‘Tis the season for college football previews to hit the newsstands, and Athlon Sports, Lindy’s and Sporting News are the first ones on the market.
Last year, none of the trio had Notre Dame in its preseason top 25 under first-year head coach Brian Kelly. This season the expectations are higher after a strong 4-0 finish by the Irish enabled them to record an 8-5 ledger. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of all three:
Last year: Notre Dame was projected 26th with an 8-4 finish and a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl against Miami. Indeed, the Irish ended up playing Miami, but it was in the Sun Bowl with a 7-5 regular season finish.
This year: The Irish are No. 6, their highest preseason ranking in any publication since No. 1 by both Sporting News and Lindy’s in 2006, Brady Quinn’s senior year. They are expected to finish 10-2 during the regular season and meet LSU (picked No. 8) in the Sugar Bowl.
Individual/Unit Rankings: Junior Manti Te’o made first-team All-America linebacker and senior receiver Michael Floyd (if he is back) made the second team.
Notre Dame’s receiving corps (including tight ends) was ranked 5th among the top 10 in the country, and the linebackers 7th.
Ranked in the top 10 nationally for the best position battle at quarterback, Dayne Crist (on the regional cover) received the edge over Tommy Rees.
Summary: “With a manageable schedule and one of college football’s best coaches, the Irish should return to a BCS game.”
The top 5 has Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, Florida State and Boise State.
Last year: This publication had the Irish 49th last year after placing them 37th in 2009 (a 6-6 finish) and 59th in 2008 (a 7-6 finish).
This year: The Irish made a dramatic jump all the way to 19th.
Individual/Unit Rankings: Ranking the top 25 players at each position other than receiver (top 20) and tight end (only top 5), Lindy’s listed no Irish player on offense (Floyd was not rated because he is on suspension). On defense, where Lindy’s ranked the top 12 at each position, it had inside linebacker Te’o No. 6 and senior Darius Fleming No. 12 at outside linebacker. Oddly, David Ruffer wasn’t ranked among the eight kickers.
Among the top 10 units, Notre Dame was No. 7 at linebacker.
Summary: “With no running back depth, Notre Dame’s offense will have to be an air show. That might put the defense on the field a lot, but if that unit plays like it did from November on, the Irish could sneak into the BCS.”
The top 5 features Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, LSU and Florida State.
Last year: Notre Dame was projected 29th with a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl.
This year: The Irish are 18th.
Individual/Unit Rankings: Nobody from Notre Dame made the three All-America teams.
Summary: “The Irish are back in the Top 25 — and competing for a BCS bowl — because the defense got better. And also because no one manages quarterbacks (and deals with adversity at the position) better than coach Brian Kelly.”
The top 5 has LSU, Oklahoma, Alabama, Stanford and Oregon.