Notre Dame starts fourth in the College Football Playoff poll as a critical November begins

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 27: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads the team on to the field prior to a college football game between the Navy Midshipmen and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on October 27, 2018, at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

SOUTH BEND – Perhaps they would have liked to have been a spot higher, but in the end, the Irish are around where they thought they’d be.

When the first College Football Playoff poll was released just after 7 PM EST, Notre Dame found themselves in the top four. It was in the fourth position, not third as they are in both major polls, as they sit behind one-loss LSU, Clemson, and then Alabama.

Michigan, who the Irish defeated in Week 1 and hasn’t lost since sits right behind in fifth place with Georgia and Oklahoma behind them.

Most likely, Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame team watched the first unveiling of the poll as it took place on Tuesday. At the very least they heard about it, but as November approaches, there isn’t much they can stress about.

The mission is simple: There are four games left in the Irish’s season, and to make the playoff they’ll have to likely win them all. One loss would likely knock them out of the running for the College Football Playoff, which happened to Notre Dame when they appeared in the Top 4 in both 2015 and 2017.

Kelly’s weekly news conference came before the selections were made, but the answer probably wouldn’t have changed.

“As I told our team, this one doesn’t really matter,” said Kelly of the rankings. “We’ve been down this road before. We’ve been selected for this one, but it doesn’t get you anything. For us, the one that we’re interested in, the one that we’ll watch, probably we’ll watch it as a team, is the last one.

“That’s the one that we want to focus on. That’s the one we’ll pay attention to.”

Rest assured, their minds will be on resurgent Northwestern this weekend as they make their first visit to Evanston since 1976. Once at 1-3 on the season, Pat Fitzgerald’s team has rolled off four-straight Big Ten victories and currently sits alone in first place in the West division.

Saturday is arguably the biggest game in program history at Ryan Field, and Kelly expects nothing less from the purple faithful.

“I think most of the times when we play on the road, it’s a really good environment. We expect a tough game. Our guys are prepared for it. They know going down there, it’s going to be a tough fight,” said Kelly. “We have a lot of respect for Northwestern, what they’ve accomplished. We know we have to play well. We’ve got to play with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm.

“We expect the atmosphere to be — that’s why they put these games on TV. They don’t put them on TV because there’s half full crowds and nobody cares. They know the environment is going to be really good.”

Notre Dame will have to be as well for four more weeks if they hope to see their name in the Top 4 of the playoff rankings in December.