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Geyer: CFP hopes dashed, but season can still be success

| Friday, September 27, 2019

A wise band named AC/DC once said, “It’s a long way to the top.” Granted, they were talking about Rock & Roll, but I’d say the euphemism is relatively applicable to the remainder of the 2019 Notre Dame football season.

Georgia? That was tough, man.

Clemson? That was even tougher.

Unfortunately, it seems like those two losses will trump each and every one of Notre Dame’s last 14 wins. And that has very real implications for the Irish future — in 2019 and beyond.

Realistically, the College Football Playoff is a two-team competition. Alabama and Clemson all but have their December flights booked. That leaves two spots for the hundreds of remaining teams in Division I.

Fool me once, Notre Dame makes the Cotton Bowl. Fool me twice, Independent teams are all but eliminated from the playoff conversation.

The CFP Committee certainly received plenty of flack last year for putting in an undefeated Notre Dame — they won’t make that mistake again by putting in a one-loss Irish.

As much as I hate to say it, this just won’t be our year.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Keys catches a pass during Notre Dame’s 23-17 loss at Georgia on Sept. 21.

I hope I’m wrong. It would be an incredible step for the program to reach the national semifinals two years in a row under the CFP model. But frankly, it’s not going to happen unless a slew of absurd events (like Ohio State’s 2018 loss to Purdue) happen again, and all of those things are out of Notre Dame’s control.

At the beginning of the season, that wouldn’t have been my take. With matchups at Michigan and Stanford and against USC, I’d have said that a close loss to Georgia would certainly have hurt Notre Dame’s playoff chances, but not completely dashed them. Now, with the first four weeks of games completely undermining the Irish strength of schedule, I simply don’t see a path back to National Championship contention.

It would be a completely different conversation if Notre Dame had a conference championship to play for. If they could run the table during the regular season and cap it off with a gritty title win, they’d make their case just like any other teams who could pick up a mid-season loss might — Oklahoma, Ohio State. But without that season-ending redemption, the path back to the College Football Playoff is that much more difficult.

It would also be a completely different conversation if Notre Dame hadn’t gotten smacked in the Cotton Bowl, but I’ll let sleeping dogs lie.

The good news is that failure to return to the playoff doesn’t necessarily make the season a waste. The Irish have a lot of good pieces this year that they can continue to develop, and back-to-back 11-win seasons certainly wouldn’t hurt recruiting. Neither would ending the season at No. 5 or No. 6.

From that perspective, keeping the season on track means nine decisive wins, and a New Year’s Six bowl title.

Notre Dame needs to be the team that we saw against New Mexico and Georgia — the team that can put up style points and compete with top-tier programs. At the very least, the former hasn’t been the Irish way, but if Notre Dame wants to make it back to the CFP in future years, that’s the sort of program that they’ll need to become.

All that being said, I firmly believe that the team who shows up Saturday against Virginia is the one we’ll be stuck with for the rest of the season. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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