Defense more than CFP ranking on Brian Kelly's mind as Notre Dame holds at No. 3

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly was way more concerned Tuesday with the Notre Dame defense getting back to form than how the Irish would fare in the second set of College Football Playoff rankings.

The season-high 587 total yards and 37 points ND gave up in its 48-37 Big 12-esque victory over Wake Forest on Saturday didn’t shake the Irish (8-1) from the No. 3 spot they occupied in the initial CFP rankings of 2017, a week ago. But a repeat performance Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., against Miami (Fla.) could produce a loss and a ratings tumble.

The Hurricanes (8-0) moved up three spots this week to No. 7, matching their AP ranking from Sunday.

“Preparation needs to be better,” the ND head coach said of an Irish defense that stood alone as the only FBS team to hold every opponent to 20 points or fewer until Saturday night.

“We didn't prepare quite the way we had prepared in other weeks. We just need to go back to our process, and our process has to be the thing that drives our defense and our offense each and every week.

“They (Wake) didn't find the key to unlock the secrets of the (Mike) Elko defense. There's nothing like that. This is really about playing with the right intensity and the right mental approach to the game.”

The teams around the Irish in the second CFP rankings were exactly the same as last week. Georgia (9-0) and Alabama (9-0) remained 1 and 2, respectively, with No. 4 Clemson (8-1) and No. 5 Oklahoma (8-1) still chasing the Irish.

Notre Dame has three victories of 20 points or more over three teams in the CFP Top 25 — No. 11 USC (49-14), No. 12 Michigan State (38-18) and No. 23 North Carolina State (35-14). Clemson is the only other team that has as many as three wins over currently ranked teams (No. 10 Auburn, No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 23 N.C. State).

If the top four spots remain unchanged through the Dec. 3 Selection Sunday, how ever unlikely, the Irish would play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since Jan. 1, 1925, and the opponent would be Alabama. The Sugar Bowl is the other semifinal host this season in the rotating format.

Both of those games are set for Jan. 1.

The CFP National Championship will be played Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

No. 4 Clemson and No. 9 Washington are the only two teams in the CFP Top 10 that don’t face a ranked team this weekend. Clemson hosts Florida State (3-5) on Saturday. The Huskies (8-1) visit Stanford (6-3) on Friday night.

A loss in any of ND’s final three regular season games — at Miami on Saturday, Navy on Nov. 18 or at Stanford Nov. 25 — would probably mean a New Year’s Six bowl berth for the Irish, either in the Dec. 29 Cotton Bowl or in the Dec. 30 Orange Bowl.

The floor for a postseason destination at this point, even if the Irish don’t advance beyond eight wins, appears to be the Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28 in Orlando.

GAMES PLAYED THROUGH SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4

RANK TEAM OVERALL RECORD

1 Georgia 9-0

2 Alabama 9-0

3 Notre Dame 8-1

4 Clemson 8-1

5 Oklahoma 8-1

6 TCU 8-1

7 Miami 8-0

8 Wisconsin 9-0

9 Washington 8-1

10 Auburn 7-2

11 Southern California 8-2

12 Michigan State 7-2

13 Ohio State 7-2

14 Penn State 7-2

15 Oklahoma State 7-2

16 Mississippi State 7-2

17 Virginia Tech 7-2

18 UCF 8-0

19 Washington State 8-2

20 Iowa 6-3

21 Iowa State 6-3

22 Memphis 8-1

23 NC State 6-3

24 LSU 6-3

25 Northwestern 6-3

Notre Dame’s Nick Coleman (24) tries to stop Wake Forest’s Tabari Hines (1) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)