clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Notre Dame’s Playoff chances look better and better by the week

The Irish have no margin for error. They might not need any, if they keep playing like they did against USC and NC State.

North Carolina State v Notre Dame Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After Notre Dame whomped then-No. 10 USC in South Bend on Oct. 22, the Irish had a clear path to the Playoff. It was to not lose any more games.

Of the 12 teams to make the Playoff in its first three years:

  • 100 percent lost either zero or one game.
  • 100 percent beat at least three teams in the Playoff selection committee’s top 25 at the end of championship weekend, on “Selection Sunday.”
  • 100 percent beat at least six teams that were .500 or better at that point.
  • 92 percent were power-conference champions. (Notre Dame can’t do this because it’s an independent, but the committee’s indicated it won’t hold that against the Irish.)

Notre Dame is still on course, now 7-1 after a 35-14 cruise past No. 14 NC State on Saturday. If the Irish win their last four games — Wake Forest, at Miami, Navy, at Stanford — they’ll make the top four going away.

Few teams have a chance to stop Notre Dame.

Its best asset is a voracious running game, which ranked No. 1 in S&P+ and second in yards per carry entering the weekend. NC State figured to be a test. The Wolfpack have an elite front, led by All-American defensive end Bradley Chubb. They have kept running games in check all year. Notre Dame had faced similar defenses twice, resulting in a 1.5-yard average against Georgia and 4.6 against Michigan State.

Against NC State, what would the Irish be? The offense that tears up defenses for 8 or 10 yards per rush (which it’s usually been) or the one that can’t move a pile 2 yards (which it was against Georgia)? It turned out to be closer to the former.

The Irish ran 54 times for 342 yards, an average of 5.9. They did that despite NC State knowing the run was coming, and Brandon Wimbush scaring no one with his arm. Wimbush threw 19 times for 104 yards.

They turned the game into a rout in the third quarter, when Wimbush didn’t throw a pass and the Irish ran nine times for 116 yards. The Wolfpack still couldn’t tackle Josh Adams, who hit a 77-yard home run and carried four other times that quarter for 22 more yards.

Adams finished with 217 yards on 27 carries. He’s entrenched himself among the best backs in the country, next to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Stanford’s Bryce Love.

Wimbush briefly appeared injured in the third quarter, but he returned. Notre Dame needs him as a runner, but it might not need him to pass much.

Most rush defenses are not Georgia’s. The Irish could run over everyone else they play, then figure something out for Georgia, Alabama, or whoever else.

The run game wasn’t the only impressive thing against NC State.

On defense, the Irish took a usually effective NC State passing offense and reduced it to ash. Quarterback Ryan Finley had to throw 37 passes to get to a measly 213 yards, with one score and one pick mixed in. Finley’s 5.8 yards per throw paled in comparison to his 7.9 entering the day.

The Irish were hard on Finley, and they didn’t show cracks anywhere else. The Wolfpack ran for a 2.1-yard average and couldn’t run at all late in the game, even when they tried.

On Tuesday, Notre Dame could be in the Playoff top four.

The first committee ranking comes out then (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). The top two teams will be Georgia and Alabama, who are on an SEC Championship Game collision course. The Irish are in the mix to be in the top five or so.

But the first ranking isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that the Irish are putting together a championship resume. They have four more chances to slip up. If they don’t, this thing’s going to work out in their favor.