SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — If it's any consolation to Ohio State, Washington, Georgia and UCF, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly feels their pain — somewhat — of not being in the College Football Playoff.
"We're forcing out a conference champion," Kelly said Saturday before the No. 3 Irish went through their first post-finals workout for the Dec. 29 Cotton Bowl against No. 2 Clemson (13-0) in a CFP semifinal.
No. 1 Alabama (13-0) and No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) meet in the other semifinal that day at the Orange Bowl.
The CFP is halfway through a 10-year contract for a four-team playoff to determine a Football Bowls Subdivision national champion. The format was agreed to by the Power 5 conferences (Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12 and Southeastern) and independent Notre Dame.
For the second straight season, there will be no representative from the Big Ten or Pac-12. Last year, SEC powers Alabama and Georgia reached the championship game, with Alabama surviving 26-23 in overtime. This year, Notre Dame went 12-0 and beat out Big Ten champion Ohio State and SEC runner-up Georgia.
"We're forcing out conferences that are in this CFP, and so that puts a lot of pressure on us every year relative to our schedule and what we need to do," said Kelly, who would be in favor of re-opening the contract.
"I think we've journeyed into it a little deeper now," Kelly said. "There is probably, from a commissioner's standpoint, an appetite to begin dialogue. I'm just standing here as the football coach of Notre Dame. I don't have any inside information to share with you. But I sure am one who would register a vote of expanding the playoff."
Kelly favors an eight-team playoff.
"There are five Power conferences and there's the independent ranks," he said. "If there is going to be an expansion of any kind, we would prefer to include eight. That gives the Power 5 their champions and then (it) opens up more opportunities for at-large (teams)."
At-large teams like independent teams like Notre Dame, conference runner-up teams like Georgia, and UCF, the two-time American Conference champion currently riding a 25-game winning streak.
Kelly took No. 1 Notre Dame to the BCS national championship game after the 2012 season and lost 42-14 to Nick Saban's Alabama in the Orange Bowl. His team has no CFP experience while Alabama is making its fifth appearance, Clemson its fourth and Oklahoma its third. The Crimson Tide sandwiched two CFP titles around Clemson's 2016 title.
"(It's about) making sure our guys are in the right place going into the game," Kelly said. "This is about a focused group which wants to win a national championship. It's been that way since we began this journey in January.
"The players understand they have to stay focused on their process, but they've listened to everyone talk about how they are underdogs. This is really about keeping this going and winning a football game more so than any of the big-picture stuff."