Notre Dame Football: Who is the Biggest Remaining Obstacle to a CFP Berth?

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brian kelly notre dame

Your 2018 Notre Dame football team is currently 9-0, having just bested the Northwestern Wildcats 31-21 in Evanston. Notre Dame entered the game ranked third in the AP and coaches’ polls, and fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings- the only poll that truly matters these days.

If ND is unable to stay perfect in their final three games- will their playoff chances demise with them? What if we see more losses from the top teams down the stretch? Does that mean that more than one single loss team will get into the final four?

What we do know for certain is that two losses, by any combination, will kibosh any team’s playoff chances. So where do the biggest challenges lie down the stretch for the Fighting Irish?

We sat down with Ryan Leaf, the former Heisman Trophy finalist who led Washington State to the 1997 Rose Bowl, when he was in town to keynote the second annual Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center Gala at The Drake hotel.

Leaf currently hosts “PAC-12 This Morning” on SiriusXM 373, Monday-Friday 7-10 AM PT.

The Los Angeles based media personality also currently has a television presence, serving as an analyst for PAC-12 Network.

During our exclusive chat, I asked him if he believes this Notre Dame football team has to run the table in order to get in.

“I don’t know if there is room for error, cuz they’re not going to play a conference championship,” Leaf responded.

ryan leaf

“They’re going to have one less game, and I don’t think people are going to look at their schedule as too meaty.”

Leaf believes that the Irish will go undefeated, and get in as the #2 or #3 seed. He also believes that Michigan will be the one loss team that gets in this year. Leaf extolled the virtues of the challenges posed by Northwestern and Syracuse, and then said this of the season finale:

“USC is still USC, I don’t care, if they end up being 5-7, ok, but that’s not going to be a game they overlook.”

So what game could be the potential Notre Dame football tripwire on the path to a potential playoff berth?

The answer may surprise you.

“The only game I might be a little worried about is that Florida State game, they’ve got super talent, and a good mobile quarterback who can throw the football. That might be my biggest worry,” the #2 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft said.

The only Montana native to be drafted into the NFL also admitted that typically a visit from Florida State would usually end up “being a different animal.”

“I like Notre Dame,” the Program Ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, and Chair of FIF added.

“I think the fact they installed quarterback Ian Book in there changed the dynamic, a lot of people thought when they went down to Wake Forest that that game would be a lot closer and maybe an upset, but Ian Book starts for the first time and it’s a new dimension, really.”

ryan leaf

Leaf believes Notre Dame will end up having the best overall strength of schedule, due to all the places they will have had to go, the different venues they had to play in (versus Navy in San Diego, against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium are two such examples), and all the different styles of opponents.

Since they are independent, the Notre Dame football program plays teams from multiple conferences every year, but doesn’t have the opportunity to make a closing statement to the selection committee via a conference championship game.

“If we just stay committed to our process, if we stay humble, if we really work on our recovery, be prepared for the next guy to step in, then they’ll be fine,” Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said of the final stretch of the season.  

“Just the knowledge of going through it, having it in front of us before, not finishing it the right way, has been a great impetus for all our guys.”

Heading into the game at Northwestern, Kelly said the following about ND’s presence in the initial playoff standings a year ago and how things have changed a year later:

ian book

“It was a little new for us. We had most of our guys committed to that process, but we didn’t have everybody fully committed to it. That’s natural.”

“It was new to them, but this group knows that if they stay committed to it, they’ll have success. “

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Lineups.com and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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