Many outside Notre Dame’s program were expecting the Irish to make a statement one way or another in last Saturday’s prime-time game at Georgia. Coach Brian Kelly said Monday, though, that this is when his team will truly set its course for the rest of the season — when it faces No. 18 Virginia on Saturday a week after suffering a devastating 23-17 loss to the Bulldogs.
“I think our team will define who they are this week because they’re coming off of a game where they were disappointed in their performance,” Kelly said, “so they have a chance to do something about it.
“I have a good feeling that they’re going to respond in the right way. Again, it’s closer to defining who you are after coming back from a loss than it is any time after a win.”
The Irish need to win.
Notre Dame is one of 12 teams with at least a 1% chance to finish in the top four, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, which aims to answer the question: Who will make the playoff on Selection Day? While undefeated teams such as Penn State and Florida aren’t stealing any playoff headlines now, they could validate consideration with more impressive victories later. The percentages reflect each team’s status heading into Week 5, so the numbers will change continuously with the season.
They could change drastically this weekend if Virginia upends Notre Dame, Penn State loses at Maryland on Friday night, or Clemson stumbles at North Carolina. It’s a borderline elimination game for the loser of Washington-USC, each of which already has one loss and didn’t make the cut for this list.
The calculations can’t factor in the human element of the 13-member selection committee, but each of the past 20 playoff semifinalists have common traits: tough schedules, wins against ranked opponents, Heisman hopefuls, top-15 scoring margins and top-15 rankings in offensive or defensive efficiency, just to name a few.
Here’s how these top contenders stack up to the trends of past semifinalists. Trends courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information research:
Chance to make playoff: 76.6%
Chance to win title: 24.5%
Trends in their favor: Playoff experience, the No. 2 ranking in defensive efficiency and a Heisman hopeful quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. The Tigers are going to need all three of those things to finish undefeated and overcome an otherwise weak conference schedule. Clemson could claim two victories against SEC teams, though, if it can punctuate its résumé with a road win at rival South Carolina to go along with its defeat of Texas A&M.
Chance to make playoff: 70.4%
Chance to win title: 28.4%
Trends in their favor: Nick Saban and Tua Tagovailoa, for starters. Alabama is also No. 2 in offensive efficiency and No. 3 in defensive efficiency. Though the stats have been padded against unranked competition to this point, strength of schedule will improve with games against Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn.
Chance to make playoff: 59.1%
Chance to win title: 14.7%
Trends in their favor: The Buckeyes have star power with Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins, and strength of schedule is also an asset. Their remaining lineup of opponents is ranked No. 10 in the country and includes four ranked teams. Like other past semifinalists, Ohio State has been dominant on both sides, ranking in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. As elite as Ohio State has been through the first four weeks, it has come mainly at home against unranked competition, but Saturday’s trip to Nebraska probably won’t be easy. The first real opportunity to make a playoff statement will be Oct. 26 against Wisconsin, the most difficult remaining game on the schedule, according to FPI.
Chance to make playoff: 46.9%
Chance to win title: 10%
Trends in their favor: Previous playoff experience, the SEC crossover schedule coupled with a victory over Notre Dame, and top-10 rankings in both offense and defense. The Bulldogs pass the eye test, but they also face Auburn and Texas A&M to help compensate for an otherwise weak SEC East lineup. Remember, Georgia was considered by some selection committee members last season as a two-loss team that didn’t win the SEC. The Bulldogs have some margin for error, thanks to their win over Notre Dame.
Chance to make playoff: 36.9%
Chance to win title: 5.3%
Trends in their favor: Previous playoff experience and once again the No. 1 ranking in offensive efficiency, this time under transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts. Last season, OU needed its potent offense to offset its No. 92 defensive efficiency ranking, but this season, the Sooners have shown improvement under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch and are No. 26 defensively through three games. The Sooners need the rest of the Big 12 to step up, as No. 11 Texas and No. 24 Kansas State are their only ranked remaining opponents at this point.
