The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 05, 2021 12:40 am

Irish very likely to fall short of College Football Playoff

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman's first game at the helm of the Irish will not be in the College Football Playoff, it appears.

The Irish (11-1), ranked No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings heading into Championship Week needed some help to reach their third Playoff in four seasons and they got it early in the day when Baylor defeated No. 5 Oklahoma State 21-16 in a thrilling Big 12 Championship Game, likely knocking the Cowboys out of CFP contention.

After that, the Irish likely needed only for No. 1 Georgia to beat third-ranked Alabama, but the Crimson Tide surprised the college football world with a 41-24 victory. The consensus among experts across the sport's landscape is Georgia had already done enough in the regular season to reach the Playoff, meaning the Southeastern Conference will take two of the four spots (Alabama and the Bulldogs). When No. 4 Cincinnati defeated Houston in the AAC Championship, the Bearcats (13-0), FBS's only remaining undefeated team, likely locked up their own spot, making them the first Group of Five team to reach the Playoff. They handed Notre Dame its only loss this season, a 24-13 defeat in Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 2. 

The victories for Alabama and Cincinnati in the late afternoon slate meant Notre Dame's hopes came down to the Big Ten Championship Game between No. 2 Michigan and Iowa. If the Hawkeyes pulled an upset, the Irish could have snuck into the four-team field, but the Wolverines took care of business, winning 42-3 to capture the remaining spot. The only real question left is whether the CFP committee selects Michigan or Alabama as the tournament's top overall seed. 

It's likely the Irish will finish as the No. 5 team in the final Playoff rankings, to be released Sunday morning, making Notre Dame the first team left out of the field. The Irish will then await their spot in what will almost certainly be one of the prestigious New Year's Six bowls. The Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl are Playoff semifinals this season, so Notre Dame could end up in the Sugar, Fiesta or Peach Bowl.

Freeman discussed Notre Dame's postseason fate in his first address to the team as its head coach Friday morning. 

"I don't care who the opponent is, in 48 hours we're going to get together and we're going to get going for this mission," said the new coach, who took over in the wake of Brian Kelly's departure for LSU. "We owe it to the seniors. This isn't about the future. Let's be clear. That is a disservice to this group. This isn't about the future. This isn't about next year. This isn't about five years from now. It's about right now. It's about finishing this season off the right way for you seniors. Everybody clear? I don't care about anything else.

"We all got a job to do. I care about us and this group and this coaching staff and this football family finishing this thing off the way we have to."

Notre Dame has lost nine straight major bowl games, a streak that began with a defeat in the Fiesta Bowl following the 1994 season. The Irish last won a major bowl game with a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M following the '93 campaign. They lost four such games during Kelly's tenure: the 2012 BCS National Championship, the 2015 Fiesta Bowl, the 2018 Cotton Bowl and the 2020 Rose Bowl. The last two were CFP semifinals. Notre Dame lost those four games by an average of 23 points.

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