SOUTH BEND – It's time to start talking about it, Notre Dame fans.
The No. 3 Irish are 8-0 ahead of the first College Football Playoff rankings being released Tuesday. With wins over Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech, Notre Dame is expected to be ranked in the top four.
Notre Dame has the ability to throw a monkey wrench into the playoff picture this year, as two of the Power Five conferences may be left out if the Irish secure one of the final four spots.
A few things have to fall in place for Notre Dame to get there, though. Here are four things necessary for the Irish to be playing in a CFP semifinal game Dec. 29.
Finish the season undefeated
The part that Notre Dame has the most control over, the Irish need to finish the season undefeated to make the playoff. An 11-1 Notre Dame team would have a difficult time making its case for the playoff, in large part to not playing in a conference championship game.
The schedule the rest of the way -- while tricky -- is manageable. A red-hot Northwestern team on the road next week appears to be the Irish's toughest test left. Syracuse should be 8-2 when the teams face off Nov. 17 at Yankee Stadium. A road game against a rival in USC to end the year is also difficult. The only "easy" game left, on paper, is Florida State at home Nov. 10. While the travel will be extreme -- playing in Evanston, South Bend, New York and Los Angeles in consecutive weeks is grueling -- the opponents are all beatable.
Alabama finishes the season undefeated -- or loses two games
A one-loss Alabama is the worst-case scenario for the Irish. This happened last season, where an 11-1 Alabama team went to the playoff despite not winning its division or conference championship.
Two losses seem unlikely with the way the No. 1 Crimson Tide have looked this season, so going undefeated is the Irish's best bet. If Alabama survives a trip to No. 4 LSU this weekend, they'll most likely get No. 7 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. If the Bulldogs upset the Tide, then both teams would be 12-1 and have a claim to the College Football Playoff. This would hurt Notre Dame's case, even if the Irish were 12-0.
Flew to @AlabamaFTBL today to sit down with Tu’a. What an incredible young man. Humble to a fault.— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) October 25, 2018
Here’s his drive chart from this season so far.
Yellow represents TD’s
Blue = FG’s
White..drives without scores. Unprecedented!!! #VideoGameResults pic.twitter.com/0OHCAaImW4
Although Alabama will likely finish undefeated, an 11-1 or 12-1 Crimson Tide team would make it into the playoff over a 12-0 Notre Dame team.
Michigan wins the Big Ten Championship
This may sound strange for Irish fans: Notre Dame needs Michigan to keep winning. If the No. 5 Wolverines win out, they'll finish 12-1 and have victories over No. 14 Penn State, No. 8 Ohio State and against the Big Ten West division winner in the Big Ten Championship game.
Karan Higdon has been a beast so far this season.— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 25, 2018
He has racked up 831 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 7 games so far, averaging 118.7 yards per game.
His midseason highlights. 👇#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/wMoAAJCwdk
This would bolster the Irish's resume drastically, as the one Michigan loss came to Notre Dame in the opening weekend of the season. Notre Dame would be able to say they beat the Big Ten champion, which would look good in the playoff committee's eyes.
It wouldn't be the end of the world for Notre Dame if Michigan lost another game, but it definitely would benefit from Michigan being 12-1.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 to keep self-destructing
If Notre Dame were to slip up, it would open up the door for a one-loss Big 12 or Pac-12 champion to take their playoff spot. That leaves three teams with a chance: No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 12 West Virginia and No. 10 Washington State. If either of those teams win out and the Irish lose, then either the Big 12 or Pac-12 champion may get in over Notre Dame.
Fortunately for the Irish, Oklahoma and West Virginia still have to play each other in the final week of the season at West Virginia, so one of those teams will finish with two losses no matter what.
Washington State's schedule is a little more manageable, as three of its final four regular season games are at home. The Cougars will need an Irish loss, though, to open the door for them into the playoff discussion.
As it stands right now, the playoff looks like it'll be the SEC Champion, the ACC Champion, the Big Ten Champion and Notre Dame. A lot can change, however, as teams enter the final month of the season.
This article is written by Austin Hough from Goshen News, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.