A Jersey Guy had it all figured out a week ago. One more loss and Notre Dame's chances of making the Final Four college football playoffs would be over.
And that's what happened Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium, where the Irish dug themselves into a 36-7 hole against Michigan State but ran out of time after staging a second half comeback which left them on the L side of a 36-28 game.
So there it was. The harsh reality of a 1-2 start. The defensive numbers were even more depressing for ND fans. Three games in which the Irish allowed a total of 96 points. Statistics in which they were ranked 102 in the country (out of 128) in total defense, sandwiched between those two SEC powers Vanderbilt (101) and Missouri (103).
Public sparks flared on national television between Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and his embattled defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
It is a situation worth watching. In his Tuesday press conference, Kelly did not hide his emotions.. ""Obviously a bad start to the season,'' he said. "I m a 1-2 football coach.''[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
As to his relationship with his DC, including the on-air "discussion, Kelly said, ""It's my office. If it was in your office, they'd probably see interactions.''
Van Gorder is the flash point for many ND backers. He has bounced around in his career with stops in the SEC and the NFL and he has not developed a fan club, including an amazing Wikipedia assessment which reads as follows: "Van Gorder is widely known as the "worst defensive coordinator'' in NCAA football, per numerous media sources.''
Nothing that has happened this far has changed that assessment. Some Notre Dame alumni such as my friend Jim Donaldson, who recently retired as a columnist for the Providence Journal, have not hidden their anger, calling for Van Gorder's dismissal and wondering how the Irish, who recruit well each season, can be so bad defensively. "They are horrible,'' said Donaldson.
All of this has created choppy waters in South Bend.
Will there be a mid-season changing of the guard on the Irish coaching staff? Will this season, once filled as usual with hopes of national championship runs, implode before the South Bend campus takes on its autumn tint?
So many questions, but one thing seemed clear. At 1-2, not even Notre Dame could climb all the way back into the championship chase.
But then the world of college football went off line. Florida State, very much a contender for playoff honors, lost to Louisville. Not only lost, but was pummeled by a score of 63-20.
Texas, a surprise winner over the Irish in the opener, was upset by California. Oklahoma, like Notre Dame, found itself with a 1-2 record after three games.
The SEC had only one team in the Top 14. The Big 12 all but disappeared from the playoff picture.
Was there? Could there be? Is it possible that Notre Dame could still wind up dancing in the semifinals in either Atlanta or Arizona in January?
The answer amazingly is, a definite maybe.
First of all, There is no more wiggle room. But a 10-2 Notre Dame can be a contender for one of four spots if the following scenarios take place:
The Irish must win the remainder of their regular season games. And once again, the ACC is helping.
Because the ACC signed a deal which gave Notre Dame teams which don't qualify for the College Football Playoffs a safe bowl haven by signing a deal with the Irish requiring ND to play 5 ACC teams each season in exchange for a spot in the ACC bowl line up.
Notre Dame's next three games are against Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina State, all second tier ACC teams. Count on the Irish to put the pedal to the metal on all three games to build up both momentum and style points going into a meeting with Stanford on Oct. 15.
The Irish need some luck in this as well. They need Stanford to be unbeaten or only have one loss and a Top 15 ranking going into that game. Since the game is in South Bend, Notre Dame can pull off the upset.
After Stanford, the Irish face Miami (in South Bend), Navy in Jacksonville, Fla and Army in San Antonio, Texas. Combined, the three schools are 9-0. But the Irish can win all three and none of them would be true upsets, although Miami is gaining stature.
Notre Dame's final regular season games are at home against Virginia Tech (winnable) and a regular season finale at USC. Again, a winnable game.
That's Phase I. Now comes the other part about "Luck for the Irish"".
The playoffs have four spots for 5 Power 5 conference schools, plus Notre Dame and possibly one Group of 5 conference rep.
Again, it's not looking impossible for the Irish.
The ACC (1).
Should get one spot from a group which includes Clemson and Louisville and possibly Miami or FSU. But Miami must get past Florida State and Notre Dame and beat either Louisville, FSU or Clemson in the ACC title game.
Louisville has two major challenges: road games at Clemson and at Houston. One ACC spot appears solid, but the odds of two ACC teams receiving bids diminished considerably with FSU's one sided loss to Louisville.
The SEC (1)
Normally, two bids would seem highly probable. But this year it looks like Alabama and no one else.
The Big 12 (0)
Baylor is the Conference's best chance right now and that doesn't sit well with anybody outside of Waco.
The Group of 5 (1)
Only Houston is viable and the Cougars must get past Louisville and that game is in Houston. ND needs someone to knock out the Cougars.
The Big Ten (1)--Looks like a repeat of last season with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State all battling each other in the Big Ten East. Two looks like a a reach.
The Pac (12) (0)-- Here's where ND needs some more help. The Irish can take care of Stanford, but need someone to beat Washington (Stanford, Oregon?). The Irish might trump a one-loss Stanford if they have won the head to head battle. Edging out a one-loss Washington team will be a close call.
The best-case scenario for ND is to for Louisville to beat Houston, keep the Big 12 out of the picture, and eliminate the Pac-12. That would leave the SEC champion, the ACC champion, the Big Ten champion and...Notre Dame.
But the Irish no longer control their own destiny, and they need help in several areas from other parts of the country. But, there is more than a glimmer of hope as long as they figure out how to outscore their opponents each week.
The odds are still against the Irish in reviving their season. They must fix the defense and they must indeed have the luck of the Irish in what happens in other conferences.
Kelly knows what he must do, saying he will be spending more time in the defensive meetings this week and in the future. "I have to be at the defensive meetings,'' he said. "I have know what the game plan is.''
The overall game plan remains the same and until ND lose's one more time, there is still a chance that there will be more cheers than jeers for the Irish.