Last year at this time, the highest preseason ranking for Notre Dame among national publications was No. 19 by USA Today.
Senior outside linebacker Prince Shembo is ranked the nation's No. 16 outside linebacker by Phil Steele.
Others included Athlon (20), Phil Steele (21), ESPN (24) and Lindy’s (33).
The general consensus during the summer of 2012 was that Notre Dame’s football program under third-year head coach Brian Kelly was “a year away.”
After a 32-31 stretch in the five-year period from 2007-11 — with zero top 25 finishes — the 2012 campaign was deemed the table-setting year. A top 25 placement in the final poll would be considered a successful season and a potential springboard to vie for a BCS berth and a top-10 finish in 2013.
"The year away” is now here, and the tune has changed for the better when it comes to projecting Notre Dame’s fortunes. The stunning 12-0 regular season last year that ended with a 42-14 trouncing at the hands of Alabama in the BCS Championship has at least altered some past perceptions of the Fighting Irish. At the end of this spring, SI.com had Notre Dame rated the highest at No. 5, and the lowest was Lindy’s at No. 14.
Suddenly, the 9-3 record that would have been perceived by most on the outside in 2012 as a good season is now viewed with much less enthusiasm in 2013.
The caveat of all these preseason rankings is the publications went to print prior to the news of Notre Dame starting quarterback Everett Golson getting sidelined in 2013 because of an academic transgression. Without him, Notre Dame finishing 9-3 might be perceived as the ceiling rather than the floor.
Nevertheless, even with the knowledge of Golson’s suspension, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas on June 7 installed Notre Dame as the underdog in only one of its 12 regular season games — the Nov. 30 season finale at Stanford, a 5.5-point favorite.
The Sept. 7 showdown at Michigan is classified as a “pick ‘em”, and Notre Dame is given a less-than-a-touchdown edge in four other contests played consecutively. It is favored by six at home against Michigan State on Sept. 21, only two versus Oklahoma a week later, and by four in the Shamrock Series game at Arlington, Texas, versus Arizona State. After a bye week on Oct. 12, the Fighting Irish have been installed by Golden Nugget as a five-point favorite versus archrival USC, which it has not defeated at Notre Dame Stadium since 2001.
Kelly’s crew was 5-0 last year in outcomes decided by seven points or less, a first in Notre Dame’s 125 years of playing football. Achieving such perfection again when half of the 12 games in 2013 are projected to be six points or less might be an extremely challenging proposition.
One of the more popular preseason college football publications — Phil Steele’s 2013 College Football Preview — hit the newsstands this weekend. Although Steele too had to go to print prior to the announcement of Golson and had Notre Dame ranked 10th, here were his individual ratings among those draft-eligible in 2014 (sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell could not be included because he is only a sophomore).
George Atkinson III — 18th among 60 running backs. He is Notre Dame’s top returning back with 388 career yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
DaVaris Daniels & TJ Jones — Among 60 receivers, Daniels ranks 54th while Jones made the cut at 60. The senior Jones has 111 career receptions and 10 scores compared to the junior Daniels’ 31, with zero TDs.
Troy Niklas & Ben Koyack — The junior classmates are not separated by much, with starter Niklas (five catches, 75 yards, one TD) ranked the No. 15 tight end and Koyack (three catches, 39 yards) No. 20. Forty tight ends were listed.
Chris Watt — Overshadowed by Martin on the left side, fellow fifth-year senior Watt still was deemed the No. 14 guard nationally among the 60 ranked.
Louis Nix III & Stephon Tuitt — This is the main reason why Notre Dame is still believed to be a potential top-10 team. Among 60 defensive tackles, Nix was ranked No. 1. Among 60 defensive ends, Tuitt was rated No. 2. Both were named to Steele’s first-team All-America unit.
Dan Fox — The fifth-year senior made it to No. 48 among 60 linebackers, while classmate Carlo Calabrese, whose 146 career tackles are the most among returning members of the Irish defense, did not make the cut.
Bennett Jackson — After his first season as a starter in 2012, the senior was rated 12th among 60 cornerbacks.
Kyle Brindza — Only 20 kickers were mentioned, and the junior Brindza, who made a school record 23 field goals last season, was at No. 16.
In addition to returning quarterbacks in 2013, three other positions at Notre Dame did not receive mention: center, safety — despite a strong performance by Matthias Farley last season — and punter.