By Chris Emma-
(CBS) When the power players of college football gathered during the summer of 2012, planning a revolutionary four-team playoff, they dreamed of moments like last Saturday in Tallahassee.
A top-five matchup between giants of the game, Florida State and Notre Dame, came down to the final possession. At stake was a comfortable ride to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Fighting Irish, who were one pass interference call away from the monumental victory, are now on the outside looking in after a 31-27 loss in which an apparent game-winning touchdown was called back by penalty in the waning seconds.
“You got to take the belt from the champion,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in his weekly press conference. “You can’t leave it up to a decision that’s made at the end. We’ll talk about it. If we’re in this situation again, you got to close, you got to finish. I think we’ll do a little bit of both.”
The beauty in the new system is that Notre Dame didn’t necessarily leave its national title hopes in Tallahassee. The Irish have a fighter’s chance to get in the field of four.
Just three unbeatens hold true title hopes. The Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Ole Miss on Nov. 29 guarantees there will be one fewer. Florida State can use the cruise control through an easy ACC road. Perhaps one of the Mississippi schools can continue its storybook season unblemished, but the challenge of picking four teams will involve at least two who’ve been defeated.
The College Football Playoff selection committee — made up of distinguished names counted on for integrity — will have a brutal task of sorting through the contenders. The door is open for Notre Dame to walk in, with the first set of rankings being released next Tuesday.
If the Fighting Irish can run the table and finish with an 11-1 record, they deserve a shot at the national championship.
Notre Dame’s schedule includes just two opponents — Rice and Navy — outside of the Power 5 conference. Sure, Michigan isn’t what it used to be, Purdue is down and North Carolina is average, but compiling a schedule of real opponents, not FCS cupcakes, should be rewarded.
In its six wins, the Fighting Irish have been impressive. Four of those victories have come by 16 points or more, and a three-point win over then-No. 14 Stanford on Oct. 4 was a strong indication of what Notre Dame is really made of.
Yet arguably Notre Dame’s best effort of the season came in its loss to Florida State. On the road, against the defending national champions and their 23-game winning streak, the Fighting Irish matched them punch for punch. It was an instant classic, one that could have gone either way.
“We knew that our football team was a good football team, and they were excited about the matchup,” Kelly said. “Look, they were on a national stage, and they showed everybody what kind of football team they were.”
That’s what the selection committee must consider, when balancing out the metrics that make up each resume. Notre Dame can become an 11-1 that easily could have been 12-0.
When the College Football Playoff field is unveiled, there will be one SEC team and maybe even two — deservedly so. Florida State appears to be a lock unless Louisville or Virginia have an upset in store. A case will be made for Baylor, Kansas State, Michigan State, Ohio State or Oregon — or any school that can sit with one loss at the end of the regular season.
But Notre Dame has a chance to finish an impressive campaign with wins over Navy, No. 14 Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and No. 20 USC. Easier said than done.
Impressive in its one blunder, Notre Dame has already proved how good it can be. That was the regular-season thriller that college football hoped for in adapting its new postseason. The Irish were one play away from staying unbeaten.
The selection committee must consider that with the rest of Notre Dame’s stellar season.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.