In the first version of the only poll that matters, the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee ranked Notre Dame at No. 3, behind No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama. Clemson rounded out the top four, establishing the frontrunners for the four spots in the 2018 College Football Playoff.
Obviously, there is a long time to go before the theoretical delights of Clemson vs. Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and Notre Dame vs. Alabama in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
These rankings are based on what has happened so far this season. It sets a baseline to be altered by games to come. For example, committee chairman and Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt pointed to the three Irish wins over top-25 opponents as a distinguishing factor to support Notre Dame.
Any loss would certainly knock the Irish or Tigers out of the top four, with No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 Ohio State ready to jump into the fray. Impressive and noteworthy wins from the latter two could also change the tentative playoff outlook.
Notre Dame has a trip to No. 10 Miami (FL) in two weeks and then heads to No. 21 Stanford to close its season. Irish coach Brian Kelly knows the No. 3 ranking will be meaningless if his team falters in either of those games or against Wake Forest this weekend or vs. Navy on Nov. 18.
“I felt like if we continued to win football games we would create our own story at the end of the year,” Kelly said during the ESPN broadcast revealing the rankings. “It’s really been one narrative for us and that is each and every week we have a dominating mindset when we come to play.
“We haven’t really talked much about winning football games. Our guys are excited. They’re 18- to 21-year olds, … but they have been grounded to the point that each and every week they know what they have to do if they want to continue to have the success that they have had.”
Clemson visits No. 20 North Carolina State this weekend and will likely face a top-25 opponent in the ACC title game, presumably the winner of Saturday’s tilt between Miami and No. 13 Virginia Tech.
Oklahoma could pose a threat to those two one-loss teams ahead of it, with up to three top-25 contests remaining: at No. 11 Oklahoma State, vs. No. 8 TCU and, if atop the Big 12, either one of those two again or perhaps No. 15 Iowa State in the conference championship game.
Ohio State has the fewest remaining chances to impress the committee, only hosting No. 24 Michigan State on Nov. 11 and possibly No. 9 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
In addition to the five Irish opponents mentioned already, USC is ranked No. 17.