Thu. Jan 13th, 2022

Notre Dame left Northern California on Saturday night knowing it needed the help of teams placed ahead to reach the College Football Playoffs.

Three days later, the Irish No. 6 (11-1) know that they also need the help of another group: the CFP selection committee. Why? Because the committee’s protocols allow it to consider the potential impact of an inaccessible player or coach on a post – season match result and include it in the final rankings. It has done this before with player injuries. However, it has not had to weigh on a head coach’s absence.

Now it will be assessed Brian Kelly‘s sudden Monday departure to LSU and projects how it could affect the Irish’s performance in a hypothetical play-off match.

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“If anyone in our conversations has a player [or coach] which will not be available and the committee considers that it is likely that it will affect the outcome – that is the words in the minutes – which can be discussed and can be considered, “committee chairman Gary Barta said Tuesday. “Each of the 13 members can weigh it the way they want to weigh it compared to head-to-head competition, common opponents and all the other things we evaluate.”

In short, Kelly’s presence – or lack thereof – is part of Notre Dame’s playoff resume. His absence from it could be more consequence than the Irish’s lone top 25 win (Wisconsin) disappearing from his ledger. Moreover, Purdue did not slip back into the top 25 after finishing 8-4 with two top-16 wins.

Notre Dame’s often discussed lack of a “13th data point” can damage it in a completely unforeseen way. The Irish do not have a match in the championship weekend and can not provide tangible evidence of how Kelly’s absence would affect them.

On the one hand, the assumption that it is negative to lose the most winning head coach in program history seems reasonable. Barta, on the other hand, offered a reminder of how responses to inaccessible players and coaches are not always easy to pin down.

“There may be a committee that thinks, ‘This team can be more motivated with their new coach,'” Barta said. “Or I’ve seen games where a quarterback who starts or runs back who starts, they put the next person in and the team actually plays better.”

The most notable example of the latter is Ohio State in 2014, which lost quarterback JT Barrett to a season-ending injury the week before the Big Ten Championship Game. Cardale Jones replaced him and led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 victory over No. 11 Wisconsin. It secured them a playoff spot and they won the national title.

Notre Dame, however, does not have such a chance. Which leaves the committee’s perception of Kelly’s absence to chance.

“If the committee believes there would be a likely effect on the outcome of the game based on who plays and coaches, it could be considered,” Barta said. “I know it’s resolved, but I’ll wait until Saturday night, when everything’s happened, and we’ll take all the information available and take it into account.”

Former Notre Dame Fighting Irish football coach Brian Kelly

The CFP selection committee could consider Brian Kelly’s absence as negative in an autumn match. (AP)

It’s worth pointing out that Kelly’s status aside, Notre Dame has some obstacles to clear to reach the top four.

In Tuesday night’s update of the rankings, which did not include Kelly’s exit, the Oklahoma State committee (11-1) jumped from No. 7 to No. 5, leaving Notre Dame at No. 6 after its 45-14 victory over Stanford ( 3-9) last week. The Cowboys meanwhile struck – no. 14 Oklahoma to end their regular season. They play for the Big 12 championship on Saturday against No. 9 Baylor.

On their way into Tuesday’s rankings, the Irish revealed that an Oklahoma State victory over the Bears would either cement the Cowboys’ status over them in the penultimate top 25 or likely cause a jump in the final. No matter where Oklahoma State placed on Tuesday’s rankings, a win on Saturday would provide a blow to Notre Dame’s playoff chances.

Notre Dame needs the loss of two teams placed between No. 2 and 5 to clear the way for the top four. Nr. 1 Georgia (12-0) must be in the playoff field no matter what happens Saturday against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Michigan (11-1) is No. 2 after beating Ohio State, Alabama (11-1) remained No. 3 after a triple overtime flight in Auburn and Cincinnati (12-0) remained No. 4 after the victory in East Carolina.

Even then, there is the lurking ghost of the small but still non-zero possibility that Alabama would remain in the top four with a close loss to Georgia.

CFP Top 25 (30/11/21)

1. Georgia (12-0)

2. Michigan (11-1)

3. Alabama (11-1)

Cincinnati (12-0)

5. Oklahoma State (11-1)

Notre Dame (11-1)

Ohio State (10-2)

Baylor (10-2)

10. Oregon (10-2)

11. Michigan State (10-2)

12. BYU (10-2)

Iowa (10-2)

14. Oklahoma (10-2)

Pittsburgh (10-2)

16. Wake Forest (10-2)

17. Utah (9-3)

18. North Carolina State (9-3)

19. San Diego State (11-1)

20. Clemson (9-3)

21. Houston (11-1)

22. Arkansas (8-4)

23. Kentucky (9-3)

24. Louisiana (11-1)

25. Texas A&M (8-4)

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By Victor

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