Notre Dame focused on dominant play, not playoff

Fighting Irish ranked third in initial playoff poll

Notre Dame's Kevin Stepherson celebrates a 11-yard touchdown reception with Alex Bars during the first half of a game against North Carolina State Saturday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly got out of the voting business when it comes to college football polls this year because he felt “it was too difficult” to accurately assess which team was better than any other when he truly didn’t have time to study them. However, he facetiously went out on a limb Tuesday and expressed his thoughts on how the initial College Football Playoff poll should look.

“It’s hard for me to judge the other teams,” Kelly said. “I know Georgia is a really good team and I know Notre Dame. So I’d have Georgia one, Notre Dame two, and then there are no other teams.”

Kelly was close in his humorous assessment, but unfortunately for the Irish, there are indeed “other teams” included in the race for the 2018 National Championship, as the initial poll was announced Tuesday evening.

The Fighting Irish (7-1) are currently the third seed behind Georgia (8-0), which beat Notre Dame 20-19 in early September in South Bend, and Alabama (8-0), while Clemson (7-1) is the other team that is currently included in the four-team bracket.

Oklahoma (7-1) and Ohio State (7-1) are just outside the bracket, respectively.

“I try to stay in the moment,” Kelly said prior to the unveiling of the poll. “We really don’t even worry about (the playoff).”

Kelly has taken a unique approach, really since his student-athletes returned from Christmas break in January and began their preparation for this season.

The Fighting Irish players have focused on being disciplined and diligent in their preparation and work – on a daily basis – and Kelly said “Winning is not even something that we think about.”

Instead of focusing on the end results, Kelly has told his team to prepare and focus the right way and the results will be there. His players and coaches are cognizant of the playoff race, but they won’t be distracted by it.

“It’s something we’ve been working on,” Kelly said. “As they’ve won games each and every week, they’ve gotten more recognition. They recognize that. They’re aware of that. We’ve made them aware of the fact that there will be more noise as you continue to win.”

There has been significantly “more noise” with each passing victory, especially over the past two weeks.

For the first time since 1989, Notre Dame beat top 15 programs (USC and North Carolina State) in consecutive weeks.

“That’s immaterial to what our process is,” Kelly said. “Our process is to refocus on what’s important now. What’s important now is our preparation.”

The Irish will host Wake Forest (5-3) Saturday (3:30 p.m., NBC) and Kelly said that is the only thing that his team is thinking of this week.

“(Wake Forest) is really good,” Kelly said. “(Our players) are trusting their training, the training that started back in January. This is really nothing new for us. They’ve handled it well so far.”

Notre Dame has now won six consecutive games, each by a margin of at least 20 points. Kelly said that his team wanted to be dominant each week and they have been. No Notre Dame squad has enjoyed that long of a stretch, by that big of a margin, in over 50 years.

“We just want to dominate this weekend,” Kelly said. “If we do that, we’d like three more chances and then at the end of the year, if they say that that’s one of the four best teams, that will be fine.”

Following the Wake Forest game, Notre Dame will travel to Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 11, host Navy on Nov. 18 and close the regular season on Nov. 25.

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