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It has been an absolutely wild week for the country, but thankfully we had college football to power us through on Saturday.
And if you’re a Fighting Irish fan waking up this morning, rejoice! Your team finally won the proverbial big game. And in so doing squarely launched itself into the middle of the playoff picture.
We’ll get to Notre Dame’s big win in a moment, but right off the top, the minute I hit publish on the Starting 11, I’m headed to downtown Nashville to watch Bears-Titans in person. Thanks to the state of Tennessee now having sports gambling, new users can bet $1 on either the Titans or the Bears. If your team wins, you get $100. That’s right, bet a dollar, win a hundred. Go sign up and bet here.
Okay, here we go with the Starting 11.
1. Notre Dame is poised to make the playoff even if they lose the ACC title game and finish 11-1.
While many will focus on Trevor Lawrence’s absence, Clemson still passed for 439 yards and didn’t throw an interception. The bigger story, to me, is what happened on the lines of scrimmage. Clemson ran the ball 34 times for 39 yards while Notre Dame ran the ball 41 times for 209 yards.
That’s physical dominance at the point of attack by Notre Dame.
In other words, Notre Dame now has the horses on the line of scrimmage to dominate a top team physically.
That hasn’t been the case during Notre Dame’s long record of big game futility. In fact, coming into this game, Notre Dame had lost 11 straight and 19 of its last 20 against top five opponents.
That all ended last night.
Now the Irish finish their season at Boston College, at North Carolina, Syracuse, and at Wake Forest. All prior to, theoretically, the ACC title game against Clemson.
Notre Dame’s path to the playoff is fairly simple, I think.
Win out to get to 11-0 and then what happens in the ACC title game against Clemson won’t matter. But that’s not the only path. Notre Dame can also lose one of these four remaining regular season games on their schedule and then win the ACC title game. Either pathway seems likely to put the Irish into the playoff. Unless Florida wins out. (We’ll get to this in a minute.)
Since everything in Notre Dame is historic, the last time the Irish beat the number one team in the country was Florida State back in 1993. What happened in the next game? They lost to Boston College.
But for now, congrats. What a win.
2. Clemson now has to win out to make the playoff.
Those were the stakes of this game for Clemson. If they’d won without Trevor Lawrence, then Clemson would have effectively punched their ticket for the playoff last night.
Now they can’t lose another game this season.
With a finishing run of at Florida State, Pittsburgh, and at Virginia Tech, Clemson should be able to win all three of these games.
Then will come the rematch with Notre Dame, this time in the ACC title game.
That will become an absolute must-win for Clemson.
I just don’t see it being very likely that a Clemson team with two losses to Notre Dame would be in the playoff mix. If that happened, the Tigers wouldn’t have a single top 25 win on the season.
Clemson was bullied on the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage. In order to win the ACC title against Notre Dame, they will have to match the Irish’s physical intensity in the trenches. And they’ll have to work on their defense, which was attacked with great precision by the Irish all night.
3. The ACC’s COVID rules are absurd.
Trevor Lawrence was allowed to travel on an airplane to South Bend with his teammates, stay in a hotel with them, stand on the sideline all night, and interact with his teammates for the entire game.
But he couldn’t play?
This is just patently absurd.
Many of these COVID protocols are completely illogical.
Either Trevor Lawrence needs to be quarantined or he should be able to play. The idea that he’s in any kind of danger from COVID is just pure balderdash. No one playing major college football has had any issues with COVID this fall.
It’s completely illogical to have him on the sideline, but have him unavailable to play.
4. I loved seeing Notre Dame’s students storm the field.
It was absolutely fantastic to see a dose of normalcy inside a college football stadium this fall. I’ve been waiting for a fan base to stick their middle fingers up at the coronabros, and I loved seeing the field storming and the apoplectic reaction from the coronabros on social media.
Here’s a perfect encapsulation of the coronabro hypocrisy in one screenshot. Thousands of people celebrating the election being called for Joe Biden? Glorious! Thousands of Notre Dame fans celebrating a huge win over the number one team in the country? Unacceptable!
These Tweets were less than 11 hours apart. The coronabros are complete and total hypocrites. pic.twitter.com/ImHYol0no7
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 8, 2020
Like most of you, I am just so sick of this coronabro hysteria.
This has been going on for months now. Protesting the lockdowns? EVERYONE WILL DIE! Protesting the police? STANDING UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PUBLIC HEALTH.
It’s just all so absurd.
5. Florida absolutely dominated Georgia.
The Georgia Bulldogs, as I expected, just don’t have the offense to keep up with Florida. The blood bank guarantee cashed with ease.
Kyle Trask is a legitimate Heisman candidate, and the Gators are firing on all cylinders right now.
The Bulldogs just aren’t in their class, especially on offense.
So Florida is now poised to run the table. Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU just aren’t in their class offensively. The Gator defense is improving, but even if they have a poor game, I don’t think any of the teams left on the schedule can match Florida in a shootout.
If I’m right, the Gators will be 9-1 rolling into the SEC title game with Alabama sitting there at 10-0. Beat the Tide, and Florida would punch their playoff ticket. But, similarly, Alabama would be in at 10-1 as well.
