Is Notre Dame for real? Irish hope to prove the value of independence in 2017

Reason No. 5,216 Notre Dame values its independence:

This Saturday. No. 11 Southern California. Private planes flying into South Bend International Airport from all over the country. New and improved Notre Dame Stadium on display for the world.

Been there, done that? Sure, but not for a while. It's been all of two years since Notre Dame mattered this much halfway through the season. But it's been five years since the Irish actually played for it all and 29 years since they won it all.

Did we mention College Football Playoff implications? We should. Welcome to one of the first playoff elimination games of the season. Or something like that.

Either USC or Notre Dame is going to suffer its second loss and likely be a spectator in the CFP. One of these teams will be relegated to the back end of the late Saturday highlight shows for the foreseeable future.

Since 2015, ND has contended, then cratered and forced Brian Kelly to craft a new staff. He even produced the first highly-coveted NFL quarterback of his quarter-century career.

It's time to talk actual football at a place where we haven't been able to lately. Kelly complained in the offseason about off-field distractions. At least one critic contended Notre Dame was starting not to matter.

Funny how there's less of that when you're 5-1.

For the first time in a long time -- well, OK, those two years -- Notre Dame controls its own championship destiny in the third week of October.

Grab the sheleighlies and warm up the leprechaun, quarterback Brandon Wimbush's right foot is 100 percent healthy, too.

Luck of the … No, don't say it. Stick the facts, not the sleeping echoes. Halfway through the season, Notre Dame is a playoff contender as much for its independence as for what it has accomplished.

On the surface, the No. 13 Irish are 5-1 with one of the best-looking losses of the season, 20-19 to Georgia on Sept. 9. That was a game scheduled in 2014. Who knew three years later it would have this significance? But that's why the Irish are independent. They take pride in arranging their own schedule.

Half-joining the ACC was a function of having access to the bowl system taking shape during the playoff era. Who knew that ND chasing its first-ever win over NC State (in three meetings) would be so important?

The Irish have already beaten No. 18 Michigan State in East Lansing. The second-half schedule includes at least four ranked teams: USC, NC State, Miami and Stanford. Navy (on Nov. 18) was ranked last week.

Try to find a team with a tougher second-half schedule. Those opponents are a combined 31-6.

If the Irish win out, they'd lack only that 13th data point. You know, that conference championship game to give them a boost into the top four. Notre Dame is one of four teams that don't have the possibility to play a 13th game each season. Army, BYU and Massachusetts -- all independents -- are the others.

You don't have to be told Notre Dame values independence over that 13th game. I thought it would be pushed closer to a conference once it was left out for playing only 12 games. That hasn't happened -- yet.

The playoff seal has already been broken on that barrier. Ohio State got into the playoff last year playing 12 games after finishing second in its division behind Big Ten champon Penn State.

It's supposed to be the four best teams in the playoff. Will ND be considered one of those the morning of Dec. 3 after not having played for eight days when the CFP Selection Committee meets for the final time?

First, the Irish have to get there. Look what crafty scheduling, rivalries and that partial ACC membership have left them.

  • USC has won 15 of its last 16 games, the only blemish a Sept. 29 loss at Washington State.
  • NC State's Dave Doeren's already has beaten Louisville and has the ACC's best conference record, 4-0.
  • Wake Forest, 4-2, has tied its second-best start since 2009.
  • Since the hurricane, the Hurricanes have flourished. The ACC's only unbeaten team in Miami has taken down Florida State and Georgia Tech in the last seconds in consecutive weeks.
  • Navy's best start in 14 years was interrupted last week by a loss to Memphis.
  • Stanford, 5-2, wrecked the Notre Dame playoff bid late in the 2015 season. It has the look of a season-wrecker again.

Who'd want to play a 13th game after that? 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories