SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Whether it was a well-played ruse or an honest answer, Notre Dame senior defensive tackle and team captain Sheldon Day said he didn’t know where his team was currently ranked by the College Football Playoff selection committee.
“Uh, what happened?” Day said when asked for his reaction to Tuesday’s rankings.
“Oh, we are?” Day responded when told Notre Dame was dropped two spots to No. 6. “I mean, I didn’t watch it.”
So he really didn’t know?
“Not until right now,” Day said. “I guess that doesn’t really mean anything until the final rankings come out.”
Even if Day actually was able to completely tune out the gaggle of hot takes and Twitter rage following Tuesday’s unveiling of the third-to-last College Football Playoff rankings, his thoughts on them mirrored those of his teammates who were aware of their two-spot fall that puts them in a precarious position heading to No. 9 Stanford this weekend.
“No reaction,” safety Matthias Farley said. “You don’t get a trophy for Week 11.”
“I really don’t care about the rankings right now,” graduate student linebacker and captain Joe Schmidt said. “All I care about is Stanford. It’s been that way, I feel like every week we talk about it, and really, truly, we could be one, seven, nine, it does not matter. We still have to play the game against Stanford and it’s going to be the exact same.”
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This is a team, though, that has said for weeks it doesn’t care about where it’s ranked (even though videos of the team celebrating its previous No. 4 slots were posted on social media earlier this month). But there’s an approach that’s permeated the team this week: Whatever hand-wringing there may be about Notre Dame’s current outside-looking-in status can’t affect how this team plays against Stanford.
Priority No. 1 is winning in Palo Alto, and then letting the rest sort itself out. Notre Dame can’t control the result of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, nor can it exact any influence on getting some chaos in the Big Ten (think Penn State beating Michigan State and Michigan beating Ohio State) which could make that No. 6 slot a temporary one.
“We know that Stanford is a huge game for us and the final rankings are all that matters,” quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “This is all just preliminary stuff in which they’re evaluating teams and as long as we’re in a position to try to crack it at the end of the year, we’ll be fine. We would like to be there now, and have been there all year, but unfortunately that’s not the way the table turned for us.
“We just know that if we come out and prove to them in our last showing that we are one of the top four teams in the country, hopefully we’ll slide our way back into there.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that Notre Dame is necessarily looking to not only win at Stanford, but win big. Ohio State was in a similar position as the Irish, ranked No. 6 heading into the final week of the season, and jumped TCU and Baylor by throttling a top-15 Wisconsin side, 59-0.
But with a highly-ranked opponent against which Notre Dame has played three consecutive close games, just emerging from California with an 11-1 record is the goal.
“We just want to win,” linebacker and captain Jaylon Smith said. “That’s our main focus is getting the victory. One point, 20 points, I feel like we could care less.”
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So the committee dropping Notre Dame was met with, at least publicly, a dismissive shrug from players. This is a veteran-laden team with plenty of players who went through that 2012 season, in which Notre Dame went undefeated but still needed losses by Kansas State, Oregon and Alabama to finish the regular season with a No. 1 ranking. Chaos happens in a game played by 18-to-22-year-olds, and if Notre Dame beats a top-10 Stanford team on Saturday, it’ll exit the regular season feeling confident about its chances of reaching the College Football Playoff.
Even if those chances may appear shaky as the team prepares to head to the Bay Area.
“We can’t really do anything right now,” Day said. “All we can do is try to get a win against Stanford and, I guess, hopefully the committee changes their mind.”