Notre Dame Football’s independence gives the program a leg up in the College Football Playoff conversation.
Every so often, you’ll hear fans of other programs around the country complain about Notre Dame football’s independence. These fans will talk about how Notre Dame needs to join a conference to level the playing field. One must understand, however, that the words coming out of their mouthes are not really what these people are saying.
The real message is that Notre Dame’s schedule is so strong year in, year out, most other programs need to hope for the Irish to drop two games or to go undefeated themselves to avoid Notre Dame stealing College Football Playoff bid from them.
The fact of the matter is that when you are a member of a conference, you are tied to eight or nine games against the rest of the teams in the conference. With strength of schedule carrying so much weight in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee, the perception of how good a team really is gets wrongfully tied to how good the rest of the conference is. That’s why you actually had people questioning whether or not an unbeaten Wisconsin would have gotten into the playoff last season.
Notre Dame avoids all of that nonsense with its football independence. The 2018 schedule is a great example of that. The Irish play five games against ACC teams. Even if all five of those teams are awful — which will almost never be the case — Notre Dame still has annual games with Southern Cal, Stanford and Navy to bolster its strength of schedule. After you add two Big Ten opponents and one from the SEC, Notre Dame already has an 11-game slate that’s tougher than the 12-game schedules nearly every Power 5 team plays.
That Ball State game looks like the only break for the Irish in 2018.
Looking at that schedule — barring an insane upset loss to Ball State — the Irish would almost certainly punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff by finishing 11-1. In the four-year history of the new playoff system, only three teams have qualified for the playoff with undefeated regular season records. It would take four unbeaten Power 5 champions to keep the Irish out — and even then, it’s iffy.
Yes, you run the risk of losing more games with a tougher schedule, but that’s a risk any program with true championship aspirations should be willing to take. No two-loss team has made it into the new playoff — and I don’t think it should ever happen unless every Power 5 conference has a two-loss champion.
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If Notre Dame loses two regular season games, they don’t belong in the College Football Playoff –it’s that simple.
Notre Dame’s independence is not something that’s only granted to the Irish. Other programs are free to pursue such a status. It may cost them in the short term, but many teams might benefit from it in the long run. I can count about a half dozen teams off the top of my head who could go independent based on their national status and prestige, schedule the teams they want to schedule, and work a national television deal just like Notre Dame does.
But they won’t do it. They are too comfortable. They like the security of a conference. And they like being able to schedule a couple of cupcakes every season during their non-conference schedule.
So the next time you hear a fan of some other team complaining about Notre Dame football’s independence, just smile — and ask them why their favorite college football team doesn’t go independent themselves.