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The Irish knocked off the Wolfpack 35-14 Saturday.
Laken Litman/IndyStar

SOUTH BEND – The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first poll of the season Tuesday night. And it’s possible that after going 4-8 one year ago, Notre Dame could be in the top four.

Here’s why: The 7-1 Fighting Irish are coming off consecutive victories of 20 points or more against top-15 opponents and have convincingly beat three teams contending for Power 5 conference championships (Michigan State, USC, North Carolina State). Its only loss is by one point to Georgia, a team that could win the SEC.

It’s a résumé that will stir much debate among the 13-person committee. Because there are only four spots in the current playoff structure, one Power 5 conference is always going to be left out. Add in Notre Dame and two will be without a representative. When ESPN showed its initial playoff projection over the weekend, it had two SEC teams in Alabama and Georgia in the Nos. 1 and 2 slots, followed by Notre Dame and Clemson, leaving out three Power 5 conferences.

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Adams ran for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Laken Litman/IndyStar

“The charge to the selection committee by the management committee was really clear: It was pick the four best teams,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a recent interview with IndyStar. He was asked if the Irish are a tricky situation for the selection committee given their independence.

“I have great confidence in the committee’s ability to navigate,” Swarbrick continued. “There are all kinds of differences among the teams they evaluate. And they work hard and look at the criteria available to them to make those decisions.

“But the challenge is to find the four best teams. There’s no qualification on that.”

Notre Dame will find out Tuesday night if it’s one of the four best teams at this point in the season. It’s most likely competing with other one-loss teams Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State and Oklahoma, while Alabama and Georgia will presumably occupy the top two spots with their 8-0 records.

Let’s pause quickly to remember that there are still five weeks of the regular season to play out between now and Dec. 3 when the committee issues its final ranking. There will be shakeup between now and then because this is college football.

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Notre Dame insider Laken Litman recaps the Irish’s win over the Wolfpack.
Laken Litman/IndyStar

Let’s also remember that the first poll doesn’t reflect the final one. For example, when the first playoff rankings came out in October 2014, Mississippi State was No. 1, followed by Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss. Only the Seminoles went to the playoff that year. The last two years, only two teams in the first poll made the final group.

On the flip side, there’s no reason for fans to fret should Notre Dame be ranked outside the top four. Last year Ohio State started at No. 6 after losing to Penn State but ended up in the playoff. Two years ago Oklahoma was ranked No. 15 in the first poll but went to the playoff. Point is, crazy things always happen in the final weeks.

Georgia and Alabama still have to play Auburn and potentially each other in the SEC title game, Clemson has to play N.C. State and potentially Miami in the ACC championship, Ohio State (only loss to Oklahoma) has to play Michigan State, Michigan and win the Big Ten, and Oklahoma must beat Oklahoma State, TCU and win the Big 12.

It’s certainly possible for Notre Dame to run the table. Then the Irish could have the best résumé of all one-loss teams regardless of the fact that it cannot play for a conference championship as an independent and can only get to 11 wins.

After blowing out USC and N.C. State, the Irish have a few challenges left with trips to undefeated Miami and a season finale against Stanford, who could still win the Pac 12.

It would be hard to imagine the committee excluding a team with a strength of schedule like that.

Follow IndyStar Notre Dame Insider Laken Litman on Twitter and Instagram: @lakenlitman.

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