The first set of College Football Playoff rankings for the 2017 season were released on Tuesday and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1, Ind.) found themselves within the top four spots. The Irish were ranked third behind top ranked Georgia (8-0), second ranked Alabama (8-0), and ahead of fourth ranked Clemson (7-1). The full list of rankings can be found here.
Heading into Tuesday’s CFP rankings Notre Dame already ranked fifth in the AP Top-25 and found themselves at No. 8 in the coaches poll. Even though the Irish still have four games left in the regular season this is still a significant achievement. After last year’s miserable 4-8 season which was full of mistakes and discord, some within the Notre Dame faithful were calling for the removal of head coach Brian Kelly. Heading into this season Kelly promised changes from top to bottom and so far he has delivered.
Those changes have produced a complete turnaround as the Irish control their own postseason destiny for the time being. The Week Two loss to Georgia aside, that turnaround has led Notre Dame to five victories over Power Five conference teams (Boston College, Michigan State, North Carolina, Southern California, North Carolina State), they’ve scored 30-plus points in every win (includes three 40-point games and one 50-point game), and they’re 3-1 against Top-25 teams. The CFP committee no doubt noted all of these things when discussing who would make the list.
The Irish are the sixth best rushing team in the country (317.9 yards per game), the 10th best scoring team in the nation (40.5 points per game), and they’re 3-0 in road games. Leading the way has been the poise of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush (1,536 total yards, 21 combined touchdowns), the feet of Heisman Trophy contending running back Josh Adams (1,169 rushing yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns), the dependable hands of junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (253 receiving yards, 12.7 yards per catch), what’s arguably the best offensive line in the country, and a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game this year.
This is the most complete team that Notre Dame has had under Brian Kelly. Even though his 2012 squad had a 12-0 regular season and reached the national championship game, they were carried by the defense as the offense was limited on many occasions. If this team stays healthy and keeps playing at this consistent level, they could find themselves in the playoffs come January. But first they need to get through these next four games.
This week they welcome Wake Forest (5-3, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) to South Bend. The Demon Deacons are coming off a 10-point victory over Louisville in which they prevailed despite surrendering 491 total yards and four total touchdowns to last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The Wake Forest offense averages 31 points per game and they’re not afraid to take chances. The stretch run for the Fighting Irish begins now.