Notre Dame ranked No. 5 in first College Football Playoff poll

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The first College Football Playoff ranking has been released. And Notre Dame is the big winner, with the Irish coming in at a surprising No. 5.

As it sits on the first Tuesday in November, Notre Dame may currently be the odd man out at No. 5—but it also could be the best case scenario for Brian Kelly’s team, behind a top four of Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama.  With a great strength of schedule and a compelling two-point loss to the Tigers, Notre Dame trails only Alabama among the one-loss teams, but sits in front of undefeated Baylor, Michigan State, TCU and Iowa in the Top 10.

With Alabama and LSU facing off this weekend, Notre Dame has a chance to handled their own business and find their way into the four-team playoff. Of course, last year showed us how quickly rankings and committee minds can be swayed—especially as the Irish opened the rankings at No. 10 before plummeting and Ohio State started at No. 16 before climbing to No. 4 in the final poll. But the fact that the Irish sit at No. 5 when there are currently 11 unbeaten teams in college football makes it clear that Notre Dame still has all of its goals alive heading into November.

One thing seems to be certain: This committee is less impressed with zero losses than with a body of work that includes challenging non-conference games. And even if a matchup with Texas didn’t materialize and Georgia Tech has had a disappointing start to their season, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit had this to say about the changing tides in scheduling.

“I think that if I’m an athletic director in college football right now, or I’m a head coach, if I haven’t already begun to change my philosophy or thinking on what I’m going to do with non-conference, you either need to or you’re just going to get left behind,” Herbstreit said. “I know there’s the thinking, the Lee Corso thinking that, hey, win them all and you’re going to get in. And that could be true. But you’re setting yourself up potentially to be left out. You’ve got to look at strength of schedule.”

CFB Playoff committee chair Jeff Long spoke with ESPN’s Rees Davis during the 30-minute broadcast and made it clear that some of the outsiders have a chance to rise quickly, especially as the Big 12 gets into the meat of its schedule. But even before the rankings came out, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was confident that the committee would favorably evaluate Notre Dame’s season thus far, and that proved correct.

“I think our last four games have been as good as anybody that’s played in the country,” Kelly said earlier Tuesday. “I don’t know where it stands up exactly. 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.

“We still have a loss, so that obviously counts. But it’s really for us what’s in front of us and what we have to do each and every week.”

Sitting at No. 5 with four games to go, the Irish are in the thick of the playoff conversation, all you can ask for after the initial rankings.