When Notre Dame’s backup quarterback, Deshone Kizer, found wideout Will Fuller in the end zone for a 39-yard go-ahead touchdown with just 12 seconds left in their 34–27 win last weekend over Virginia, it kept the Fighting Irish’s hopes of a playoff run intact—while at the same time creating a possible nightmare scenario for the playoff selection committee.
It’s only September and the eighth-ranked Irish are just 2–0, but they remain the biggest obstacle to a smooth-running playoff system.
Why? Even though they have some affiliation to the ACC, they’re not a full member (they play six ACC games) and won’t figure into the conference’s championship game. But if Notre Dame rolls through its schedule and is selected as one of the four playoff teams, it would mean that at least a second league champion from a Power Five conference—ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big 12—would have to be left out.
Anyone who’s not sure if that would create some controversy need only to look at last season’s mess where only one conference—the Big 12—was on the outside looking in as conference co-champs TCU and Baylor—each with identical 11–1 records—were bypassed.
The conference wasn’t happy about the perceived slight. There were calls for an improved selection process and a bigger playoff field.
Those calls will be even louder if a pair of Power Five conferences are left out this year—and they’d have a point too.
The selection committee has a difficult job—four playoff spots and five major conference champions. And that doesn’t include provisions for a major independent like Notre Dame running the table or an undefeated school from a smaller conference.
Imagine if Boise State—which went 13–0 in 2006 and then 14–0 three years later—makes the committee’s decision even harder with another perfect regular season?
There’s always a possibility that a Power Five conference is won by a relatively weak champion, but it’s unlikely this year. The perceived weakest conference is probably the ACC, but Florida State has emerged as a major power there the last few years and doesn’t seem ready to give up its throne this year.
The Big Ten has Michigan State and Ohio State ready to duke it out for conference supremacy, TCU and Baylor look like they haven’t skipped a beat, and Oregon, even in a loss at Michigan State, looks ready to defend its Pac-12 crown.
And we haven’t even mentioned the football-crazed SEC, which has so many power programs to choose from that even a two-loss champion should get an automatic playoff bid.
Yet no such thing exists.
As long as there are fewer playoff spots than Power Five conferences—and all the spots are wild cards, as opposed to automatic berths—there are inherent problems in the system. A run by a team outside those major conferences—whether by Notre Dame or anyone else—is only going to make the problem worse.