With Navy’s upset over Memphis last night, a scenario dreaded by college football — but welcomed by Notre Dame — could play out over the next few weeks. If Navy beats Houston on the road Nov. 27, and doesn’t slip up against SMU and Tulsa before it, the Mids will win the AAC West in their first year as a member of the conference. That’ll set up a conference championship game against, in all likelihood, Temple in what will be a de facto play-in game for a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
Except a week after the AAC Championship, Navy plays its historic rivalry game against Army. It’s the only game played on the second weekend of December every year, a great tradition that could muddle things for those premier bowl games. What if Navy loses to Army? Do the Mids still get in, or would Temple, Memphis or Houston slide ahead of them? What about Western Kentucky, BYU, Boise State, Bowling Green, or Toledo? Would those schools have to be sitting tight waiting to potentially play in a New Year’s Six game?
It’s a mess the College Football Playoff is ready to deal with, but one that would benefit Notre Dame. If Navy and Temple play for the AAC Championship, the winner of that game very well could be 12-1 and should be a top-25 conference champion — with a loss to Notre Dame.
And with Notre Dame’s margin for getting into the College Football Playoff awfully thin, it’ll take any help it can get. Outside of Navy, it was a good weekend for the other top teams Notre Dame’s played this year.
The Irish opponent power rankings:
1. Clemson (9-0)
2. Stanford (8-1)
3. Navy (7-1)
4. Temple (8-1)
5. USC (6-3)
6. Pitt (6-3)
7. Texas (4-5)
8. Virginia (3-6)
9. Boston College (3-7)
10. Georgia Tech (3-6)
11. Wake Forest (3-6)
12. UMass (1-8)
On to the results:
Texas (4-5): Won, 59-20, vs. Kansas
The antidote to last week’s embarrassing shutout loss at Iowa State? Playing 0-9 Kansas, which might be the worst team at the FBS level. Texas still has to win two of its final three games at West Virginia, vs. Texas Tech and at Baylor. It’s not impossible, but heading to Waco needing a win for bowl eligibility would be daunting.
Virginia (3-6): Lost, 27-21, at Miami
The Cavaliers have to win out at Louisville, vs. Duke and vs. Virginia Tech to be bowl eligible. Most likely, they won’t, and Mike London will lose his job after Thanksgiving.
[SHOP: Get your Notre Dame gear]
Georgia Tech (3-6): Bye
The Yellow Jackets have to win out against Virginia Tech, at Miami and against Georgia to reach bowl eligibility. Given they lost to Virginia by six in their last game, that doesn’t appear likely.
UMass (1-8): Lost, 17-13, to Akron
UMass is 1-8 and 0-5 in MAC play. They’re leaving the MAC after this year to become an independent. This is not a good football program at the FBS level.
Clemson (9-0): Won, 23-13, vs. Florida State
This is probably the last hurdle Clemson had to clear on its way to the ACC Championship. Everett Golson was benched for Florida State and Clemson held Sean Maguire to 164 yards and an interception on 16/29 passing. While Dalvin Cook gouged the Tigers for 194 yards on 21 carries, Clemson rode a 17-point second half surge to its second-best win of the season (the best being Notre Dame). Up next for Dabo Swinney’s side: At Syracuse, vs. Wake Forest, at South Carolina. That’s an easy stretch that shouldn’t produce much in the way of chaos.
Navy (7-1): Won, 45-20, at Memphis
Not only did Ken Niumatalolo’s Mids win at previously-undefeated No. 13 Memphis, they did by 25 points. This was one of the best games Navy has played in years, probably since that 2009 win over Notre Dame. The Mids averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 66 rushing attempts, Keenan Reynolds threw a 75-yard touchdown and Ken Niumatalolo's defense held Memphis to its lowest point total of the season. Navy has SMU, at Tulsa and at Houston remaining in November, and a win over Houston likely puts them in the AAC Championship to face Temple.
USC (6-3): Won, 38-30, vs. Arizona
With a broken hand, JuJu Smith-Schuster reeled in a 72-yard touchdown and had eight catches for 172 yards as USC gained bowl eligibility. The Trojans, with a Utah loss, would win the Pac-12 South if they win out against Colorado, Oregon and UCLA. That'd certainly be a best-case scenario for Notre Dame, since USC would probably play Stanford in that game.
Temple (8-1): Won, 60-40, at SMU
Facing a 1-8 SMU side, P.J. Walker threw for 268 yards and four touchdowns and the Owls combined to rush for another 268 yards and three scores in a game that got awfully close in the fourth quarter. Walker’s 36-yard touchdown run and an ensuing pick six sealed a win in a game that could’ve been a bigger letdown against a better opponent. But Temple is 5-0 in the AAC and can clinch a division title and conference championship game berth next week with a win at South Florida.
Wake Forest (3-6): Bye
Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons got the weekend off before heading to South Bend. Wake Forest is averaging only 18 points per game and — as was the case back in 2012 — shouldn’t be much of a match for Notre Dame on senior day.
Boston College (3-7): Lost, 24-8, at N.C. State
The Eagles were officially eliminated from bowl eligibility with another putrid offensive showing. Walk-on quarterback John Fadule completed 23 of 37 passes for 257 yards with a touchdown, but threw three interceptions. Boston College rushed 34 times for 28 yards. Even if C.J. Prosise isn’t healthy for Notre Dame’s Nov. 21 game at Fenway Park, it may not matter given how bad the Eagles are at scoring points.
Stanford (8-1): Won, 42-10, at Colorado
Josh Adams vs. Pitt: 20 carries, 147 yards. Christian McCaffrey vs. Colorado, 23 carries, 147 yards. Except McCaffrey threw a 28-yard touchdown in a dominant win over Colorado in what was, oddly enough, Stanford’s final road game of the season. Up next are three powerful offenses, though, in Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame. Some fun shootouts could be forthcoming in Palo Alto.