The Fighting Irish football team has recently captured headlines, beating two nationally-ranked opponents in back-to-back weeks. The question stands, with a 7-1 record, can the Irish get into the playoffs this year?
Without outright answering the question yes or no, it would be wise to look at Notre Dame’s remaining schedule and what they have done.
The Irish gutted their football program’s leadership in the offseason after last year’s abysmal 4-8 season. Head coach Brian Kelly remained the head of the program and hired several new assistant coaches and shifted around others. The result has been resounding with this Notre Dame squad looking reminiscent of their 2012 season.
The only blemish on the Irish’s schedule was their painful, last-minute loss against powerhouse Georgia. When the Irish and Georgia clashed in Week 2, Georgia was ranked 15th, while the Irish were ranked 24th. Georgia is currently second in the nation in the AP and Coaches Polls.
The game was a defensive battle to the bitter end. Georgia managed to edge out the Irish by one point in the closing minutes of the game, handing the Irish their first and only loss of the season.
Since that Week 2 clash, Notre Dame has clawed their way back into the top five.
According to espn.com, the FPI for Notre Dame’s remaining schedule is 23.9, the fourth-highest in college football. That means, even with these last two decisive wins against USC and NC State respectively, the Irish are by no means in the clear, yet.
The Irish have two ranked opponents on their schedule that may spoil their playoff chances. Both Miami and Stanford will be looking to end the Irish’s shot at the playoffs, especially since Miami has a shot at the playoffs themselves and Stanford will be looking to be the season spoilers.
Miami is still undefeated with a 21% chance of making it to the Top Four, according to espn.com. Miami has not played any ranked opponents yet, so it is hard to tell how they would match up against Notre Dame in two weeks.
Miami’s first real test of the season will be this week against Virginia Tech. Both teams are comparable on offense, both boasting 2000-yard passers, but defensively Virginia Tech has the edge.
Despite the defensive edge on paper, Miami has a slight edge in the matchup, according to espn.com match up predictor, where Miami has a 54.4 percent chance of winning.
Josh Adams (Getty Images)
Stanford is the Irish final test of the season, before the playoffs. They already have two losses on the season, so they will not be in contention for the playoffs, but they can still spoil the Irish’s season.
Notre Dame’s performance has been a surprise this season. Their rushing attack remains sixth overall in the nation after eight weeks, and the defense looks better each week. The Irish did not shutter after two weeks of back-to-back ranked opponents with strong defenses. The Irish not only has proven they could run the ball against good defenses but that they could do it with authority.
The Irish offensive line looks good again this year. The line looks like it could move mountains for running back Josh Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush to run behind. The two of them have already accumulated 1,689 yards on the ground already.
Wimbush has also thrown for 1,007 yards and has a combined 21 touchdowns on the season.
With his recent performances, Adams entered the Heisman Trophy talk. While for the time being Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has a firm hold on the award as of Tuesday, Oct. 31, his name should definitely be on the ballot.
The key to Notre Dame’s success has been its deceptively good defense. Notre Dame’s offense ranks in the top ten in total points scored, but not to be outshined, the defense also ranks in the Top 10 for total points allowed.
The Irish defense has shutdown ranked offenses in the later part of the season, which is integral for the game-plan of time management and controlling the tempo of the game with their vicious rushing attack.
Notre Dame is legitimately a force to be reckoned with this season after their win over NC State, which was the largest hurdle the Irish offense leaped over so far this season.
With the remaining games on their schedule, the Irish have a 34.8 percent chance of winning out the rest of the season. If the Irish pull off that feat, there’s no way they don’t get into the playoffs.