A New Target on Their Back
As mentioned earlier, the Irish came in at No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, which were released on October 30th. All season, the AP rankings are obviously important in ranking the top teams throughout the country, but the CFP rankings are a different beast.
It gives us an idea of who is truly being regarded as one of the BEST teams in college football — one of the contenders to win a National Championship. Just about every team circles the date they get to play the Irish. As a blue-blood college football program, their history and national prominence makes them a target for every team that plays them.
Now add in the fact that the Irish have been named as one of the top-four national title contenders, and the target on their backs just got bigger. Northwestern is already a heavy underdog, and now they’re an underdog that has an opportunity to send a wave of chaos through the college football world. They will be playing with a “what do we have to lose” attitude, and that is always dangerous.
On the opposite side, the Irish now have a new level of expectations. They aren’t just a highly ranked team anymore, they are a team currently on the short list to get into the most prestigious tournament in college football. Sometimes, playing with new or increased expectations creates a pressure to perform better. This isn’t always a bad thing, as it could light a fire in this team and help them reach a new level we’ve yet to see.
It could also cause frustration and poor play if the team doesn’t feel like it’s meeting these new expectations set upon themselves. One of the biggest advantages underdogs always have is the lack of pressure. The Irish have the pressure to perform like a top-four team, and that is another mental block to take into account this week.