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Could coaching vacancy hurt Notre Dame in football playoff quest?

The Fighting Irish, who are now without a head coach, will need some help to land a spot in the College Football Playoff.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Notre Dame Fighting Irish remain just on the outside of the College Football Playoff as they search for their next head coach

The playoff committee released its weekly rankings Tuesday night and Notre Dame is ranked sixth, two spots out of the playoffs. The poll was released about 12 hours after former head coach Brian Kelly met briefly with Notre Dame players before leaving for his new job at LSU, which he reportedly accepted Monday night.

Michigan moved up to the second spot in the rankings, taking the spot previously held by archrival Ohio State, whom the Wolverines beat 42-27 on Saturday. Michigan will face Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes are ranked 13th in this week's rankings, Ohio State dropped to seventh and needs a series of favorable outcomes to have a chance at returning to the playoffs.

Undefeated Georgia stayed in the top spot of the poll. The Bulldogs will face No. 3 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. A win by the Crimson Tide virtually assures the SEC of having two teams in the College Football Playoff, though a Georgia win would be just the second loss of the season for Alabama, who could remain in the hunt for a playoff bid.

Unbeaten Cincinnati grabbed the fourth spot in the rankings, ahead of Oklahoma State. The Bearcats host Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship on Saturday as Oklahoma State faces No. 9 Baylor in the Big 12 title game.

Credit: AP
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, center, runs onto the field for the team's NCAA college football game against Stanford in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Losses by Cincinnati and Oklahoma State could open the door for Notre Dame to earn a place in the playoff, though CFP Selection Chair Gary Barta said Kelly's departure could impact the Irish's chances.

"After the championships are all played and for our final ranking, referring to the committee does have in our protocol the ability to consider any players that won't be available or any coaches that won't be available and then factor that in along with our other protocol, our other criteria," Barta said in a conference call.

RELATED: ND coach Brian Kelly going to LSU

Notre Dame's only loss this season was a 24-13 defeat to Cincinnati in South Bend on Oct. 2. Their regular season ended with a 45-14 win at Stanford and without a conference affiliation, the Irish don't have a championship game to play this weekend. 

"When all the (championship) games are done, that's when we'll do our homework. That's when, if there is a team that's going into a game, where we can project whether or not a player or a coach not available is going to make a difference," Barta said Tuesday.

He added that the current rankings, with Notre Dame sixth behind Oklahoma State, but ahead of Ohio State, was an evaluation of their performance thus far, not a projection. 

The final rankings, which will determine the four teams in contention for a national championship, will be unveiled Sunday, Dec. 5 at noon.

The national championship game will be played Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Tuesday there was no timetable for finding Kelly's replacement, but that if an interim coach was selected from the current Irish coaching staff, that coach would not be considered for the permanent job.

College Football Playoff Rankings (Nov. 30, 2021)

  1. Georgia
  2. Michigan
  3. Alabama
  4. Cincinnati
  5. Oklahoma State
  6. Notre Dame
  7. Ohio State
  8. Ole Miss
  9. Baylor
  10. Oregon
  11. Michigan State
  12. BYU
  13. Iowa
  14. Oklahoma
  15. Pittsburgh
  16. Wake Forest
  17. Utah
  18. NC State
  19. San Diego State
  20. Clemson
  21. Houston
  22. Arkansas
  23. Kentucky
  24. Louisiana
  25. Texas A&M