The tangled Notre Dame web

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Notre Dame: Without a coach (for now), without a conference (forever) and as of this moment, the latest Twitter rage.

Why, you ask? Because the mean man (see: Irish coach Brian Kelly) took another job that paid him more and gave him a greater professional challenge — and left Notre Dame without a coach while it clings to a sliver of hope of reaching the College Football Playoff.

I’ve got news for everyone complaining that Notre Dame players could be punished by the CFP for their coach leaving: Notre Dame should be punished for not having a win of significance.

What CFP chair Gary Barta said Tuesday night was a true as those bitterly cold winters in South Bend. The Playoff committee should absolutely take into account a team that no longer has its coach. It’s a different team.

The CFP should also take into account that its Notre Dame/Cincinnati plan is unraveling for all to see: Notre Dame has been used as a prop for a Cincinnati shell game the committee has played since the first poll in early November.

To keep Cincinnati within striking distance of becoming the first Group of 5 school to reach the Playoff, the committee propped up a Notre Dame team — consciously or not — that has beaten no team of significance all season.

Now, follow me here.

The foundation of Cincinnati’s Playoff candidacy is the win at Notre Dame. There’s no possible way the Playoff committee could use the AAC conference schedule as justification – or the close wins over Navy and Tulsa within that conference – to keep the Bearcats near the top of the rankings.

So they propped up Notre Dame, whose best game is – wait for it – a loss to Cincinnati.

It’s brilliant.

Only now the committee is a couple of funky – but highly possible – losses from (in no particular order):

— Having a 2-loss team (Michigan, Alabama, Baylor) jump 1-loss Notre Dame, which hasn’t lost since October 2.

— Choosing 1-loss Notre Dame over one-loss Cincinnati, the team that beat Notre Dame by 11 – 11 – in South Bend.

— An SEC vs. Big Ten final four (which is what it should be, anyway) and eliminating Notre Dame and Cincinnati, further exposing the shell game.

Life of Riley

There’s a narrative now that Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma because he didn’t want to compete in the SEC when the Sooners move to the meatgrinder conference.

While that sounds sexy, it’s complete lunacy.

Riley didn’t run from the SEC, he ran to the best job in college football.

Think about this: With the advent of NIL rules, and player value and power at an all-time high (and getting higher), what better place to coach than:

— A university plopped in the middle of the most advantageous spot in the nation for players to build their brand and make money on their name, image and likeness (see: extreme recruiting advantage).

— The best geographic recruiting footprint of any school in college football (Southern California).

— A private university with an Ivy League-level endowment that just spent $300 million renovating the Coliseum.

— A reported, fully guaranteed $110 million contract that includes the 24/7 use of a private plane for him and his family.

So yeah, that whole SEC narrative? Dumb.

Riley had the No. 7-ranked recruiting class at Oklahoma for 2022, according to the 247Sports Composite. He also had the No. 1 class for 2023.

Recruiting, more than likely, would’ve gotten better as OU started gaining greater access to the southeast, and specifically, the state of Florida, with its SEC affiliation.

And the CFP will soon expand to 12 teams, so he wouldn’t have had to win the SEC to reach the Playoff.

Choosing sides

The CFP management council met again Wednesday, and once again failed to find a consensus for expansion.

But if you read between the lines in the aftermath, and zero in on Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, it’s clear to see where the lines are drawn.

The SEC, Big 12 and Notre Dame want a 12-team Playoff; the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 (the Alliance) are pushing 8 with automatic conference champion qualifiers.

“I wish we were finished in September,” Bowlsby told the assembled media. “But it didn’t work out that way.”

Let’s just say the Big 12 and the Alliance won’t be chummy any time soon. And that has far-reaching implications well beyond the CFP. The Alliance has slowed Playoff expansion in response to Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC – and not the Big Ten, ACC or Pac-12.

That tantrum hasn’t been lost on SEC presidents, who are tiring of the expansion process – and ultimately hold the trump card. They only need to say the word to commissioner Greg Sankey.

Any Playoff expansion requires a unanimous vote.

“The worst thing for college football is for Alabama to beat Georgia in that championship game and (the SEC) gets 2 in again,” a Power 5 athletic director told me Wednesday. “(Sankey) already has said his presidents are good at 4 (teams). Who knows if they’re bluffing? But I know this: The SEC has the ability to get its way or stick at 4 with that new (ESPN/SEC) contract.”

How far off are they? Consider this: Sankey, a member of the working group that brought the original 12-team proposal forward – which included automatic qualifiers — told me in July he wouldn’t be opposed to 12 at-large spots.

In other words, the 12 best teams regardless of conference championships.

The reality is, the management council likely will choose the original structure brought by the working group of Sankey, Bowlsby, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. And it will be approved by all presidents involved.

That 12-team structure includes automatic qualifiers.