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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Greason: Squad needs to stay focused

Notre Dame captains Josh Adams, Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini and Drue Tranquill all said they were not watching Tuesday evening when the first edition of this season’s College Football Playoff rankings was released.

Notre Dame came in at No. 3, behind only No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama with Clemson rounding out the top four. Morgan was coaching flag football. Adams was spending time with a foster child he mentors. Martini was working on a group project. And Tranquill was in the engineering library.

And while all four are aware of where their team stands in the Playoff standings, they appear to be among the few who don’t really care.

The buzz around campus so far this season has been of non-stop football. Listening to conversations, you’d think Josh Adams has the Heisman Trophy on lock and the Irish are about to board their plane to Atlanta. Which I, personally, find concerning.

Kathryne Robinson | The Observer
Irish senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquil closes in on an opponent during Notre Dame's 35-14 win over North Carolina State on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Because, while the team may still be locked into the idea of dominating each and every opponent, the student body is not. The general student body is thinking bigger picture and seems to have decided Notre Dame winning each game is a given, with only a few potentially problematic matchups left on the schedule that the Irish should easily overcome.

While being currently inside the Playoff cutoff, objectively one of the best teams in the country at the moment, is a welcome change of pace from the 4-8 squad of 2016, I’m here to remind everyone that it doesn’t mean anything yet. There is still plenty of football left to play. As a one-loss team, every game is make-or-break for Notre Dame. A single-digit loss to Stanford will end its season as quickly as a loss to Wake Forest this weekend.

What the committee has said by placing the Irish in the top-four is that if Notre Dame can win out, it’s in. But that’s it. It’s a big if.

And it’s easy to get your focus pulled away. Between the social media hype, the “I cast my Heisman ballot for Josh Adams” tweets and the talking heads discussing all the hypothetical situations that would have to occur for Notre Dame to make the Playoff, or, at this point, not to make the Playoff, it is very easy to see how a team of 18- to 22-year-olds gets caught up in their sudden national celebrity.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said Wednesday his team’s No. 1 ranking is “nothing more than a distraction.” The same could be said for Notre Dame’s No. 3 ranking.

Brian Kelly even made an appearance on ESPN during Tuesday’s rankings show, which he himself admitted was because a number of other coaches, including Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney declined the offer. Kelly’s appearance on the show could be construed as a distraction in and of itself.

I’m not saying the team is going to collapse, or even slip up. This is a team that made it to No. 3 in the country, and deservedly so. This is a very strong team and it is a team that has proven its mental toughness week after week.

But maybe it would’ve been better to come in at No. 5 this week and give the team something to work for. Because Nos. 1 and 2 are more than likely out of reach for the one-loss Irish. So, from here on out, it’s about maintaining No. 3. And as so many have learned the hard way, it can often be harder and more taxing to be the one being chased than the one doing the chasing.

Sure, coming in at No. 3 had to be a great morale-booster. It has to feel good to know that the powers-that-be, the powers that matter in terms of college football, think you would deserve a spot in the Playoff if they were to be played tomorrow. But what really matters is where they spot you when the regular season comes to a close.

I may sound like a cynic. I just want to warn against this ranking becoming a mandate to fans and players alike, as opposed to an actual representation of the team’s talent, which is what it currently is. So fans, don’t get ahead of yourselves, because nothing is guaranteed.