So the SEC’s pathway to two playoff teams is pretty clear: Florida has to win out, and Alabama has to win out but lose the SEC title game.
If, however, Alabama wins out completely and finishes 11-0, then the Tide will 100% be the number one overall seed in the playoff. That would set up a 2 vs. 3 match up between Clemson and Ohio State in the playoff again with the Tide likely to be waiting in the title game for the winner of that game.
6. So where are we in the overall playoff picture now?
I think it’s pretty clear that Alabama is the best team in the nation. Then I’d put Notre Dame in as the second best team and Ohio State in as the third best team. That’s based on Notre Dame having played more games and having a bigger win than any Ohio State has.
That leaves a playoff race for the fourth best team in the country.
Clemson is in the best position because if the Tigers win out, they’d be 11-1 and ACC champs, having erased their lone loss on the season, which they sustained in double overtime on the road without their starting quarterback.
So if Clemson wins out, they’d be in the playoff.
But Clemson’s not the only team that controls their playoff path.
If Florida wins out, beating Alabama in the SEC title game, I think it would be virtually impossible to leave the Gators out. So I think Florida and Alabama would bump out 11-1 Notre Dame for the fourth playoff spot in that scenario. Especially if, as appears likely, Texas A&M finishes 9-1, meaning the Gator’s tight loss on the road doesn’t hurt them much at all.
So here’s my playoff flow chart right now as we prepare to enter the home stretch.
2. Notre Dame
3. Ohio State
6. Texas A&M
7. Oklahoma State, if they win the title with one loss
8. An undefeated Pac-12 champ
I’m not sure there’s any other team with a legit claim to the playoff if they win out then the eight I just listed above.
7. The Big Ten is a mess.
Michigan and Penn State are having awful seasons. Penn State is 0-3, and I legitimately wonder if Jim Harbaugh is going to finish out the complete season at Michigan right now.
Meanwhile Wisconsin still hasn’t played a game since week one, and we’re not sure if they are going to play another game. If the season ended today, Northwestern would win the Big Ten West.
And the second best team in the Big Ten may well be, wait for it, the Indiana Hoosiers!
Congrats to long suffering Indiana Hoosier fans on being 3-0.
8. Tennessee has lost four in a row and looks lost.
Consider this: Tennessee held Arkansas scoreless for three of the four quarters last night in Fayetteville, led 13-0 at halftime, and still lost by double digits.
All that thanks to a 24-0 third quarter from Arkansas.
I’ve watched a lot of Tennessee football over the years, and the second half performance last night was as bad of football as I’ve ever seen.
It’s one thing for Tennessee to lose to Georgia and Alabama, but I’m at a loss to explain how it’s possible to lose by double digits to Kentucky and Arkansas. The Vols have way better talent than both of those teams. It just shouldn’t happen.
Meanwhile, congrats to Arkansas. I love the coaching staff Sam Pittman has put together. Kendal Briles on offense and Barry Odom on defense have melded well. When the season began, 0-10 seemed possible for Arkansas. Now the Razorbacks already have three wins — and should have four if the Auburn call had been made correctly.
As for Tennessee, 3-7 looks likely. I really don’t see the Vols beating anyone but Vanderbilt left on the schedule, and frankly, I’m not sure they win that game since Vandy will be super psyched for it to try and avoid going 0-10.
As frustrating as Jarrett Guarantano’s play can be, when he went out with a concussion there was no one else on the team anywhere near as good as he was. The offense effectively disappeared for the remainder of the game.
For the first ten quarters of the season, the Vols played good football. They were 2-0 and had a halftime lead against Georgia.
Since that time it has been an abject disaster.
9. How about Hugh Freeze at Liberty?!
The Flames are now 7-0, and they have two ACC road wins on the season, which is more road wins than most teams that are actually in the ACC have this season.
Freeze is in an interesting spot now. Ordinarily, there would be a mad rush in college football to sign him, but how many big programs are going to fire their coaches and pay massive buyouts — plus sign a new head coach — while they are in the process of cutting salaries and laying off people due to COVID?
I don’t think there will be any, honestly.
Michigan might be in the mix for a new coach, however, because Jim Harbaugh could leave to go back to the NFL. That could set off some coaching dominoes.
My best bet right now is that Freeze will be at Liberty for a third season, and then he’ll be a tremendously hot coaching commodity come 2021 when presumably budgetary issues will be less significant.
Also, don’t overlook what Jamey Chadwell at Coastal Carolina is doing. The Chanticleers are undefeated and ranked 15 in the nation right now.
Liberty and Coastal Carolina play the final week of the season, and both teams are potentially going to be undefeated and ranked in the top 25 for that game.
That would be incredible to see.
10. My OutKick Top Ten
2. Notre Dame
3. Ohio State
5. Texas A&M
11. My SEC power rankings 1-14
2. Texas A&M
10. South Carolina
11. Ole Miss
12. Mississippi State
Thanks for reading OutKick. I’m off to the Bears-Titans game now. Go get your $1 bets in that return $100 if you pick the correct winner. I’m on the Titans.