Notre Dame is officially in scoreboard-watching season — even if players and coaches are doing their best to tune out the noise as they push toward the College Football Playoff.
With Notre Dame facing Boston College in a Shamrock Series trip to Fenway Park at 6:30 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Network, there are ample opportunities to keep an eye on a number of games that directly could affect Notre Dame’s playoff bid. Of course, the most important thing to happen Saturday is the Irish beating Boston College, otherwise none of this matters.
But eight games to watch on Saturday before, after or during commercials of the Notre Dame game (note, all percentages are via Bill Connelly's S&P+ numbers):
No. 12 Michigan at Penn State (11 a.m. CT, ABC)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: Michigan wins
Chances that happens: 66%
Why it matters: Notre Dame’s clearest path to the College Football Playoff runs through Ann Arbor. If the Wolverines win out — meaning they beat Ohio State next week and Iowa in the Big Ten Championship — they’ll finish the season 11-2. A two-loss conference champion is a longshot, if not an impossibility, to reach the four-team playoff over 11-1 Notre Dame.
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No. 21 Memphis at Temple (11 a.m. CT, ESPNU)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: Temple wins
Chances that happens: 50%
Why it matters: A Temple win would clinch the AAC East for the Owls and potentially set up Matt Rhule’s side to face Navy in the AAC Championship. Navy still has to beat Houston next week to make that happen, so it’s hardly a guarantee, but having two teams Notre Dame beat play for a conference title would be an awfully good thing for Notre Dame.
No. 9 Michigan State at No. 3 Ohio State (2:30 p.m. CT, ABC)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: Ohio State wins
Chances that happens: 80%
Why it matters: If Ohio State beats Michigan State and loses to Michigan, it won’t reach the Big Ten Championship. If Michigan State wins on Saturday, though, it’ll likely reach the title game against Iowa, which would all but guarantee the Big Ten a spot in the College Football Playoff.
No. 24 USC at No. 23 Oregon (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: USC wins
Chances that happens: 61%
Why it matters: USC controls its Pac-12 South destiny, needing wins over Oregon and UCLA to head to Santa Clara for the Pac-12 Championship Game. Like the AAC, the best-case scenario for Notre Dame is two teams it beat — USC and Stanford (assuming the Irish beat the Cardinal next week, of course) — playing for a conference championship. Even though Notre Dame doesn’t have a conference to win, having victories over multiple conference champions should play well with the selection committee.
No. 16 Navy at Tulsa (6 p.m. CT, CBS Sports Network)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: Navy wins
Chances that happens: 81%
Why it matters: Navy needs to avoid an upset in Oklahoma to tee up one of the biggest Group of Five games we’ve seen in years, coming a day after Thanksgiving at Houston. Wins in these next two games would put Navy in the AAC Championship against either Temple or South Florida.
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No. 10 Baylor at No. 6 Oklahoma State (6:30 p.m. CT, FOX)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: Baylor wins
Chances that happens: 55%
Why it matters: The Big 12 cannibalizing itself is a positive for Notre Dame, especially if Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma after Thanksgiving. The selection committee already shut out the Big 12 last year when it didn’t have a clear-cut conference champion, and with Oklahoma State and Baylor both playing awful non-conference schedules, it’s unlikely either would make it in over Notre Dame.
No. 18 TCU at No. 7 Oklahoma (7 p.m. CT, ABC)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: TCU wins
Chances that happens: 21%
Why it matters: Without quarterback Trevone Boykin and receiver Josh Doctson, this looks like even more of a longshot for Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs. But if TCU can pull off an upset in Norman, it would eliminate Oklahoma — the Big 12 team with the best chance of leaping Notre Dame with an 11-1 record — from the College Football Playoff discussion. Of course, it’d put 11-1 TCU back into the discussion, but with a non-conference schedule highlighted by a turgid road win over Minnesota, Notre Dame should feel comfortable in the unlikely event of being pitted against the Horned Frogs for a playoff spot.
Cal at No. 11 Stanford (9:30 p.m. CT, ESPN)
Best outcome for Notre Dame: Stanford wins
Chances that happens: 72%
Why it matters: Stanford is the committee’s highest-ranked two-loss team and only dropped four spots after losing to Oregon in Palo Alto last weekend. A win locks up the Pac-12 North for the Cardinal and likely slides them into the top 10 for next weekend’s showdown against Notre Dame.