SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame still expects to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff regardless of whether or not DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams play this coming fall.
While multiple players declined comment Tuesday on any questions remotely involving Notre Dame's academic investigation, coach Brian Kelly said the team has remained focused in its goal to be one of the top four teams in college football following Friday's suspensions of those four players.
"Expectations haven't changed. They can't change," Kelly said. "I mean, we go into every season ‑‑ we don't have a conference championship to play for, so we only have one goal in mind, and that is to get in the playoffs, and that's our only focus, to be one of those four teams to get in the playoffs. That's the only way you can think."
Fulfilling those expectations may be difficult without a star cornerback, a leading returning wide receiver and a senior defensive end. Notre Dame is replacing each upperclassman with a sophomore -- Cole Luke at cornerback, Corey Robinson/Will Fuller at wide receiver and Isaac Rochell at defensive end. While those players are certainly talented, Irish coaches said each player needs to be more consistent, a common refrain for just about any underclassman not named Jaylon Smith.
But as Kelly said, Notre Dame doesn't have a conference championship on which to fall back. It's a refrain that's been echoed by Notre Dame players for decades -- the only trophy this team can win is a national championship.
Losing those four players, again, certainly hurts those efforts. But Kelly reiterated his players have remained resilient over the last few days and haven't dwelled on the suspensions of Daniels, Moore, Russell and Williams much.
"Our players moved on quickly from it, and we just immediately treat it as next man in," Kelly said. "Get the next guy ready, and that's how we've always operated here."