Notre Dame stayed above the fray on Saturday, beating Wake Forest on a day that saw the nation’s No. 6, No. 7, No. 9 and No. 10 teams all lose.
Regardless of how the Irish actually played, they beat the Demon Deacons by 21, more than by which Clemson, Iowa and Oklahoma State combined to beat their unranked, under-.500 opponents (Syracuse, Minnesota, Iowa State).
That’s the good news. But some of Saturday’s scores definitely could wind up hurting Notre Dame’s playoff push, starting with the night's biggest result from the state of Texas:
No. 12 Oklahoma 44, No. 6 Baylor 34
The prevailing thought after the College Football Playoff selection committee harshly ranked Big 12 teams over the last two weeks was that an 11-1 champion from that conference — which does not play a championship game — could very well be ranked behind Notre Dame on Dec. 6. But Oklahoma’s thoroughly impressive 10-point win in Waco could set up the Sooners to eventually surpass Notre Dame in the playoff rankings.
The first point to get out of the way: Notre Dame beat Texas, 38-3, at home to open the season; Oklahoma’s only loss was an embarrassing 24-17 defeat to the Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl last month. The committee may take that common opponent disparity under consideration.
But the selection committee could look at Oklahoma’s overall resume as stronger than Notre Dame’s. Unlike Baylor and Oklahoma State, Oklahoma didn’t play an FCS opponent in its non-conference schedule and, more importantly, rolled into Knoxville and beat Tennessee, 31-24, in Week 2. Tennessee is 6-4 with Mizzou and Vanderbilt left, so they’ll almost certainly finish the season over .500, meaning the committee will look at that win favorably.
And if Oklahoma wins out, it’ll have road wins at Baylor and Oklahoma State, plus a home win over TCU. At least one of Texas Tech and West Virginia probably will finish the season over .500, too. So that's at least two wins over ranked opponents (TCU could be the third), plus three other wins over solid teams. Notre Dame, in its best-case scenario, finishes the year with two or three wins over ranked opponents (Navy, Stanford, USC) plus wins over Pitt and Temple. There wouldn't be much separating those two resumes besides 1) the common opponent and 2) Oklahoma being crowned a conference champion. We'll see what plays out.
An 11-1 Baylor or 11-1 Oklahoma State, even as a conference champion, probably doesn’t get in the playoff over Notre Dame. But there’s a certain possibility an 11-1 Oklahoma side does.
Oregon 38, No. 7 Stanford 36
Stanford’s furious comeback fell a two-point conversion attempt short, and coupled with Utah’s loss to Arizona, effectively eliminated the Pac-12 from the College Football Playoff.
If Notre Dame indeed does beat Stanford Nov. 28, it’ll be a win over a team that’ll probably still be in the top 15 at the time. But part of Notre Dame’s playoff hopes rested on beating a top-10 Stanford team at the end of the season, which now won’t be the case.
The best-case scenario for Notre Dame is not only does it beat Stanford, but it clobbers the Cardinal — maybe not the same way Ohio State throttled Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship last year, but similar — in an impressive manner. That result would still be a major boost to Notre Dame’s resume, even though Stanford will get dinged for this loss to the Ducks.
South Florida 44, No. 22 Temple 23
Notre Dame’s best-case AAC scenario went up in flames with Temple’s blowout loss in Tampa, as the Owls won’t roll into their conference championship game with just that one loss to Notre Dame (if they make it there at all). Losing to South Florida would’ve knocked Temple out of the top 25 anyway, but a 21-point defeat for a team supposedly built around a strong defense is an awkward way to go out.
Temple now needs to beat both Memphis and UConn to win the AAC East, a tough task for a team that before this weekend looked like one of the better stories in college football this season.
The best outcome for Notre Dame remains having Navy win out — which means having the Mids beat 10-0 Houston on the road a day after Thanksgiving — and earn a New Year’s Six bowl bid (or at least a placeholder, since if Navy wins the AAC, it still has to play Army Dec. 12 to secure a spot in one of those prestigious games).
USC 27, Colorado 24
Under the radar of the west coast’s chaotic weekend is USC, which emerged from a Friday night win at Colorado in control of its own destiny in the Pac-12 South. The Trojans, by virtue of their win over Utah, could win out and play Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship and guarantee Notre Dame a win over a conference champion.
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The problem for USC: Separating them from a berth in the Pac-12 Championship is a trip to Oregon and a home date against UCLA (which lost to Washington State over the weekend, too). If the Trojans win those two games, they’ll very much have earned a spot in the Pac-12 title game — and probably a top-25 ranking from the selection committee, too.
Arkansas 31, No. 9 LSU 14
This game eliminated any slim possibility the SEC earned two bids to the College Football Playoff. Alabama and Florida remain on a collision course, unless Ole Miss wins out and Auburn pulls another kick-six miracle out of the Iron Bowl. Given Alabama is playing like the best team in the country at the moment — a 31-6 stomping of Mississippi State in Starkville was last weekend’s most impressive win — that doesn’t seem likely.
No. 14 Michigan 48, Indiana 41 (2OT)
Michigan’s miraculous overtime win over Indiana matters because it keeps Notre Dame’s best-case Big Ten scenario in play, which is two-loss Michigan winning the conference championship.
Michigan still has a trip to Penn State next weekend before it welcomes Ohio State to Ann Arbor Nov. 28. If Ohio State beats Michigan State this weekend, and then Jim Harbaugh beats Urban Meyer, it’ll send the Wolverines to the Big Ten Championship to almost certainly face undefeated or one-loss Iowa (which has Purdue and a trip to Nebraska left).
And if two-loss Michigan wins the Big Ten Championship, it won’t matter if 11-1 Oklahoma has a better playoff resume than 11-1 Notre Dame. Both teams will get in the playoff without any heartburn or elevated blood pressure (unless there's some associated stress for Notre Dame fans having to root for Michigan down the stretch).