington, who has been struggling all season. Oregon also has to travel to Utah on November 20 before it ends the season in the Civil War game. Yes, they aren’t calling it that anymore but I will.
An Arizona State loss yesterday to Utah means the entire South Division has at least two losses, which will take away some of the “big game” aspects to the Pac 12 title game. One thing Oregon does have going for it, however, is one of the best wins of the season, which is an early season road victory over #6 Ohio State (35-28).
If you’re a Notre Dame fan that still thinks the Irish are a playoff team, or want the Irish in the playoff, you’ll want to root for the Ducks to drop another game, which would eliminate the Pac 12 altogether.
The Pac 12 winner won’t have an impact on Notre Dame’s New Year’s Six options.
The SEC is the league that could make things a bit difficult for a Notre Dame playoff run and could make things interesting for a New Year’s Six Bowl as well. There are four teams in the league with one or no losses, and with two being in each division there isn’t a lot of crossover games like we see in the Big Ten.
Georgia has been smashing its opponents this season and after what happened in Baton Rouge this weekend its upcoming October 30 matchup against Florida (4-3) isn’t looking overly daunting. Georgia also travels to Tennessee (4-3) and Georgia Tech (3-3), but unless the Bulldogs do one of their “We aren’t going to show up this week” rituals I don’t see a loss coming in the regular season.
An undefeated Georgia team that loses in the SEC title game is likely going to be ranked higher than a one-loss Notre Dame team, and it should be based on Notre Dame’s schedule this season. So Irish fans should hope for the Bulldogs to run the table, which would knock out Alabama (6-1), assuming the Crimson Tide win out.
The worst case scenario for Notre Dame, and the rest of college football, is that both Georgia and Alabama win out in the regular season and then the Crimson Tide beat Georgia in the SEC title game. The odds are they would then repeat what we saw in 2017, which is two SEC teams in the playoff.
That’s the playoff options, but regarding a New Year’s Six Bowl there are two other teams that could prove problematic for Notre Dame. Ole Miss (5-1) and Kentucky (6-1) are both still likely to be ranked ahead of Notre Dame this week, although Kentucky could fall a spot or two below.
Ole Miss hosts LSU next weekend and also hosts No. 21 Texas A&M (5-2) and also has to travel to Auburn (5-2) October 30. A loss in one of those games, or in the Egg Bowl (Nov. 25) against Mississippi State would allow the Irish to leap frog the Rebels.
Kentucky’s schedule is much softer, with the Wildcats not scheduled to face another ranked team the rest of the season. That could allow the Irish to jump ahead of them in that regard, but the Wildcats will drop another game.
I don’t know where Notre Dame is going to end up in the postseason, but the next six weeks are going to be a lot of fun for Irish fans and college football fans.
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