Notre Dame's reaction to rankings slip reveals character

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Sheldon Day was angry when he heard that Notre Dame fell from No. 4 to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night.

That’s because he didn’t hear, period.

Instead of watching the weekly rankings show, Day and his fellow defensive linemen were embroiled in meetings, preparing for Saturday night’s regular season finale at CFP No. 9 Stanford. He didn’t search the Internet. He didn’t peruse panic-stricken message boards. He didn’t denounce the committee publicly, 140 characters at a time. He didn’t field reactionary text messages from concerned friends and family.

He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. So when asked for his reaction by a horde of media on Wednesday, his response was rather fitting.

“Uhh, what happened?”

You’re six.

“Oh. We are?”

While Day’s utter unawareness of Notre Dame’s sudden fall lies to one extreme of the reactionary spectrum, his fellow captains were more than happy to toe the company line.

“No reaction,” defensive back Matthias Farley said, with a level of enthusiasm matching his words. “You don’t get a trophy for Week 11.”

“I really don’t care about the rankings right now,” graduate student linebacker Joe Schmidt chimed in. “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, 11. It does not matter.

“We still have to play the game against Stanford. It’s going to be the exact same.”

“There’s ebbs and flows of the game and the media and things like that, but we’re just thankful for the opportunity,” junior linebacker Jaylon Smith concluded, spiking the metaphorical football at the end of a public relations touchdown.

If the Irish were flustered by their fall, they sure knew how to hide it.

Or, perhaps more accurately, they knew how to use it and move forward. After all, such is their way. Suddenly sitting behind Oklahoma (10-1), Iowa (11-0) and Michigan State (10-1) in the playoff hunt, Notre Dame (10-1) must defeat Stanford — perhaps handily — on the road to sway the judges. That’s no easy task considering the game is being played in Palo Alto., Calif., where the Irish haven’t won since 2007.

But this team, despite its record, is no stranger to adversity. Notre Dame lost two more starters to injury last week, running back C.J. Prosise (high ankle sprain) and cornerback KeiVarae Russell (fractured tibia). Then on Tuesday, the playoff committee delivered a haymaker of its own.

Notre Dame’s reaction (or lack thereof) to its most recent hurdles shouldn’t serve as a surprise. Rather, it’s what defines them — a willingness to absorb punishment, pull together and overcome.

“I think what I like about them the most is that they're not a bunch of whiners,” head coach Brian Kelly said prior to the rankings being announced on Tuesday. “They don't whine. They don't complain.

It's kind of like if one guy goes down, they pick the flag up and the next guy starts moving. Guy goes down, they pick the flag up and they keep moving. (It’s like) one of those Revolutionary War scenes where they keep marching forward.

“And they just have never complained about anything. They just keep going and they keep moving forward. And that's kind of the mentality of this group. They don't get fazed by much and they really appreciate each other. They enjoy being around each other.”

mvorel@sbtinfo.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day (91) tackles Wake Forest’s John Wolford (10) during the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN