In what’s becoming an ever-growing narrative near the top of the College Football Playoff rankings, ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum is reiterating a point this week made by several others heading down the home stretch this season.
Notre Dame (9-0), if it drops one of its final three games, would miss the final four in favor of 1-loss Michigan despite a head-to-head win over the Wolverines earlier this fall.
“This college football committee consists of 13 people and they don’t just look at the first game — they look at the body of work,” Finebaum said during Wednesday’s appearance on Get Up!. “I can’t pretend to replicate them because I can’t stand to listen to them every Tuesday night either when they go on ad nauseam about stuff that I don’t understand, but the point is that you have to look at what’s happening now. You have to compute that. What happened on Sept. 1 , the first weekend, should not have that much gravity even thought they did play.”
ESPN’s Football Power Index suggests Michigan would be favored by seven points vs. Notre Dame on a neutral field. In the opener, the Wolverines lost by a touchdown at South Bend after coming in as 3-point favorites at kickoff.
“You’re trying to project into a Playoff,” Finebaum said. “That’s now, not Sept. 1. That game is important, but the committee showed a couple years ago that Penn State’s win over Ohio State (didn’t matter). I realize I’m not arguing constitutional law here (and things can change), but I think you can not make that absolute statement.”
Playoff chairman Rob Mullens explained why the Irish are ranked higher than the Wolverines on Tuesday, though the door is open for Michigan to leap Notre Dame by winning out — and grabbing a Big Ten Championship, which is one of the committee’s points of emphasis.
“When you look at those teams, Michigan had a very impressive win on Saturday, that’s two consecutive wins, the best defense in the country and Shea Patterson continuing to improve,” Mullens said during ESPN’s reveal show. “At the same time, Notre Dame has had that steady defense and you’re seeing some growth with Ian Book at quarterback. At the end of the day through 10 weeks, you still have that head-to-head (win) so the committee thought Notre Dame at 3 and Michigan at 4 was appropriate this week.”
College GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit came to the same conclusion last month, commending Michigan’s strength defensively and the fact the Wolverines would have more quality wins than Notre Dame in addition to a Big Ten crown.
“If Michigan wins out, I’m not one of these guys who hangs on to a game that was played in late August, early September,” Herbstreit said on College GameDay on Oct. 27. “It was on the road for Michigan when they were a completely different team. Under your (Rece Davis) hypothetical if Notre Dame were to stumble, the argument for me, I would look at a Michigan team that lost Week 1 and then climbed and climbed and climbed. Win the Big Ten Championship, I would put Michigan ahead of Notre Dame if they stumbled.”
Desmond Howard doesn’t believe there’s a chance Notre Dame, at 11-1, gets in over Michigan if the Wolverines have a conference title as the key separation point. Championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results (if applicable) and comparative outcomes (like opponents) are all major points of emphasis during the Playoff selection process.
“I agree with you 100 percent,” Howard said. “Normally when we talk about early losses in this business, teams can bounce back. Both teams are very different than they were in Week 1. I would go with Michigan, especially since they’ll have a championship game too and probably will beat Wisconsin twice.”