Notre Dame Football: Breaking Down Fighting Irish Path to National Championship

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2012

Nov 10, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o (5) reacts during the second half of a game against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

It's pretty crazy to see a Notre Dame team that is undefeated with two games left to play yet could be kept out of the BCS National Championship, even if it finishes with an unblemished record. 

Yes, Bob Dylan, the times are still a changin'.

So how does No. 3 Notre Dame find its way into the championship game?

Well, several parts are pretty simple. For one, Notre Dame needs to finish undefeated. Duh. And the Irish need either Oregon or Kansas State to lose, if not both. Also, duh.

But wait—it might not be that simple. Let's hash out the worst-case scenario even if either Kansas State or Oregon lose, step by step.


Step 1: USC loses to UCLA this weekend. Now, even if Notre Dame defeats the Trojans, it won't be nearly as impressive as it might have been since USC will come into the game with four losses.

Step 2: Notre Dame beats Wake Forest and USC, but neither victory comes easy or is particularly impressive. That's four straight wins without much "wow factor" from the Fighting Irish.

Step 3: Kansas State wins out. Notre Dame will never be ranked higher than an undefeated Kansas State, but it will also never be ranked lower than a one-loss Wildcats team.

Step 4: Oregon beats Stanford but loses in a heartbreaker to Oregon State, with the Ducks getting unlucky in the end. That would still be enough to get them into the Pac-12 championship game against UCLA in this scenario and a huge Oregon win might be—might be—enough to launch Oregon past Notre Dame in the rankings, because honestly, we would all pick Oregon to beat Notre Dame if the two teams played.

Step 5: Alabama and Georgia each win out, and one of the two (likely Alabama) absolutely crushes the other in the SEC championship game. Given the strength of schedule each has, one or the other potentially leaps past Notre Dame in the rankings, because honestly, we would all pick Alabama or Georgia to beat Notre Dame if they ever played.

Step 6: Stanford losing to Oregon and USC losing to UCLA in this scenario already hurts Notre Dame's strength of schedule, if only in the voters' eyes. So would Michigan or Oklahoma losing down the stretch, both very real possibilities. 


Again, this is an absolute worst-case scenario for Notre Dame. If either Oregon or Kansas State lose and Notre Dame looks very impressive in its final two games, I highly doubt voters will vote them lower than No. 2 in the country.

Of all three teams left undefeated, surely Notre Dame has the easiest path. Oregon has the most difficult with Stanford, Oregon State and either USC or UCLA, while Kansas State still has to deal with the explosive Baylor offense and Texas.

Still, no matter how many losses USC brings into the game with Notre Dame, I think Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods could break Irish hearts. No matter how well this Notre Dame defense has played, that trio could do them in.

Notre Dame can do nothing but win its final two games and hope for an Oregon and Kansas State loss. That should be enough to get them into the national championship game.

But you never know. It's gonna be fun.


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