Notre Dame and the Expanded College Football Playoff: No Bye? No Problem

Notre Dame isn’t able to get a bye or be a top 4 seed in the expanded College Football Playoff. It’ll be okay, and here’s why.
Jan 6, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; A general view of the National Championship Trophy during media day before the College Football Playoff national championship between the Michigan Wolverines and the Washington Huskies at George R Brown Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 6, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; A general view of the National Championship Trophy during media day before the College Football Playoff national championship between the Michigan Wolverines and the Washington Huskies at George R Brown Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to keep preaching this until everyone hears it.

This new expanded College Football Playoff will be fantastic.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’ll totally mess it all up - greed, expanding, more tweaking, accommodating the Big Ten and SEC to assure them each 13 schools into a 12-team tournament - but yeah, the CFP people got this one right.

12 teams, top five ranked conference champions get in, seven at-large teams are in based on the final CFP rankings, the top four ranked conference champs get a bye in the first round, and …

Oh yeah, Notre Dame.

And, if we’re doing this, Oregon State, Washington State, UConn and UMass - all of the other independents are a part of this, too.

Notre Dame and the other independent teams aren’t able to get one of those top four seeds and a bye because they can’t become conference champions - even with that friends with benefits deal with the ACC. That means if the Irish go 12-0 and wipe out everyone 58-3, the best they can do is be a 5-seed.

That means an extra College Football Playoff game, that means no bye week, that means no top four seed, that means …

Notre Dame should say "thank you," and Amazon the College Football Playoff types a basket of fine meats and cheeses for not having to join a conference.

(First, though, you have to buy into the premise that it's not fair for teams that play 12 games get more of a break over teams that play 13, and that 13th is a whopper of a conference championship game.)

Let’s say the Irish really do go 12-0. They would likely be the 5 seed and play the 12 seed in the first round, which would almost certainly be a champion from a Group of Five conference - the Gof5s are far weaker now after expansion - or a mediocre Power 4 conference team that would probably be 9-3.

The game would be played in South Bend in mid-December - the 19th or 20th this season. And then, assuming a win, because of the lack of reseeding the Irish would get an undeserving 4-seed in the Quarterfinals around ten days later on a neutral site.

Remember, in this scenario, the Irish are 12-0, and the 4-seed conference champion could be 10-2, or a lot worse if that fifth highest-ranked champion is in on an upset.

That would also mean that while all the other top teams are playing a conference championship in early December, the Irish will be on the couch playing NCAA 25. That goes to the other part of this Notre Dame equation and why this might really be a break.

Would you rather play a Group of Five champion at home in South Bend on December 19th for that 13th game, or would you rather play, say, Florida State or Clemson in Charlotte, North Carolina in an ACC Championship on December 7th to get to 13?

Again, Notre Dame already sort of has a bye week by not playing a likely far better opponent in a conference championship. It's just a week earlier than everyone else's - and it's at home.

And then there’s the final side of this that’s getting lost.

Going forward, it’s more likely that Notre Dame is in as a 10-2ish 7-to-10 seed, because they really did get the expanded College Football Playoff right.

It’ll all be okay.

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Pete Fiutak

PETE FIUTAK