6. LSU Tigers
Chance to make playoff: 33.5%
Chance to win title: 7.1%
Trends in their favor: The road win at Texas gave LSU a head start, as all 20 of the past semifinal participants entered bowl season with at least two victories over AP-ranked opponents. The Tigers still have four ranked opponents remaining, giving them the seventh-most-difficult remaining schedule in the country. Quarterback Joe Burrow is No. 3 in this week’s Heisman Watch, and 16 of the past 20 playoff participants have seen a player finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting. LSU is also No. 3 in the country in offensive efficiency, and leads the nation with an average of 57 points per game.
Chance to make playoff: 19.5%
Chance to win title: 2.4%
Trends in their favor: The Badgers have star power in running back Jonathan Taylor, who is No. 4 in this week’s Heisman Watch, and they’re in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. What they’re missing is a nonconference win against a Power 5 opponent (South Florida, Central Michigan and Kent State), so they need the rest of the Big Ten to produce some ranked opponents, and to take advantage of home field against Michigan State and Iowa. If the Badgers’ only loss ends up being on the road to the Buckeyes, they could have a chance to redeem themselves by beating Ohio State for the Big Ten title.
Chance to make playoff: 17.9%
Chance to win title: 2.3%
Trends in their favor: There won’t be any if the Irish can’t beat Virginia this weekend. With wins against Louisville and New Mexico, Notre Dame can’t check many boxes right now, aside from having a defense ranked No. 8 in efficiency. ESPN’s FPI projects the Irish to win every remaining game, but Notre Dame needs Virginia, USC and Michigan to stay ranked. Last season, undefeated Notre Dame finished No. 4 in ESPN’s Strength of Record, which is one of the most statistically accurate correlations to finishing in the committee’s top four. Right now, Notre Dame is No. 22 in SOR.
Chance to make playoff: 15%
Chance to win title: 2.1%
Trends in their favor: Schedule, schedule, schedule. If the committee were meeting today, it probably would have Auburn in its top four because of victories against No. 13 Oregon and No. 23 Texas A&M. The Tigers are No. 1 in Strength of Record heading into Saturday’s home game against Mississippi State. Auburn needs to capitalize on home games against teams it is expected to beat, because ESPN’s FPI gives the Tigers less than a 50% chance to win against Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama.
Chance to make playoff: 7.3%
Chance to win title: 0.7%
Trends in their favor: The Nittany Lions have a nonconference win against a Power 5 opponent (unranked Pitt), and they also have the coaching pedigree, as 17 of the past 20 semifinalists had a head coach that had previously won a conference title. James Franklin’s team won the Big Ten in 2016 — but was outside the top four because of losses to Pitt and Michigan. PSU has a tricky Friday night game at Maryland, and it’s going to have to win on the road this season to crack the top four. The Nittany Lions also travel to No. 14 Iowa, No. 25 Michigan State and No. 5 Ohio State.
11. Oregon Ducks
Chance to make playoff: 7%
Chance to win title: 0.6%
Trends in their favor: Oregon leads the Pac-12 and is No. 14 in the country in scoring margin (28 points per game), and 18 of the past 20 semifinalists entered bowl season ranked among the top 15 nationally in average scoring margin. Most of those points, though, came in a 77-6 win over Nevada and a 35-3 victory against Montana. The Ducks are also No. 11 in defensive efficiency, but they probably have to win out (including the Pac-12 title game) to have a shot at the top four. They have a bye week to prepare for the Oct. 5 home game against undefeated Cal. ESPN’s FPI favors Oregon to win each of its remaining games. If the Ducks can do that, they’ll be right in the mix in spite of the loss to Auburn.
12. Florida Gators
Chance to make playoff: 6.6%
Chance to win title: 0.8%
Trends in their favor: The undefeated Gators haven’t earned much, if any, playoff talk, and have been deservedly overshadowed by Georgia in the SEC East, but as far as playoff trends go, they’re in better shape than Notre Dame and Penn State. The Gators have the nonconference Power 5 win over Miami in the season opener and are No. 4 in the Strength of Record metric. Florida is also No. 14 in defensive efficiency and No. 12 in remaining strength of schedule.
Just missed the cut: Washington Huskies (0.9%)