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Notre Dame’s Opponents: November may be coming, but skip the usual Playoff conversation

Jac Collinsworth, Corey Robinson and Doug Farmer review Notre Dame's season so far and look ahead to the next six weeks, starting with Saturday's rivalry game against USC.

Late last week, a certain ND on NBC Podcast host asked a certain “Inside the Irish” writer if Notre Dame has a chance at the Playoff. It was part of a longer conversation previewing the season’s second half, asked simply in the context of the year. It was not intended to argue there was a likelihood.

With the first College Football Playoff selection committee rankings coming in less than a week, there is even context for the conversation. But as was said in that podcast, embedded above, “No, just no, stop, no.”

Or in the words of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, “Never say never, but never.”

Even if the No. 11 Irish reach 11-1 — and while they should finish the year with only one loss, 10-2 is still more likely — they will not have a genuine shot at the Playoff for a third time in four years.

Consider, four Big Ten teams have no more than one loss. If any of them escape the year with still no more than one defeat, they would have far more impressive résumés than Notre Dame’s, with likely no wins over ranked opponents at the end of the year and only one victory against an opponent ranked at the time of playing (Wisconsin).

Oklahoma has yet to lose and looks unlikely to. Georgia has yet to lose and will be a two-score favorite, if not usually three, each week until it faces (presumably) Alabama in the SEC championship game. If Cincinnati can finish running the table, its claim ahead of the Irish could not be stronger.

Oregon has only one loss, as well as a win at Ohio State, thus trumping any notch in Notre Dame’s argument. Wake Forest remains unbeaten and, if nothing else, that may make the Demon Deacons a testament for Pittsburgh, if not vice versa.

That is 11 teams with inarguable status ahead of the Irish in the Playoff conversation. Cutting through eight of them in the coming weeks would be a level of chaos Notre Dame should not count on.

No, just no. Stop, no.Never say never, but never.

Florida State (3-4): The Seminoles beat UMass 59-3 and nothing more needs to be said about any UMass game this season. Florida State now heads to Clemson (3:30 ET; ESPN) as a 9.5-point underdog as of early Wednesday afternoon. One could understandably wonder if the Tigers should be trusted to score 10 points.

Toledo (4-4): The Rockets kept alive their MAC championship hopes with a 34-15 win against Western Michigan. However, they remain two games behind Northern Illinois in the standings, so those chances are rather slim. Toledo has the week off to stagger its schedule into weekday MACtion.

Purdue (4-3): The Boilermakers predictably followed up their upset of then-No. 2 Iowa with a 30-13 loss to Wisconsin, a lost chance for Jeff Brohm to build rare momentum in West Lafayette. Purdue travels to Nebraska (3:30 ET; ESPN2) and the 7.5-point edge in the Huskers direction suggests Brohm is going to lose a further grasp on stability.

Wisconsin (4-3): Thanks to beating the Boilermakers after they topped the Hawkeyes, the Badgers remain in control of the Big Ten West. They will need to beat both Iowa and Minnesota to win the division, but that is certainly a feasible ask, particularly with the No. 9 Hawkeyes visiting Madison this weekend (12 ET; ESPN). Wisconsin is favored by 3.5 points. Given that offense, anything more than a field goal’s edge may be a challenge, but it should also be taken as an acknowledgment of Iowa’s offensive struggles.

No. 2 Cincinnati (7-0): The Bearcats struggled with Navy, a feeling Notre Dame fans should certainly understand and relate to, but Cincinnati still pulled out a 27-20 win to remain on track for the Playoff.

That middling performance did not change anyone’s expectations of the Bearcats this week, favored by 24.5 at Tulane (12 ET; ESPN2). Laying a second egg in a row would garner some skepticism.

Virginia Tech (3-3): The Hokies blew a nine-point lead in the final three minutes against Syracuse, a 41-36 loss that should be seen as the practical moment head coach Justin Fuente lost his job, even if it will not be effectual until his contract buyout drops by seven figures in December.

A win at Georgia Tech (12 ET; Watch ESPN) will hardly save the lame-duck coach. The fact that Virginia Tech is a 4.5-point underdog speaks volumes on its own.

USC (3-4): The Trojans should get back to winning ways, continuing their up-and-down season, against woeful Arizona (7 ET; ESPNU). Favored by three touchdowns, even USC should not botch this game, especially since the Wildcats have not won in two seasons.

North Carolina (4-3): Coming off an idle week — here is your weekly reminder that Notre Dame is now 12-1 against opponents who enjoyed off weeks before playing the Irish since the start of the 2017 season — the Tar Heels are currently 3.5-point underdogs (7:30 ET; NBC). Notre Dame has covered the spread in four of its last five games.

Navy (1-6): The Midshipmen simply executed the triple-option in their 27-20 loss to Cincinnati. It was not gimmicks or trick plays that made the afternoon a tense one for the Bearcats. Rather, Navy stuck to its gameplan, even though it averaged fewer than three yards per rush.

That can keep one game close, but at some point the Midshipmen need to make the leap to four yards per carry if they want to end the season with multiple victories. Until that day comes, Navy will continue being a multi-score underdog, including by 11 points at Tulsa (Friday at 7:30 ET; ESPN2).

Virginia (6-2): If anyone is going to end up as a ranked opponent for Notre Dame, it will be the Cavaliers. The issue is, beating up on the ACC — a 48-40 win against Georgia Tech most recently — will impress folks only so much, particularly when Virginia already lost its opportunity at beating Wake Forest. Even as the Cavaliers display efficient offense week after week, scoring at least 30 points in all but one game this year while averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt, Virginia has not gained national traction.

To remedy that, a remedy by happenstance and not intention, the Cavaliers head to BYU (10:15 ET; ESPN2), a homecoming for Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Of course, losing to the Cougars will not help the Cavaliers help the Irish résumé, and with BYU favored by 2.5 points, that is a reasonable wonder. But the Cougars have made their wares this season by beating up on the Pac 12, and Virginia’s offense may be better than any Pac-12 attack.

Georgia Tech (3-4): The Yellow Jackets’ stumbling and then promising start has reverted back to stumbling. They have alternated wins and losses this entire season, though, so beating Virginia Tech would fit the schedule.

Stanford (3-4): The Cardinal will not play Notre Dame while coming off an idle week, as that would be somewhat pointless heading into the final game of the year and thus Stanford just enjoyed its week off. Tanner McKee & Co. face Washington (10:30 ET; FS1) favored by 2.5 points, an edge very much unexpected in the offseason and equally attributable to Washington’s mishaps this season as the Cardinal’s improvements.

FRIDAY 7:30 ET: Navy at Tulsa, ESPN2.SATURDAY
12 ET — Wisconsin vs Iowa, ESPN; Cincinnati at Tulane, ESPN2; Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, Watch ESPN.3:30 — Florida State at Nebraska, ESPN; Purdue at Nebraska, ESPN2.7 — USC vs. Arizona, ESPNU.7:30 — North Carolina at Notre Dame, NBC10:15 — Virginia at BYU, ESPN2. 10:30 — Stanford vs Washington, FS1.

Favorites: Wisconsin (-3.5), Cincinnati (-24.5), USC (-21), Georgia Tech (-4.5), Stanford (-2.5), Underdogs: Florida State (+9.5), Purdue (+7.5), Virginia Tech (+4.5), North Carolina (+3.5), Navy (+11), Virginia (+2.5),

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