Friday, when I heard about the brewing academic scandal at Notre Dame, I had one immediate thought: How it potentially could affect the first college football playoff.
Not because I’m projecting Notre Dame to be a factor in the thing (although it could). But because three Pac-12 teams play the Irish, and suddenly, if the four suspended Notre Dame players aren’t reinstated, it figures to materially affect the strength of schedule of a couple of possible darkhorses for the playoff.
Stanford, Arizona State and USC all play the Irish this year, and it wouldn’t be a total stretch to see the Cardinal or USC make a run at the playoff. I’m not expecting that to happen, but the point is, the value of a game against Notre Dame — whether it’s a victory or defeat — suddenly gets cheapened if the Irish play the season without KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore. (Russell is the junior cornerback from Mariner High School.)
Not that anybody questions the strength of a nine-game Pac-12 schedule. But combine that with a game against a full-strength Notre Dame team, one ranked No. 17 by the coaches in the preseason, and you might have a foolproof strength-of-schedule argument against just about anybody else.
The Notre Dame example is the extreme one — four players whose absence could virtually sabotage their team’s season. But to some extent, every instance of injury or suspension is going to be micro-analyzed this year, because, let’s face it, there’s bound to be controversy when the 13-person selection committee figures out which are the best four teams in the land. If, for instance, Michigan State were to beat Ohio State when the Buckeyes are without Braxton Miller, somebody whose favorite team is locked up with the Spartans in the race for the playoff is going to question the value of that victory.
Get ready to see a lot of hairs split.