Forget Cincinnati, the Real Chaos Is Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2021

Notre Dame's Braden Lenzy celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

We had it all wrong.

You, me, everyone else who follows this remarkable, ridiculous sport. We thought that a Group of Five program reaching the College Football Playoff was the epitome of #TeamChaos.

All season, we've watched the inglorious fall of top-ranked teams and started to believe it could happen. Clemson and Iowa State flamed out in September. Texas A&M, Penn State and Iowa followed in October. Michigan State, Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma? They all crashed beyond the dreaded two-loss barrier in late November.

And now, here we are in conference championship week. The long-awaited moment has nearly arrived.

If Cincinnati defeats Houston in the AAC title game, 2021 will likely be remembered as the year a Group of Five program finally made a four-team College Football Playoff. Since expansion looms, perhaps it will be the only season it ever happens, too.

How foolish of us.

If you picked Nov. 28 as the moment to disconnect from social media and this is the first thing you're readingwell, thank you, I'm honored. And, friend, you have missed a lot.

Lincoln Riley bolted Oklahoma for USC. Florida, TCU and Washington hired head coaches, and LSU stole Brian Kelly from Notre Dame.

Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

There is so, so much to unpack. To start, can you imagine Brian Kelly's first spoonful of gumbo? I can, and what a treat. Second, he willingly left Notre Dame to coach in the SEC? Amazing. Third, someone induct Scott Woodward into the Athletic Director Hall of Fame. He is apparently the world's greatest salesman.

Oh, and also: Notre Dame can still make the playoff!

Think about that! As we speak, the sixth-ranked Irish do not have a head coach yet remain in the national championship race. Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick confirmed Tuesday that Kelly has resigned and won't coach any postseason game.

This is, as Vizzini the Sicilian would say, inconceivable.

Sure, the Golden Domers need a little help. For this discussion to become a reality, at least two of No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Cincinnati and No. 5 Oklahoma State need to lose on Saturday. And even if that does happen, the selection committee could deem Alabama, for example, a superior team if the Tide manage a close loss to No. 1 Georgia. Cincinnati also holds a head-to-head victory, whichalthough it could get ignoredis at least mildly unsettling for the Irish.

The exact hypothetical is less important than recognizing the crazytown bananapants fact that Notre Dame might actually be in the College Football Playoff without a head coach.

But wait, there's more! Let's pour gasoline on this absurd fire. One of the prime candidates to replace Kelly in South Bend is Cincinnati's Luke Fickell, who might, you know, actually want to coach his team in the freaking College Football Playoff.

Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

Swarbrick can be relatively patient in his search. If Fickell is the primary target and Cincinnati makes the CFP, though, December's early signing period complicates the timing.

Notre Dame has the nation's fourth-ranked recruiting class in the 2022 cycle, and it's unfair to expect every prospect to sign a letter of intent when there's uncertainty about the next coach. They'll rightfully want an answer, yet Fickell, for example, might not be prepared to give Swarbrick one until January.

Riley's departure for USC sparked a frenzy on the coaching carousel. Kelly's exodus, however, created an intricately layered story that intertwines the CFP, coaching carousel and recruiting.

In the meantime, Notre Dame has a plan for the current team. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and defensive coordinator Marcus Freemanprovided they don't follow Kelly to LSUwill be key leaders for the team through the postseason.

"We've got great coordinators," Swarbrick said, per John Fineran of the Associated Press, "and so I have every confidence that we will be fully prepared for what I hope is a CFP game."

Yet it truly is inconceivable that a CFP contender is readying for that possibility without a head coach.

The thousands of words we've printed about Cincinnati as the spoiler are meaningless. The exasperation that follows odd CFP rankings is wasted energy. Kelly leaving Notre Dame, in this context, is close to becoming the most preposterous story imaginable for a sport that is a constant purveyor of mayhem.

Step aside, Cincinnati. The real #TeamChaos has arrived.


Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.