Notre Dame Football: Chances Irish Are a Part of the First 4-Team Playoff

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IDecember 3, 2013

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  Bennett Jackson #2 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Stanford Cardinal during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Nov 30, 2013; Stanford, CA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly walks amongst players before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Famed musician and songwriter Bob Dylan once penned these everlasting lyrics: "The times they are a-changin'."

Forty-nine years after Dylan's hit single was released, it speaks to the rapidly shifting landscape of major college football, which has scrapped the outdated and heavily criticized BCS system for the revolutionary College Football Playoff.

The installation of this new four-team playoff has further widened the divide between college football's bourgeoisie and proletariat, with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame having solidified themselves in the "New World" through their scheduling agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference (Notre Dame will play five games per year against ACC teams beginning in 2014).

The notion of Notre Dame being left behind in the chaos of conference realignment was highly unlikely to begin with; though, the significance of the university's proverbial handshake with the ACC can't be understated.

While the ACC has been, by all accounts, the weakest of the BCS conferences this season—No.1 Florida State, No. 13 Clemson and No. 20 Duke are the conference's lone representatives in the most recent BCS rankings—Notre Dame needn't worry in terms of its strength of schedule moving forward.

The College Football Playoff's 12-member panel, which includes Notre Dame graduate and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is likely to heavily consider strength of schedule when it seeds the four teams, something the BCS system often failed in executing.

Nov 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly (left) talks to head linesman Steve Clein (right) against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Spor
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

For conversation's sake, let's assume the Irish will be in the thick of the discussion surrounding which four teams should be included in the first annual College Football Playoff. As it stands, Notre Dame's 2014 slate includes these currently ranked teams: No. 1 Florida State, No. 7 Stanford, No. 11 Arizona State and No. 19 Louisville. 

Including games against Michigan and USC, the Irish may wind up with one of the most brutal schedules in college football next season.

And while Notre Dame is ineligible to compete for the ACC Championship, running unscathed through the likes of Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Syracuse couldn't be ignored by the minds of the voting panel, which is tasked with also considering conference champions.

Thus, head coach Brian Kelly and Co. wouldn't have to defend their schedule; it would stand on its own merit.

However, for such a scenario to become a reality, Notre Dame must do just one thing: win.

Against the previously mentioned schedule, victories will come at a premium, particularly given the Irish's roster turnover following the conclusion of this season's bowl game.

When they take the field next season against Rice on Aug. 30, the Irish will be without quarterback Tommy Rees, receiver TJ Jones, left tackle Zack Martin, left guard Chris Watt, linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese, cornerback Bennett Jackson and nose guard Louis Nix, in all likelihood.

The possibility also exists for junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt to forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

Given those losses, it's difficult to surmise how exactly Notre Dame will finish in 2014.

With former starting quarterback Everett Golson returning along with a deep, experienced offensive line, formidable stable of running backs and an explosive group of receivers, Notre Dame's offense should be appointment viewing next season.

But, should the Irish defense not improve on its collective 2013 performance, any talk of the team competing for one of four playoff spots will be scoffed at.

Notre Dame would likely have to win either 11 or 12 games to qualify for the playoffs, and that seems an improbable task at this juncture. The early thought is that the 2014 bunch is capable of winning, at most, 10 games, with the two losses being at Florida State and either at Arizona State or home against Stanford.

Thus, it seems the odds of the Irish qualifying for next season's College Football Playoff are low.





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