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Notre Dame Football: As USC & Ohio State Improve, So Do Irish’s Playoff Chances

It feels unnatural to root for a sworn enemy and a regional foe, but playoffs makes for strange bedfellows.

Wake Forest v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a 58 percent chance to make the playoff if they win out, according to FiveThirtyEight’s updated forecast.

That figure, however, exists only in a vacuum. Unfortunately for the Irish, playoff contenders have equal opportunity to improve their resumes at the same time.

So I decided to figure out who Irish fans should be rooting for if they want to maximize the chances of Notre Dame making the playoff. (All of these figures assume the Irish win their final three games, which is hardly a given.)

The results are probably going to make you uneasy. If you want the Irish to make the playoffs, you should be rooting for the USC Trojans, Auburn Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes to win out.

Notre Dame’s Playoff Chances After Week 10

ND's chances if... BAMA wins out UGA wins out OU wins out WISC wins out UW wins out OSU wins out TCU wins out AUB wins out USC wins out
ND's chances if... BAMA wins out UGA wins out OU wins out WISC wins out UW wins out OSU wins out TCU wins out AUB wins out USC wins out
UGA, CLEM win out n/a 51% 41% 34% 33% 55% 41% n/a 65%
UGA, OU win out n/a 49% 49% 26% 37% 60% n/a n/a 61%
UGA, WISC win out n/a 44% 26% 44% 30% n/a 43% n/a 60%
UGA, UW win out n/a 44% 37% 30% 44% 50% 40% n/a n/a
BAMA, CLEM win out 43% n/a 33% 29% 31% 43% 40% n/a 49%
BAMA, OU win out 42% n/a 42% 30% 33% 44% n/a n/a 48%
BAMA, WISC win out 40% n/a 30% 40% 28% n/a 34% n/a 51%
BAMA, UW win out 41% n/a 33% 28% 41% 41% 32% n/a n/a
CLEM, OU win out 33% 41% 39% 23% 29% 44% n/a 47% 48%
CLEM, WISC win out 29% 34% 23% 36% 24% n/a 31% 53% 44%
CLEM, UW win out 31% 33% 29% 24% 37% 38% 32% 44% n/a
OU, WISC win out 30% 26% 34% 34% 25% n/a n/a 50% 43%
OU, UW win out 33% 37% 37% 25% 37& 39% n/a 42% n/a
WISC, UW win out 28% 30% 25% 34% 34% n/a 28% 45% n/a


The Trojans help the Irish’s fortunes considerably because:

  • they’ll be 11-2 with one of the two losses being to Notre Dame, making it extremely unlikely they hop an 11-1 Irish.
  • they’ll have likely beaten the Washington Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship game, who will enter with one loss and pose the biggest threat to the Irish if they were to win out.

Now, at the risk of incurring Alan Wasielewski’s wrath, I am not advocating that you cheer for USC in its remaining games against the Colorado Buffaloes, UCLA Bruins and a possible Pac-12 Championship opponent.

Just understand that Trojans wins are actually a positive thing for Notre Dame’s playoff chances, no matter how dirty that thought makes you feel.


This one seems obvious, but here’s the explanation: By winning out, the Tigers maximize the Irish’s playoff chances because they’ll have knocked off two teams currently in front of Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff rankings: the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide.

Auburn has one conference loss, so if they beat Alabama, that would give them a second crack at Georgia in SEC Championship. Beating Georgia twice would most likely eliminate the Bulldogs from playoff consideration. And Alabama will be on the outside of the SEC Championship looking in, with no “13th data point” — which will leave them with an identical 11-1 record as Notre Dame.


Notre Dame’s biggest impediment to the playoff is a Pac-12 Champion Washington Huskies team. Almost as equally as dangerous are the Big 10 Champion Wisconsin Badgers, who would have to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers and likely the winner of this weekend’s Michigan State Spartans / Buckeyes matchup.

FiveThirtyEight says the likelihood of Michigan State winning out is 3 percent, so their simulations almost never include Michigan State, Notre Dame and two other teams winning out. Suffice to say, the Irish’s 38-18 win over Big 10 Champion Michigan State would probably look great for Notre Dame’s a vacuum.

Ohio State can help the Irish by winning out and beating Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship. At that point, the Buckeyes would be a two-loss division champion. That would look especially good for the Irish if the Oklahoma Sooners and Georgia Bulldogs both win their division and finish 12-1 and 13-0, respectively, according to FiveThirtyEight. The Sooners and Bulldogs would definitely be in, the forecasters say, with the Irish’s chances at earning a playoff bid at 60 percent. (Clemson would be the likely fourth team in this scenario.)


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