Big Game Hunting: Can No. 9 Notre Dame win its way back to the College Football Playoff?

The picks are in: Notre Dame-Virginia, Northwestern-Wisconsin, Michigan-Penn State, Purdue-Ohio State, Minnesota-Iowa and more.

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Navy v Notre Dame

Kevin Austin Jr. and Michael Mayer celebrate a Notre Dame touchdown.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

One way to sift through the latest College Football Playoff rankings: ask the oddsmakers to ignore them and instead tell us which teams are the best bets to win the championship.

Top-ranked Georgia is an even-money favorite, followed by, in order, No. 2 Alabama (3-to-1), No. 4 Ohio State (4-to-1), No. 8 Oklahoma (14-to-1), No. 3 Oregon (25-to-1), No. 5 Cincinnati (50-to-1) and Nos. 6 Michigan and 7 Michigan State (66-to-1 each). Anyone else is such a silly longshot, you’d be better off throwing down a fin on the Bears to win the Super Bowl.

Too fun not to share: a contact at BetOnline passed along spreads for hypothetical neutral-site matchups involving potential playoff teams. Georgia, for example, would be favored by 2 over Alabama, 6 over Ohio State, 12 over Oklahoma, 15 over Cincinnati and 17 over Oregon.

Not included in this exercise: the Michigan schools — or No. 9 Notre Dame.

But what about the 8-1 Irish? Any chance at all they can win their way into the playoff for the third time in four seasons?

It helps to have a high-profile game Saturday in terms of time and network, if not such a high-profile opponent. Notre Dame (-5) at Virginia (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7, 780-AM) is a game the Irish have to have — in resounding fashion — before closing contests against lowly Georgia Tech and Stanford that really can’t help the cause beyond padding the ol’ record.

At 11-1, the Irish still would need a mind-blowing amount of help from the teams currently above them. Try to imagine it all: Alabama kicking itself to the curb by stumbling at Auburn and losing to Georgia in the SEC title game. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State each losing one more — not all that far-fetched, actually — enabling the Irish to overtake the entire Big Ten. Oregon falling at Utah or in the Pac-12 title game (potentially a rematch with the rugged Utes).

See? Notre Dame kind of has a shot. Maybe even a better-than-Bears-to-the-Super Bowl shot.

Georgia Tech v Virginia

Armstrong (5) is a lot to deal with.

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

But first: 6-3 Virginia on its turf. The Cavaliers have scored 48, 48 and 49 points in their last three games. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong (status: uncertain due to a rib injury) is a dynamic dual threat in an offense that has no “off” switch. And this team is coming off a bye week — albeit after giving up a cartoonish 734 yards and 66 points in a loss at BYU.

So, yeah, the Irish need to go to Charlottesville and bust some heads. That Cavs offense, though. Irish, 45-34.


Northwestern (+25) at No. 18 Wisconsin (11 a.m., ESPN2, 720-AM): After a not-terrible 17-12 loss to Iowa, the Wildcats might have at least a shred of confidence left. They’ll pack the box defensively knowing the hot Badgers don’t have the passing game to completely light them up. Badgers win, Cats cover in another ugly, low-scoring affair.

No. 6 Michigan (-1½) at Penn State (11 a.m., Ch. 7): The Nittany Lions still are dangerous and still can spoil the Wolverines’ — and Michigan State’s — seasons. There’s no earthly reason to take a Jim Harbaugh team in a close game, but will it be close? Maize and Blue, 30-17.

No. 8 Oklahoma (-5½) at No. 13 Baylor (11 a.m., Fox-32): The playoff committee has sent a clear message to the Sooners that their parade of narrow victories hasn’t been all that impressive. It only takes one big quarter, though, for QB Caleb Williams to save his team’s bacon again. Boomer by enough.

No. 1 Georgia (-20½) at Tennessee (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2): The Vols are sneaky-decent, especially on offense. Not that anybody has done a lick of good against the Bulldogs’ defense. Perfect stays perfect, 34-16.

No. 19 Purdue (+21) at No. 4 Ohio State (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7): We’ve learned by now that the Boilermakers are far from pushovers. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are in the top four on reputation more than on performance. C.J. Stroud is terrific, but he’s not Justin Fields. OSU, 34-20.

Ole Miss v Alabama

He’s better than OK, Corral.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No. 11 Texas A&M (-2½) at No. 15 Mississippi (6 p.m., ESPN): It’s all about corralling Rebels QB Matt Corral for the SEC’s second-best defense. This will be a fun one, folks, and that’s a promise. Aggies lock it down with a late stand.

No. 16 NC State (+2) at No. 12 Wake Forest (6:30 p.m., ACC): Winner puts itself in great shape to unseat Clemson in the ACC Atlantic. Yo, Deacs, it’s called defense — maybe give it a look sometime. Wolfpack, 41-30.

Washington State (+14) at No. 3 Oregon (9:30 p.m., ESPN): Some of us are old enough to remember when the Ducks rolled up giant scores on Pac-12 pretenders without breaking a sweat. Do ducks sweat? Quackers clinch the North, 35-24.

My favorite favorite: No. 7 Michigan State (-13) vs. Maryland (3 p.m., Fox-32): The Spartans need both victories and style points. The Terps give up a few touchdowns and lose the turnover battle before getting out of bed.

My favorite underdog: Minnesota (+5½) at No. 20 Iowa (2:30 p.m., BTN): Two broken offenses, two excellent defenses — but the Gophers have been at their best on the road this season. Upset.

Last week: 6-3 straight-up, 5-4 vs. the spread.

Season to date: 62-31 straight-up, 52-40-1 vs. the spread.

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