Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State will be back in the College Football Playoff again after those three powerhouses won their conference championship games Saturday.
That leaves one spot when the pairings are revealed Sunday, and a big 12-hour debate.
So, who you got: Notre Dame or Texas A&M? The fifth-ranked Aggies capped an 8-1 season with a 34-13 victory against Tennessee on Saturday. No. 3 Clemson routed No. 2 Notre Dame 34-10 in the ACC championship game, dropping the Irish to 10-1.
To be clear, Cincinnati should be in that argument too — but we’re operating off the assumption the Group of 5 won’t be left in the four-team playoff.
As a result, an unorthodox campaign is going to break out on both sides:
“Our loss is better than yours!”
Here is the case for Texas A&M, the case for Notre Dame and what we think will ultimately happen:
The case for Texas A&M
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher had no problems pulling out the SEC card after a 34-13 victory against Tennessee on Saturday.
The Aggies lost 52-24 to No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 3 — a game in which Mac Jones passed for 435 yards and four touchdowns with star receiver Jaylen Waddle on the field. Waddle suffered a season-ending injury against Tennessee on Aug. 24.
Texas A&M’s 28-point loss would be the largest ever by a one-loss team to make the College Football Playoff, but the Aggies’ response since has been impressive since that loss. Texas A&M ripped off seven straight victories, including a 41-38 upset of Florida, and persevered through three games that were postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. The Aggies don’t have a conference championship — and didn’t play for one — but isn’t that the argument Notre Dame always uses?
Texas A&M averages 31.7 points per game, and the Aggies have allowed just 17.3 points per game in the eight victories.
The case for Notre Dame
The Irish can pull out the conference championship card, another new wrinkle to the argument, given their one-year lease in the ACC.
Notre Dame beat Clemson 47-40 in a double-overtime thriller on Nov. 7 in what was billed as a Game of the Year. The rematch wasn’t nearly as dramatic. Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence played this time, passing for 322 yards and two touchdowns; he led the Tigers to a 24-3 lead at halftime. The Tigers were never seriously challenged in the blowout.
The Irish, alongside Alabama and Ohio State, was the only unbeaten Power 5 team after the regular season. They could still make the argument that they did more in the regular season before the conference championship game than the Aggies. Notre Dame finished unbeaten in the regular season against an ACC schedule, and that included an impressive 31-17 victory against North Carolina on Thanksgiving weekend.
Brian Kelly: “We’ve got 2 top-15 wins, we’ve got a win over this Clemson team that was No. 1 in the country. IDK that anybody has a resume that has those 2 wins. And we’ve played 11 games…I think that in my mind puts us without question as one of the top-4 teams in the country”
— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) December 20, 2020
Notre Dame averaged 37.7 points per game in the regular season, and allowed 17.1 points per game in 10 victories.
Texas A&M or Notre Dame: Who’s in?
It’s an uncomfortable coin flip, but keep in mind that the committee never ranks teams on a head-to-head basis. They always use groups of three or more when determining rankings, and Cincinnati will likely be lumped into that conversation if they win the American Athletic Conference championship against Tulsa.
The Irish and Aggies likely will come out ahead of the Bearcats. That’s a discussion for another day about the fairness factor when it comes to Group of 5 schools.
Texas A&M had less on the line on Saturday, but playing on the final weekend of the season might work in the Aggies’ favor. Notre Dame’s loss also is fresh in mind, and that could have a significant impact on the committee’s last-minute arguments. An independent Irish team wouldn’t be in those discussions, but this one put that unbeaten record on the line on conference championship weekend.
It’s a tough call, because you are dealing with two one-loss teams that are the second-best teams in their respective conferences. And the reality is, both teams aren’t in the same class at Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State right now.
So what’s the answer? It’s Notre Dame — but we won’t be surprised if Texas A&M clips into that final spot.
How confident are we in that assessment? There’s a meme for that.