ESPN revealed its new 'Playoff Predictor' metric earlier today. It uses five key factors to determine which programs have the best chance to reach the playoff and win the national championship.
The five factors the metric employs are strength of record, FPI, number of losses, conference championships and independent status. According to the calculations, the four teams with the best chance to make the playoff are Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame, huh? The Irish are regarded as a likely top-15 team with the potential for more, and they do have the talent to make a playoff run. However, not many experts have picked them to reach the CFP this offseason.
But ESPN's metric sees it differently. Here's why:
Notre Dame is better than many people think. It doesn't boast the sexiest offense, but the Fighting Irish actually ranked 12th in offensive efficiency last season -- a metric which considers the effectiveness of the unit on a play-by-play level and considers the strength of opponents faced. But more important than that, defensively, they ought to be stout. Notre Dame ranked 10th in defensive efficiency a season ago and is returning nine starters to that side of the ball.
As an independent, Notre Dame's schedule strikes a nice balance in 2018. It's difficult enough that a strong record would be an accomplishment and would catch the committee's eye, but easy enough that 11-1 -- probably the record it needs to accomplish -- is within the realm of possibility. Of course, plenty rides on Week 1, when Notre Dame takes on Michigan. A win over the Wolverines would boost the Fighting Irish's chances of reaching the playoff to 53 percent, while a loss would drop them to 23 percent.
The Irish do have tough road games against USC, Northwestern and Virginia Tech, and they still have to face Michigan, Florida State and Stanford at home. A 10-2 season would be a quality showing, and still probably would leave them outside the playoff.
This is definitely a bold pick by the computers, but it isn't insane. If Notre Dame can gets its offense to keep pace with what should be an outstanding defense, the Irish could have a special year.
Week 1 is huge though, as ESPN wrote. The result of that game against Michigan sets the tone for the whole year in South Bend.