Let's map out some scenarios for how this Michigan-Notre Dame Playoff discussion could play out
Around this time last year, I remember thinking that a September game in South Bend yielded the biggest Playoff impact of any game in the first two months. Georgia and Notre Dame ended up playing in a game that was even more important than we realized in terms of how it would shape the postseason picture.
A year later, I’m thinking the same thing is true.
This time, however, it was Michigan and Notre Dame who partook in a September game in South Bend that’s going to be a major talking point for the selection committee moving forward. The discussion of what it would take for Michigan to make the field and for Notre Dame to miss out isn’t going anywhere.
So hey, I’ve got some time before selection Sunday. Why don’t we map out some scenarios?
Undefeated Notre Dame vs. 1-loss Michigan
Before I start, I’ll remind everyone that these are all just hypothetical scenarios based on how I think the selection committee would handle them. It’s November, which means wacky things in college football happen when we least expect them to.
Let’s say the un-wacky happens. That is, each team wins out.
If you’re a Michigan fan, you’re rooting for the wacky outside of that. Maybe a 1-loss Clemson team is sitting there, or perhaps Clemson loses the ACC Championship and misses out completely. That would help.
I say that because I think 1-loss Alabama, undefeated Clemson and a 1-loss Georgia team that beats Alabama would mean there’s one spot available. Even if Michigan wins out, that spot is going to unbeaten Notre Dame.
It’s hard to debate that Michigan, with 1 more loss and without the head-to-head advantage, would be in ahead of an Irish team that will have beaten 10 Power 5 teams. I think any Michigan fan would concede that the Wolverines have a ceiling as long as Notre Dame is without a loss.
But if Notre Dame is sitting there as the likely No. 2 or No. 3 seed and not fighting for that last spot, Michigan should be fine. The Wolverines would make more sense than 1-loss conference champs like Oklahoma, Washington State and West Virginia because of their wins against ranked teams, the convincing fashion of those lopsided victories and the fact that the lone loss was in Week 1 at Notre Dame.
Speaking of that one loss…
1-loss Notre Dame vs. 1-loss Michigan isn’t as obvious as you think
Some would look at that and think, well, Notre Dame should still have the advantage because these teams played and that should be the tiebreaker. Simple as that, right?
Not exactly. In fact, I’d argue that the selection committee already tipped its hand that it won’t be as simple as that and here’s why.
Undefeated Notre Dame was a spot ahead of 1-loss Michigan in the first Playoff rankings. In all likelihood, it’ll stay that way as long as they both keep winning.
But what if the Irish lose a game and Michigan wins out? Will the selection committee keep both teams locked into their current alignment? My gut says no. How in the world could the Wolverines beat Ohio State, win the B1G Championship and not leapfrog one spot ahead of a Notre Dame team that would theoretically go 2-1 down the stretch without a conference title to play for?
Some would say, well that’s ridiculous. What’s the point of even playing the games if head-to-head isn’t gonna matter? It does, but it’s not the deal-breaker that some assume it is.
Remember 2016 with the great Ohio State-Penn State debate? The Lions had the head-to-head with the Buckeyes AND they had the conference title. Did that matter? No because Ohio State had 1 loss compared to 2 for Penn State.
I realize that it’s not the exact same scenario with 2 teams that have the same amount of losses. But my point is that the selection committee looks at the entire résumé and not just a Week 1 game. It’s all taken into account. If it wasn’t about the entire résumé and it was all about head-to-head, Indiana could theoretically beat Michigan and move into the top 4.
That ain’t happening.
So you’re saying 2-loss Notre Dame will still be ahead of 1-loss Michigan?
Have you not paid attention to anything I’ve said? No. Of course 1-loss Michigan would be ranked ahead of 2-loss Notre Dame. Michigan has a ceiling for now, but it isn’t joined at the hip with the Irish, destined to lag at least one step behind.
There are a few other things to remember
We have never seen the following things happen in the Playoff era:
- 1-loss Power 5 conference champ get left OUT
- Power 5 team go 9-0 in conference play, win conference title game and move on to the Playoff
As crazy as it sounds, Michigan has a chance to accomplish both of those feats. Many will argue that 1-loss, non-conference champ Alabama wouldn’t be as worthy as the 1-loss Wolverines, but what the Tide did in Baton Rouge last Saturday night was as loud of a statement as any contender can make the rest of the season. That includes Michigan.
If you’re a Michigan fan, it’s not Alabama that you should be rooting against. It’s Clemson, Georgia and Notre Dame. Georgia is worth noting because a loss to an undefeated Alabama team would prevent the doomsday scenario and the field would be what it currently is between Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Michigan.
Again, the last thing the Wolverines want heading into selection Sunday is a battle for the last spot between them and unbeaten Notre Dame.
Well, besides a loss to Ohio State and another season coming up short of making it to Indianapolis. That didn’t need explaining.
As for everything else? You’re welcome.