Notre Dame could move into a College Football Playoff spot next week.
When the College Football Playoff committee unveiled its first rankings on Tuesday night it slotted Notre Dame at No. 5, its highest ranking in the short history of the sport’s relatively new postseason.
Notre Dame opened at No. 10 last year when it was also 7-1 before collapsing in November.
Now the Irish could move into a playoff position next week with a win at Pittsburgh on Saturday. Notre Dame trails No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Alabama. On Saturday night, Alabama and LSU meet, potentially eliminating one from postseason contention.
The No. 5 ranking likely surprised even Brian Kelly, who expressed some indifference about the first batch of rankings earlier in the day. The Irish head coach said he’d match Notre Dame’s schedule against anybody nationally, but he also conceded that the loss at Clemson was a mark against his program.
Turns out the Clemson result was actually a quality loss considering Notre Dame fell by a two-point conversion in a driving rainstorm on the road. It was part of a four-game stretch where Notre Dame’s opponents are a combined 26-5.
“I think our last four games have been as good as anybody that's played in the country. I don't know where it stands up exactly,” Kelly said. “I just know we played a very good schedule in the month of October. We have to win more games, but I'll stand up our schedule to anybody else right now.”
Notre Dame will play just one more ranked team the rest of this season when it travels to No. 11 Stanford to close the year. Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Boston College are non-factors in the playoff chase, at least in a positive sense for the Irish.
However, Temple slotted at No. 22 in the first rankings after Notre Dame’s win in Philadelphia last Saturday.
“So our goal is to be in this conversation into December,” Kelly said. “The only way we can do that is if we clean up some of the things from the Temple game. That's how I've addressed it to our team.”
It’s worth noting that last season’s national champion Ohio State debuted at No. 16 in the first playoff poll of 2014, six slots above Notre Dame. The Buckeyes finished No. 4 entering the postseason behind Florida State, Oregon and Alabama.
“I think everybody would look at it as, hey, you got a chance even if you're in the top 20 to get in,” Kelly said. “I don't know that many people would have too much of a problem where the system is right now. We'll see what happens in December.”