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Notre Dame players talk CFP ranking, strength and conditioning

| Thursday, November 2, 2017

Notre Dame players discussed their reactions to the Irish receiving the No. 3 ranking in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings for 2017, as well as Brandon Wimbush’s progression as a passer this season, during media availability Wednesday.

Sarah Olson | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush carries the ball upfield during Notre Dame’s 35-14 win over NC State on Saturday.

Although the AP poll placed the Irish (7-1) at No. 5 following last week’s 35-21 victory over NC State, the Irish were placed two spots higher by the playoff committee, a position that could mean an eventual playoff berth if the Irish can hold on to it. Yet, despite the positive result and the importance the rankings will hold come the end of the season, many Irish players did not watch the rankings announcement Tuesday night.

“I had better things to do,” junior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery said. “I was studying for an exam I had. It was an econometrics exam — I think it went well.”

“I was actually working on a group project at the time when it came out,” senior linebacker and captain Greer Martini said. “Just the guy I was working with at the time kind of showed me his phone, said, ‘You guys are the third team in the college football rankings,’ whatever. It was really exciting.”

“I was not actually watching,” junior running back and captain Josh Adams said. “I wasn’t near a TV last night. I’m involved in a practicum class here, which basically allows us to mentor kids who are in the foster care system. I was hanging out with my friend, David. We were just hanging out, playing a little cards. I wasn’t actually at a TV.”

But some players did have time after practice to watch the rankings show. Graduate student tight end Durham Smythe said he was one of the players watching.

“I was watching at the training tables with some of the guys,” Smythe said. “I don’t have cable at my house, so that’s the only place I could have watched it. I’d say probably about half the guys were there watching it.”

But regardless of whether the players watched the reveal or not, they said they were not focusing too hard on their position, looking instead at the competition ahead.

“The guys are excited, but they recognize it’s just Week 9,” Smythe said. “There’s a third of the season left to play, and that’s a big chunk. It’s good to see a little bit of recognition, but there’s so much left to do. As coach said, every game’s been a playoff since Georgia.”

“I don’t think it really means that much to us,” Martini said. “It’s not going to help us win on Saturday. But it was really, definitely a cool thing to see.”

Strength and Conditioning

Among the major changes for the Irish during the offseason was bringing in Matt Balis as strength and conditioning coach. Martini and senior linebacker and captain Nyles Morgan both said the team has massively improved physically under Balis.

“Physically, I feel stronger and faster,” Morgan said. “I feel like my body is holding up way better than it did last year just because we’re training so hard. There isn’t a week — we don’t train every day, but there isn’t a week where I don’t feel like I haven’t gotten better in some area.”

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re getting stronger as the season goes on, which hasn’t been that way my first three years here,” Martini said. “It kind of gives you a confidence in your body. As you’re building throughout the season, you’re getting stronger. You just have more confidence in what you do, whether that’s cutting, being more physical at the point of attack, stuff like that.”


Although he has been asked to throw less often in his past three encounters, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush has made the most of his opportunities lately, throwing for multiple scores and no interceptions in each of those games. Smythe, who caught Wimbush’s first touchdown, said he could sense a clear improvement in his passing.

“I would say he potentially makes that throw at the start of the season, but now it’s a throw he makes every single time,” Smythe said. “That shows the progression he’s made, especially as a passer, since September. He threw that ball when I was just making my break and it was right on the money.”

“I couldn’t throw that ball with the same timing in September,” Wimbush said. “I’ve grown, and my chemistry with everyone has grown. I understood the route more and the way the defense was playing, too.

“I think the biggest thing for a quarterback is understanding the defense, which routes fill their voids, taking advantage of that. A lot of people have no idea what a quarterback’s looking at pre-snap and post-snap, but it’s so important.”

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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