What needs to happen for Notre Dame to make the College Football Playoff?
It's make or break for Notre Dame today.
No, the Fighting Irish aren't playing on conference championship Saturday. They never do with the one exception being last season's one-time deal in the ACC. But there are multiple games that have a direct impact on whether or not Notre Dame will qualify for the College Football Playoff for the third time in the last four seasons.
Let's take a look at what needs to happen for the No. 6 Irish (11-1) to move into one of the top four spots, which would give newly named head coach Marcus Freeman a grand opportunity and a supreme stage to secure his first career victory.
Freeman and company likely need any two of the outcomes below.
Big 12 Championship: An Oklahoma State loss to Baylor
The day gets started with a matchup Notre Dame fans have clearcut rooting interest in. The Irish need Baylor to beat Oklahoma State. Period. The Bears already have two losses and are ranked No. 9 in the CFP rankings. Barring something completely unforeseen, a two-loss Big 12 conference champion doesn't have an avenue to the playoff.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, jumped Notre Dame in the most recent rankings. With the Irish sitting at home this weekend watching games, there's no path for them to move back ahead of Oklahoma State without a Cowboy loss. It's that simple.
No. 5 Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. No. 9 Baylor (10-2) — Noon ET, ABC
OSU -6.0, O/U 46
SEC Championship: An Alabama loss to Georgia
This is the difference between two SEC teams in the CFP and just one. If Georgia wins, there just doesn't seem to be any plausible way to keep Alabama in the playoff conversation with two losses. If the Crimson Tide win, then both Alabama and Georgia seem like locks to take up half the field.
The only other times two teams from the same conference made the CFP in the same year were 2017 when Alabama beat Georgia in the national title game and 2020 when Clemson and Notre Dame qualified from the ACC.
Another Alabama win in this week's SEC Championship Game would spell trouble for the rest of the field. It would put two one-loss SEC teams in the playoff field yet again.
No. 1 Georgia (12-0) vs. No. 3 Alabama (11-1) — 4 p.m. ET, CBS
UGA -6.5, O/U 49.5
American Athletic Championship: A Houston win over Cincinnati
If the Bearcats lose for the first time all season and open up a door for Notre Dame to surpass them in the rankings and make the CFP, there are going to be a lot of unhappy folks in Cincinnati. But that's the reality both teams are facing right now.
Cincinnati beat Notre Dame 24-13 in South Bend on Oct. 2. But with the way the rankings are currently positioned, it seems a Cincinnati loss of any kind to Houston — one point, 10 points or more — would drop the Cats behind the Irish in the rankings.
Head to head matters, but it only matters so much. The Irish played a tougher schedule than the Bearcats and would likely be viewed as the stronger one-loss candidate.
No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0) vs. No. 21 Houston (11-1) — 4 p.m. ET, ABC
UC -10.5, O/U 52.5
Big 12 Championship: A Michigan loss to Iowa
The day ends how it started; Notre Dame needs a two-loss Power Five championship game participant to upset a one-loss Power Five championship game participant.
If the Hawkeyes beat the Wolverines, then both teams are out. If the Wolverines beat the Hawkes, then Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh keeps his dream season rolling right into the College Football Playoff.
No. 2 Michigan (11-1) vs. No. 13 Iowa (10-2) — 8 p.m. ET, FOX
UM -11.0, O/U 43.5
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