In what was a jam-packed Week 4 in college football, the game that took center stage was Notre Dame versus Ohio State. That, for all intents and purposes, was the main event. It was a perfect stage, one that consisted of a classic college football environment, matching up two historic top-10 teams against each other. It was also one that could hold massive CFP implications, particularly for Notre Dame football now.
Most, like ESPN college football analyst Paul Finebaum, believe that Notre Dame's 17-14 loss to Ohio State was the dagger in their season. But that doesn't seem likely. Sure, you can argue that Notre Dame once again failed to win a big game, falling to yet another top-5 team. But it can't go without saying how much improved the Fighting Irish looked on Saturday night.
For 59 minutes of a 60-minute game, Notre Dame football controlled the line of scrimmage, playing tough, physical football. Coming in, the Fighting Irish had a top-25 offense and defense, and one of those proved true, holding the Buckeyes to just 17 points on the night. But when it mattered most, when Notre Dame needed to prove their worth to the college football world, it faltered once again due to bad coaching in situational football. Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman has admitted to this, noting the error of only having 10 players on the field for the final two plays of the game, which inevitably helped Ohio State running back Chip Trayanum score the winning touchdown.
Does Notre Dame's loss to Ohio State mean that their playoff hopes are over, though? I don't think so.
Notre Dame went play for play with Ohio State
Marcus Freeman and Notre Dame's football players would probably argue, but that was as good of a loss as it gets. Notre Dame never looked out of the game against the Buckeyes. So often, the Irish have looked completely inferior to teams like then-No. 6 Ohio State, a team that has often been a playoff team. After all, they haven't beaten a top-6 team at home since their game against USC in 1973, according to CBS Sports. It's long overdue, but this game showed that the Fighting Irish are on the cusp of something special, looking better than they have maybe in decades. This time, they proved that they could compete at the highest level, even if it resulted in a heartbreaking loss.
Losing to Ohio State isn't the end of the world unless you're Michigan. Losing to a team by three points that was ranked in the top 6 at the time and is now ranked 4th isn't detrimental. If they had lost to Ohio State by more than that, where they completely lost control of the game early on, then voters definitely wouldn't consider this a playoff team. Notre Dame is just on the outside of the top 10, now ranked 11th. The playoff is still within grasp.
Notre Dame still plays two ranked opponents
The greatest challenge for the Notre Dame football program is that they don't play in a conference, where after their loss Saturday night they now have only a 5-percent chance of making the CFP, according to ESPN. Conference championship games could be especially important this season, given the parity across the country among teams. However, it may not be the sexiest schedule remaining, but the Irish still have No. 17 Duke and currently No. 8 USC left for this season.
Playing Duke right after the Ohio State loss is crucial for a couple of reasons. One, beating a ranked Duke team will prove that the Irish aren't giving up on their season and suffering a crushing loss the week before. And two, they get Duke now, right before the Blue Devils face the tough part of their schedule that starts with the Irish, where they may drop out of the top 25. Duke isn't quite the pushover that everyone thinks they are. This could be quite the game for Notre Dame, but one they definitely need to win.
Getting past Duke, they'll have a 4-0 Louisville team that no one is talking about. If Louisville can make it past NC State on Saturday, there's a good chance the Cardinals could be ranked, further helping the Irish's chances when they play them the following week. Beat a ranked Louisville, and then they have USC at home.
Again, the Irish will be relying on the fate of others leading up to this. They'll need USC to defeat the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder, which even after their drubbing from Oregon still may not be a gimme. USC will then have Arizona the week after, and barring any dramatic defensive collapse (not out of the realm of possibility) or a Caleb Williams bad game or injury, it will be an undefeated Trojans coming into South Bend on October 14, possibly ranked even higher than No. 8.
The biggest concern in Notre Dame's schedule is Clemson's collapse; they have already lost two games. Clemson could still find their way back into the top 25; however, they can't afford to lose any more games.
An Ohio State loss isn't detrimental
The only team that an Ohio State loss truly matters to is Michigan. While yes, a win over Ohio State football would have been perhaps the biggest Notre Dame win in more than two decades, a program-changing victory, the loss, specifically the margin of loss, is not one that I believe voters will look down upon when casting their votes in the College Football Playoff poll.
Luckily, this was Week 4, not Week 10. There's still a lot of the season left, where the trajectory of multiple teams could vastly change between now and the end of the season. Plus, you're looking at a season that could possibly have not only a one-loss team in the playoff but maybe even a two-loss team. Granted, I don't believe Notre Dame football would have the luxury of being able to afford another loss, but a single loss to Ohio State isn't the end of their playoff hopes.