File this away for a cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-there concern: Notre Dame’s lack of a 13th game very well could hold them back from reaching the College Football Playoff in the near future.
Of course, Notre Dame would have to get to 11-1 to even make this a debate. But let’s say the Irish polish off a one-loss season with a win over Stanford in Palo Alto this November. Depending on how things shake out in the other Power Five conferences, the final week of the season could be an awfully stressful one in South Bend.
Arkansas AD and College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long last week reiterated the fact that Baylor and TCU were snubbed from the four-team tournament in part because both only played 12 games, while one-loss teams in Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon all played a conference championship for their 13th game. The 10-team Big 12 does not have a conference championship game.
So even if Notre Dame had strong wins over Clemson, USC and/or Stanford, it could be held out of the playoff because its independent schedule only has 12 games on it. Whether or not that’s fair isn’t the issue here, since precedent has already been set by the selection committee.
Still, that precedent has only been in place for one year. The selection committee proved to be unpredictable last year, and without a concrete system for ranking teams (or even using widely-available enhanced data) there’s no telling what this group will do this fall. We’ll probably need to be five or so years into the playoff format to get a good grasp on how the selection committee can be expected to operate.
That puts Notre Dame in an awkward spot, with maintaining football independence a priority on campus. Don’t expect Irish officials to budge on that one — especially because there is a belief, at least from coach Brian Kelly, that the playoff will expand to at least eight teams sometime in the future. And when it does, 11-1 would certainly get the Irish into the playoffs, rendering this a moot issue.
[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up Notre Dame fans]
Contrary to the knee-jerk belief of some corners of the Internet, the College Football Playoff selection committee doesn’t have some deep-seeded bias against Notre Dame (the playoff is about money, and Notre Dame brings in more money than most schools, so why would there be any hate there?). The bias against Notre Dame, though, is the same one applied to Baylor and TCU last fall: Limiting a schedule to 12 games is a detriment.
So the clearest immediate solution to this potential issue: Go undefeated and leave no doubt when the field is announced in early December.