STANFORD (AP) — Amid all the uncertainty surrounding the College Football Playoff, one thing is crystal clear: The loser of the Notre-Dame Stanford game won’t be part of the final four.
As for the winner, that will be a much more complicated question. With both teams currently outside the top four even a late-season win against a top-flight opponent might not be enough.
No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1 No. 6 CFP) certainly has a clearer path to the playoff than No. 13 Stanford(9-2, No. 9 CFP) with one fewer loss. But any scenario that ends in a playoff berth for these teams starts with a win today at Stanford Stadium.
The Cardinal also get another shot to impress the committee next week in the Pac-12 title game against either No. 23 UCLA or Southern California.
“I don’t believe in talking before doing,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We’ll see where we are after those two games and we’ll see where everybody else is. We may be deserving. We may not be deserving. But for us to think about anything other than Notre Dame is insanity because they’re good enough to get our full attention.”
While Shaw is not in campaign mode, Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly believes his team should be in the playoff with a season-ending win at Stanford. He pointed to the consistency Notre Dame has shown all season against a schedule that will feature four games against teams currently in the playoff rankings.
But despite all that, the Irish dropped from fourth to sixth after beating Boston College last week.
“I really don’t care about the rankings right now,” linebacker Joe Schmidt said. “All I care about isStanford. Really, we could be one, seven, nine, 11 and it does not matter. We still have to play the game against Stanford.”
Here are some other things to watch when Notre Dame visits Stanford:
HEISMAN HOPES: A big late-season performance against Notre Dame has historically provided a boost to many Heisman Trophy campaigns. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is hoping to do just that. The nation’s most versatile threat is averaging 255.2 all-purpose yards per game and is a threat as a runner, receiver and returner.
“He’s a game-wrecker,” Kelly said.
BANGED-UP IRISH: An injury-filled season for Notre Dame claimed a few more players. Leading rusher C.J. Prosise is doubtful with a sprained ankle. Freshman Josh Adams, who has three 100-yard rushing games and has 592 yards rushing, will get the bulk of the carries if Prosise can’t go. The Irish will be without their top cornerback after KeiVarae Russell broke his right leg last week.
“It’s definitely a void that has to be filled,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said of Russell’s injury.
HOGAN’S GOODBYE: This will be the final home game for one of the most productive quarterbacks ever to play at Stanford. Kevin Hogan’s 33 wins are the most all-time for a Cardinal quarterback and he ranks second in completion percentage (65.7 percent), passing efficiency (151.5) and fourth in TD passes (67) and yards passing (8,749).
“That’s someone you want on your side forever because he is such an unbelievable leader and person on and off the field,” McCaffrey said. “The legacy that he’s left here is right up there with all the greats.”
PROTECT THE BALL: The Irish are coming off a sloppy game against Boston College that included five turnovers, including three interceptions by DeShone Kizer. Notre Dame has committed 17 turnovers this season is minus-four on the season, though nine have come in two games.
“You worry a little bit about him wanting to do too much,” Kelly said. “Then you kind of talk to him and spend some time with him. And then you realize that some of the things that he’s doing, he’s seeing it for the first time and it’s a learning experience for him.”
MISSING PIECE: Stanford will be without at least one key starter with fullback Daniel Marx out for the season with a lower-leg injury. Chris Harrell will take over as the lead blocker for McCaffrey, although the Cardinal could also use one of their many tight ends in that role. Cornerback Ronnie Harris’ status is also in doubt with a sprained ankle that forced him to miss the Big Game last week.