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Notre Dame holds, Northwestern rises in latest College Football Playoff rankings

Brian Kelly is in his eighth season as Notre Dame's head football coach. (photo from ndinsider.com)

The Northwestern Wildcats and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish once again made waves in this week’s edition of the College Football Playoff rankings. The Irish (9-2, Ind.) held their spot at No. 8 (No. 9 in the AP poll) which keeps their slim hopes of reaching the CFP alive. The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) however moved up to No. 22, their highest ranking of the season. Northwestern also cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time this season by coming in at No. 23.

After getting demolished by Miami (FL) two weeks ago, Notre Dame fell out of the CFP’s top four spots to their current position. They bounced back last week by overcoming Navy’s triple-option offense to remain in the playoff picture. Next up for UND is the regular season finale at No. 21 (No. 20 in the AP poll) Stanford (8-3, 7-2 PAC-12) this Saturday. In order to sneak into the four-team playoff the Irish must obviously beat the Cardinal on their home field. They’ll also need a variety of help from the other seven teams ahead of them over these next two weeks.

Despite needing chaos from the other teams involved, beating Stanford will give Notre Dame it’s fourth win over a Top 25 team, it’s seventh victory over a Power 5 conference team, and it’s fourth win on the road. They can also play spoiler to Stanford’s PAC-12 championship aspirations. This game is important for the Irish in more ways than one.

Northwestern on the other hand pushed it’s winning streak to six games after it’s dominating performance in their final home game of 2017 against Minnesota last week. This is NU’s first appearance in the AP poll since 2015 (finished 23rd), and only the second time since 2012 (finished 17th). The Wildcats look to move into the top 20 of both lists this week as they finish the regular season with a visit to arch-rival Illinois (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten). Considering how efficient the Northwestern offense is, they are a heavy favorite to win this game as the struggling Fighting Illini have one of the worst defenses in the country.

The Wildcats are too low in the rankings to even think of making the College Football Playoff, but a win over Illinois will give them a 9-3 record. And with a 9-3 record Northwestern would be looking at a decent bowl game appearance. One thing that Northwestern has already accomplished is that they are bowl eligible for the third straight year, and the ninth year overall under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

We have an exciting week of football ahead of us.

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