MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — No. 3 Notre Dame is going to fall hard after a 41-8 loss to No. 7 Miami at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday.
"Well, Miami was the better team today and they deserved to win," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said afterward. "We did not see that coming, obviously. We felt like we were prepared to play at high level, but we did not."
You can lose a game. This year, you might even be able to lose two. You can get blown out this year, too. But you'd better have a conference title game to fall back on, however.
The Irish don't have that. That's why they will fall so far.
Think about it. The Irish had a chance to grab a marquee victory and play their way into the College Football Playoff without having to risk anything during championship week. Now, that lack of a championship game could be the biggest reason why the Irish miss out.
Despite the loss, Notre Dame isn't DOA from the College Football Playoff race; we can't say that for sure. The shakeups from Week 11 gave new life to teams like Auburn, Ohio State and USC. That's the crowd the Irish are hanging with now. Nine Power 5 teams have two losses. The others are Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Washington and Washington State. Two losses isn't the end-all yet.
Neither is a blowout. The Irish took a 33-point loss, the third-worst loss among the group after USC's 35-point loss to Notre Dame and Washington State's 34-point loss to Cal earlier this season. Here's a look at the margin of victory in those losses for the two-loss teams:
Penn State seemingly would have the best argument to be the most deserving two-loss team to make the playoff, but it's stuck in the same boat as Notre Dame if the Buckeyes beat Illinois next week and claim the Big Ten East division. The Nittany Lions won't have a chance to play for a conference championship game then.
That's part of the reason why Auburn, Ohio State, USC and either TCU or Oklahoma State are in better position. Those teams will have a chance to play for a conference championship game, and that could help erase the sting of those losses.
A one-loss Notre Dame can sit at home and watch. A two-loss team can't. In a year where we might see the first two-loss team crack the College Football Playoff, that conference championship makes a difference.
That won't erase this missed opportunity. Miami routed Notre Dame, and that's the biggest reason why the Irish likely will play in a New Year's Day Six bowl instead of the College Football Playoff. The committee won't have to answer that question this year, but at some point they will.
That won't help Notre Dame now.
"It's about how we respond now, individually and collectively — as a group — after a tough loss," Kelly said. "The challenge right now is about bouncing back. We are looking at markers within our own locker room for how guys respond. Football is a game that builds character, builds resolve and that's what we are looking for. It's kind of a bigger picture, I know, but that's what we are looking at."