Cover Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Notre Dame is just four wins away from its first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff and after beating teams like Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech it should be smooth sailing for the Fighting Irish. Three games against unranked teams and a home game against No. 22 Syracuse.

Surprisingly, Notre Dame's matchup with Northwestern this Saturday is likely to be their biggest obstacle to making the playoff. 

The Irish should easily beat Florida State and USC, two traditional powerhouses having down years. Syracuse is ranked, but that game is in South Bend, and even though the Orange played Clemson tough, they also lost to Pitt and almost lost to UNC. That means that Northwestern sits as the lone real roadblock between Notre Dame and a 12-0 season.

The Wildcats might have three losses on the year, including an atrocious loss to Akron, but they're also 5-1 in the Big Ten and are the current Big Ten West leaders. They also had a 17-0 lead on Michigan, before the Wolverines scored 20 unanswered points. They traveled to Michigan St. and beat them for the third straight year and are just a few days removed from a dismantling of Wisconsin. Northwestern isn't Clemson, but they're also not a bad team. They're going to be absolutely hyped under the lights at home against a Top 5 team this weekend.

Northwestern's offense is by far the weakest part of the team, but the defense is ranked 28th in the country by S&P+ Ratings and forced three turnovers Saturday against Wisconsin. They also held Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor to just 46 yards on the ground. If the Wildcats' offense comes to play, then there will be some trouble in South Bend.

Another big part of this isn't anything extremely scientific. Northwestern just plays absurdly weird football games and have beaten Notre Dame each of the last two times they've played. The Wildcats would go on the Rose Bowl in 1995, but the 2014 Northwestern team didn't even make a bowl game.

The outcome of the game may very well come down to which Northwestern team shows up -- the one that lost to Akron and only beat Rutgers by three or the one that beat Wisconsin by two touchdowns. If the good Northwestern shows up, then Notre Dame's spot in the playoff may be in real jeopardy. And if not, Notre Dame will hear its name called as one of the four participants in the College Football Playoff.

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Ian McCafferty is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Ian McCafferty also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username itmccaff. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.