Notre Dame and athletic director Jack Swarbrick can breathe easy. A group of 12 university presidents approved the four-team playoff proposal presented on Tuesday.
Maintaining independence has always been a priority of Swarbrick’s. While it seemed to be in jeopardy amid conference realignment and recent developments such as the Big 12 – SEC Champions Bowl agreement, ND is sitting pretty now. There is no need to do the unthinkable and align with a conference.
Why was Notre Dame’s AD attending these meetings?
Despite its status as an independent, Notre Dame gets just as much a say in the matter as each conference. In a sport where revenue generation and television contracts now outweigh on-field performance, this should not have come as a surprise to college football fans.
Yet, it’s the fans who have had a problem reading “…and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick” in every article that details the gathering of the conference commissioners. Nobody at the table is upset with Notre Dame present; not even SEC commissioner Mike Slive, whose league (the biggest winner of the playoff) has produced the last six national champions.
What’s the immediate impact of the announced playoff system for the Irish?
Notre Dame will still be at a disadvantage without a conference championship game, which other contenders can use as one last chance to impress the selection committee. However, the Fighting Irish should benefit from other announced criteria such as strength of schedule and head-to-head results.
So what would it take for Notre Dame to secure a spot in this playoff?
Winning, for starters. Brian Kelly’s system is going to work. Some on and off the field issues have hindered development, but ultimately this thing is going to come together. Kelly still has loyalty from all of the Irish faithful. By 2014, when the playoff system is in effect, hopefully a leader will have emerged from the Golson/Kiel/Zaire pack and he’ll be leading a prolific spread offense.
One problem for 2014 is that Notre Dame’s strength of schedule is laughable as compared to the murderous slate of 2012. While it is tough to predict the state of every football program on the schedule two years from now, some of the names on the ’14 calendar include Syracuse, Temple, Northwestern and Rice. The Irish may need some of these programs to improve quickly.
Tough tests at USC, at Arizona State, and home games against usual suspects Michigan and Stanford provide ND with some opportunities for key wins that season. But in order to thrive within this playoff system, Notre Dame has to keep scheduling big names. The 2015 lineup looks very similar (swap Texas for ASU) to 2014. It isn’t until 2016 that ND’s slate (Miami, Texas, Michigan State) really toughens up.
The SEC champ and Big Ten champ will be annual playoff participants if regular season trends continue. A conceivable scenario is a one-loss Irish squad sneaking past a PAC-12 champ not named USC or Oregon, a Big 12 champ not named Texas or Oklahoma, or the second best SEC school. This only happens with a strong schedule, however. Make no mistake: a 2-loss Notre Dame team will not make the playoff.
In the mean time, let the celebration of continued independence begin.