It’s still more than week until No. 2 Notre Dame rematches with No. 4 Clemson in the ACC Championship game, the undefeated Fighting Irish’s first-ever foray into a conference-title clash in its only season ever in a conference.
Notre Dame is in incredibly rare territory at this juncture in the college football season: no other program owns a win against a then-No. 1 football team, courtesy the Irish’s 47-40, double-overtime win on Nov. 7 against visiting Clemson.
Only Coastal Carolina, right now, matches Notre Dame’s gleaming 10-0 mark.
Yet 11th-year Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, whose team already is installed as 7- to 9-point underdog in Las Vegas sports books, isn’t offended when asked to engage in a hypothetical scenario of his Irish losing Round 2 against Clemson in an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show this week.
“Yeah, look, it’s not my decision to make, but our body of work is pretty good,” Kelly said of his squad’s College Football Playoff bona fides – IF it loses to Clemson. “We would have beaten the No. 1 team in the country. Who knows how North Carolina is going to finish against Miami? 10-1, probably if we’re making an assumption losing to Clemson, that’s No. 4 in the country. I think that’s a pretty good body of work. It will put us right there in terms of making the decision.
“So, yeah, I would say that as long as we’re competitive and playing at the level that we’ve played at all year, yeah we should be one of the four teams.”
Eisen also asked Kelly to weigh on Clemson’s CFP-worthiness – if the Irish can take down the Tigers for a second time. Notre Dame and Ohio State occupy the two spots immediately behind the No. 1 Tide, followed by Clemson and then No. Texas A&M.
Kelly used the opening to point to undefeated Cincinnati, Kelly’s stop prior to Notre Dame.
“You’re going to have to start comparing the two-loss teams against the single-loss teams,” Kelly said. “That becomes a whole lot different when you’re talking about two losses versus a single-loss team. Or an undefeated team like Cincinnati, for example. I think that gets a little bit more complicated than maybe our situation. That’s why it was so important for us to go undefeated, which we did. Now, we don’t control our own destiny. We still have to win, but it puts us in a better situation [to be selected in the event of a loss].”
While he did not single out Ohio State in a follow-up question, Kelly emphasized the difference in a 10- or 11-game schedule as opposed to half as many games. The Buckeyes are not playing this weekend after Michigan’s cancellation due to COVID-19 factors, and they head into the following weekend’s Big Ten Championship at 5-0 – an entrant only after the league’s mid-week rule change facilitating the Buckeyes’ appearance.
“It doesn’t really matter what I believe, but it matters what the committee believes. I believe as a football coach 10 or 11 games is a lot different than five or six games,” Kelly said. “Because you’re dealing with injuries. You’re dealing with the psyche of a football team. You’re dealing with COVID for another five or six weeks; the discipline of your football team over that time. I think it makes a difference. And if you’re just saying hey it’s all about the eye test and what that team looks like in a vacuum, then it doesn’t matter to them.
“But as a football coach and somebody who understands all of the nuances of putting a football team on the practice field and having to handle things in the training room and COVID, then I think playing 11 games versus five or six absolutely matters.”