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Delicious Cheeseburgers: How the Bye Helped ND in the Playoff Picture

It wasn't a perfect day for ND's playoff hopes, but it was a really good one.

I imagine Coach Kelly's face looked a bit like this watching some of Saturday's results roll in.
I imagine Coach Kelly's face looked a bit like this watching some of Saturday's results roll in.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The era of Notre Dame's deposed former coach Charlie Weis won't be remembered for much, besides the Bush Push game, the giant contract he got out of it, and the never-to-be-spoken-of 2007 season. But what he did provide was endless quotability. The most famous one, of course, was his infamous 'decided schematic advantage' crack, made to the players the first time he met with them. But we Irish fans more often pull out his far-less-known allusion to cheeseburgers, from 2006. At the time he was complaining - more than fairly, I might add - that Florida, who was on a bye, jumped ND in the polls after the Irish rallied to beat a good UCLA team that would later knock USC out of the national title game.

"They're sitting at home eating cheeseburgers and they ended up jumping us," Weis griped at the time.

Ever since, whenever good things happen to ND while they're not playing, we have a tendency to discuss it as we would a delicious cheeseburger. Mmmm...cheeseburgers.

Anyway, such was the case this week, when a few solid results benefited ND's playoff hopes. Here are a few of the key things that happened while we were eating cheeseburgers:

Florida State loses to Georgia Tech, and Clemson looms

This was easily the most unexpected boon to Notre Dame's playoff hopes. (How in the world do big games end, 2 weeks in a row, on walk-off special teams scores? Gotta love this sport.) The benefits to ND here are threefold.

1) Most obviously, it bumped ND past Florida State, for the moment, in the pecking order. ND doesn't have any wins over currently-ranked foes, yet, but neither does FSU, and they just lost to a team ND beat.

2) Far less important, but still good, is that Georgia Tech temporarily halted their free fall. At 3-5, there's essentially no chance the Jackets will look like anything resembling a signature win for ND at the end of the season, but that they knocked off a top-10 team at least proves they have some life.

3) This is more complicated. FSU losing to the Jackets now opens up the possibility that they could do ND a huge favor on Nov. 7 by knocking off Clemson. IF the Noles were to beat the Tigers, which seems unlikely at this point but is in play, that would give FSU the ACC Atlantic Division barring another loss. In so doing, it would de facto eliminate Clemson from the playoff race, as it's hard to believe an 11-1 Tigers team without a bonus game would have an acceptable playoff resume.

It's possible a 12-1 FSU with an ACC title would rate higher than an 11-1 ND, but who knows? FSU could lose a hypothetical ACC title game. Or the committee could give ND the nod over FSU anyway. Either way, Irish fans, barring a loss to Temple or Pitt, will have good reason to root hard for Everett Golson one last time when the Seminoles take on Clemson.

Clemson blasted Miami to kingdom come and continues to madden. I think many of us on this site believe ND is better than Clemson and would beat them in normal conditions, but the Irish didn't play Clemson in normal conditions, and they missed their chance. In the meantime, Clemson is building a pretty good case.

The Tigers will get the nod over ND if they're both up for a spot, which is why for the Irish's sake, they need to lose, the sooner and more often the better. I can't emphasize this enough: ND will get no 'credit' from the committee for losing in the fashion they did to Clemson. The committee made it clear last year: Head to head trumps 'better' loss. It'd be nice if that had always been the case, but it is now. It's not impossible for ND to get in the playoff if Clemson does, but it would be really difficult.

USC crushes Utah

This was a little less complicated. The Trojans' rout of Utah was an unqualified positive for ND. It temporarily knocked Utah behind the Irish in the playoff pecking order (again, lost to a team we beat, even though Utah has a better current resume otherwise). And USC suddenly looks like the team they were supposed to be all year. In-season turnarounds are hard to quantify, but I have to believe if the Trojans continue to perform well, even if they don't necessarily rise very high in the rankings, the committee will examine ND's win over the 'new and improved' USC and judge it accordingly. This was an excellent result.

MSU stays unbeaten

MSU's win over IU, which was in doubt well into the 4th quarter, was largely a non-issue - it would've been nice if the Spartans were knocked off, but it's hard to see the current iteration of MSU defeating Ohio State, and there's no way they'll get in the playoff picture without doing that. Their only other good win came on one of the all-time flukes. A glorious all-time fluke, mind you, but still a fluke. They wouldn't have a chance with one loss unless they somehow backed into the Big Ten title game anyway.

Late-season opponents keep moving up

BC lost, and Wake was idle, but neither of those really matter for ND's purposes anyway. The remaining three opponents, Temple, Pittsburgh and Stanford, all won. They're the ones that matter. I can't believe we're in a situation where we're hoping Temple bails out our SOS, but here we are.

The Owls rallied to beat East Carolina Thursday. It wasn't the prettiest, but a win is a win. Temple isn't liable to be a key notch on ND's belt, should the Irish get the win Saturday, but it would still be nice if they could pick up wins in November after - hopefully - a loss Saturday. Even if they're at the back of the top 25 at the end of November, it still counts as a ranked win.

Pittsburgh also didn't look the greatest in squeaking past Syracuse, but again, they won. The Panthers play UNC Thursday (and in the process become the 4th ND opponent of the last 5 to have more than a week to prepare for the Irish), and if they win there, they should be hovering in the lower part of the top 20 when ND invades Heinz Field Nov. 7.

Most importantly, Stanford creamed Washington. The Cardinal represent ND's great hope to impress the committee. Barring an upset the next 4 weeks, Stanford should be in or around the top 5 when they face the Irish, and if ND is 10-1 when that game occurs, it will be a titanic clash for both sides. It goes without saying, but a win there would be massive as a final statement by ND.