Whatever Brian Kelly might be saying, it’s clear that his team is guilty of scoreboard watching.
Take one look at social media from yesterday around 7:00 p.m. Eastern, and you’ll see tweet after tweet from excited Notre Dame football players, maybe surprised themselves by the amount of respect the Irish earned in the first poll released by the College Football Playoff committee.
Ranked fifth with two teams ahead of them facing off this weekend, and it doesn’t take a math major to assume that the Irish could ascend into one of four coveted playoff spots come this time next week. Of course (and sticking with the theme), it doesn’t take a history major to look back at last year and realize how little Week One playoff rankings mean.
It was almost fashionable yesterday to bash the importance of the initial rankings. A year after ESPN debuted a weekly 30-minute ranking show that was essentially a hot-take, college football troll session by committee chair Jeff Long and ESPN, the Playoff pushed back their initial ranking to the first week of November, if only to retain the sanity of their passionate audience and not overly expose the fact that the system wasn’t designed to make sense week to week, but rather only once at the end, when all the dust settled.
That’s supremely important for Notre Dame to grasp, and if there’s any worry the Irish might be resting on their top-five laurels, they’ll fall to thud rather quickly when Pitt gets their first opportunity to hit them in the mouth. With 11 unbeaten teams in consideration (now 10, thanks to a Toledo loss) any jockeying for position makes little sense—we’re in the middle of a beauty pageant that still hasn’t gotten to the talent portion.
So while the backlash to the open rankings is understandable, overlooking the initial snapshot is taking things a step too far. Notre Dame being ranked fifth is huge news, and essentially puts the Irish in charge of their own destiny, something many thought washed away in Hurricane Joaquin.
There are still too many permutations to worry about. What if Clemson loses to Florida State and the Seminoles beat Florida? What does the committee think of an undefeated Big 12 champ? Can two SEC teams steal a bid, and will Ohio State continue to receive the benefit of the doubt for playing good football an entire calendar year ago? And what to make of the Pac-12?
It’s all noise out there, existing only to trip up 18-to-21-year old football players who spend a majority of their life connected to the internet, the absolute worst place to help prepare you for a grueling November slate. So with Pitt, Wake Forest, Boston College and Stanford remaining, Kelly’s message shouldn’t be any different than it was before the polls went live.
“Each and every week is a playoff game for us,” Kelly said.
The next playoff game is Saturday at noon and the rankings are all subject to change, with a rollercoaster worth of twists and turns ahead of us. But starting at No. 5 is a huge development. Because there’s a very real shot that winning out will be enough for Notre Dame to punch their ticket to the playoff.
And that’s all you could ever ask for.