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At No. 8 in latest rankings, Notre Dame’s Playoff hopes remain slim

Cincinnati v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 02: Michael Mayer #87 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Notre Dame Stadium on October 2, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame moved up to No. 8 in the latest rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee, though not so much because the Irish beat Virginia, 28-3, in a dominating performance on Saturday. Rather, Notre Dame moved up thanks to Oklahoma’s loss to now-No. 11 Baylor last weekend.

Obviously, the seven teams ahead of the Irish have stronger résumés to this point, in the committee’s opinion, and six of them have inarguably more notable games ahead of them than Notre Dame does — vs. Georgia Tech (2:30 ET; NBC) and at Stanford on Nov. 27 — with the exception being No. 5 Cincinnati which logically does have more notable games ahead of it but also has already beaten the Irish to halt any résumé comparisons.

That leaves Notre Dame no way to earn its own way into the Playoff, perhaps a fact realized even by Irish head coach Brian Kelly given his tempered politicking on Saturday.

“We’re ascending as a football team,” Kelly said. “Anytime you’re trying to put a résumé together, it’s about how you play later in the year. The eye test is this football team is playing better defensively, offensively. We’re sitting here, 9-1.

“We’ve turned over virtually an entire roster and (are) playing pretty good football.”

Nonetheless, Notre Dame will need to rely on trouble ahead and possibly behind it in the rankings in order to reach the top four.

An argument can be made — and has been in this space — that No. 2 Alabama would remain ahead of the Irish even if it loses to No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game. The Tide are already considered that much better than Notre Dame, by the committee, and a competitive loss to the top-ranked team would not carry that much of a penalty.

At that point, the Irish would have access to only two Playoff spots, competing with No. 3 Oregon, No. 5 Cincinnati and a trio of Big Ten East teams for those two spots. Notre Dame would need to leapfrog at least two of those teams to lose in coming weeks — that Big Ten East grouping of No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Michigan State essentially serving as one team in this conversation, all needing to lose at least once more for Irish concerns.

Not to mention, No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 10 Wake Forest are lingering, and while Notre Dame fans may not consider either of those names as threats, only partly because they are currently ranked below the Irish. Both the Cowboys and the Demon Deacons should face top-20 teams in coming weeks — Wake Forest on the verge of facing No. 18 Pittsburgh in the ACC title game if both can win one more game in the next two weeks. Winning those games may provide enough of a résumé boost to bump Oklahoma State and/or Wake Forest ahead of Notre Dame.

The Irish are in vague range of the Playoff, but they are in the same position as any fan: All they can do is watch the games that matter.

— Alabama: vs. No. 21 Arkansas this weekend, at Auburn on Nov. 27, most likely the SEC title game against No. 1 Georgia on Dec. 4.— Oregon: at No. 23 Utah this weekend, most likely against the Utes again in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 3.— Ohio State: vs. No. 7 Michigan State this weekend, at No. 6 Michigan on Nov. 27.— Michigan: See above.— Michigan State: See above, also vs. Penn State on Nov. 27.— Cincinnati: vs. SMU this weekend, then the AAC title game most likely against No. 24 Houston on Dec. 4.— Oklahoma State: vs. No. 13 Oklahoma on Nov. 27, and then the Big 12 championship game against either Oklahoma or No. 11 Baylor on Dec. 4.

Of those games this weekend, only Oregon and Michigan State are underdogs, the former doubted by only a field goal.

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