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How would Notre Dame have done in a 12 team college football playoff in 1995?

Notre Dame is in it for a minute

Lyron Cobbins

The 12 team college football playoff is going to happen, and it’s likely going to start in 2023. These are “almost facts” because it’s what we are expecting, but hasn’t quite been announced yet (just give it a bit). The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are heavily in the mix — albeit in a different way than teams in conferences — but we’re not the to debate the merits of the proposal.

I’m here to have a little fun.

Playoff scenarios are nothing new, and writers have been banging these things out for years, but now we have a fairly solid blueprint for how the playoff will be in the future and can piece together how the past years’ tournaments would have looked.

So let’s do 1995. Why? Well it was my senior year in high school and Notre Dame had a good enough season to be in the playoff. That’s all the reason we need.

The college football landscape was quite different in 1995 compared to today, and before we get into the brackets, I need to explain some of the differences (mostly for our younger audience I suppose).


Yeah, yeah... conferences schmonferences. We don’t need to go through ALL of the pre-conference alignment settings that existed in 1995, but a small refresher of the big basics is fine.


Here were the major conferences in 1995:

  • Big 10
  • Big 8
  • SEC
  • ACC
  • PAC 10
  • Big East
  • SWC

Instead of the Power 5, we really had a Power 7. Three of those conferences don’t exist today, and the rest of them have seen massive additions and moves.

Just for fun, here are the other Division 1A (ain’t a FBS yet) conferences:

  • MAC
  • WAC
  • Big West
  • And 12 Independent schools
Notre Dame’s Powlus With The Ball Photo by Bob Stowell/Getty Images

Notre Dame’s 1995 Season

Very quickly... 1995 was a mediocre year given its proximity to the late 80’s Irish teams and the 1993 season (which we’ll likely do one of these for if I get bored enough over the next month). Notre Dame started the season ranked #9, and dropped a close game to an up and coming Northwestern Wildcats squad that finished the regular season ranked #3 (despite dropping the next game to Miami-Ohio). The Irish run off three straight against Purdue, Vanderbilt, and Texas before they are ranked 15th and go on the road to Columbus to take on the #7 Buckeyes — which did not go well. Notre Dame is now ranked ranked 23rd, but wins the rest of their regular season games against #15 Washington, Army, #5 USC, Boston College, Navy, and Air Force. At the end of the regular season, Notre Dame is ranked #6 and playing as well as (almost) anyone.

The Rankings

The Seeding

Using the proposed playoff rules of automatic bids for the top 6 conference champions, as well as the top 4 of those conference champions being the top 4 seeds — here’s how the 12 seeds shake out:

  1. Nebraska Cornhuskers - Big 8
  2. Florida Gators - SEC
  3. Northwestern Wildcats - Big 10
  4. Florida State Seminoles - ACC
  5. Ohio State Buckeyes - Big 10
  6. Tennessee Volunteers - SEC
  7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish - IND
  8. Colorado Buffaloes - Big 8
  9. Texas Longhorns - SWC
  10. Kansas State Wildcats - Big 8
  11. Kansas Jayhawks - Big 8
  12. USC Trojans - PAC 10

How It All Goes Down

Knowing the end result, this entire exercise feels extremely silly — but here we are. (All projections are based off of 100% pure guess and bias and that’s all the truth you need).

In the first round, Ohio State whoops up on USC, while Colorado and Notre Dame take care of Texas and Kansas State in fairly close games. Tennessee survives a scare from the Fighting Glen Masons of Kansas.

Notre Dame versus Florida looks like a mismatch on paper, but the Gators were vulnerable against the power rushing attack and crumbled at the sight of a pick six — things the 1995 Irish squad did pretty well. Next comes Peyton Manning and Tennessee, but Ron Powlus Tom Krug can outduel that guy.

University of Nebraska v West Virginia Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

And now we’re here to the end and yeah... Tommie Frazier’s Nebraska team. Maybe one of the greatest two year runs in college football history. No amount of homerism can make up for that demon corn grower — the Irish are routed (but maybe not as bad as the 62-24 beatdown Nebraska put on Florida).

In this made up scenario, we took a 9-3 Irish team that lost in the Orange Bowl to the Noles, and see them make it to the title game to finish 11-3 for the year. Sure — why not?