Notre Dame has earned a spot in the College Football Playoff in two of the last three seasons and finished with a Top 5 national ranking, but none of the preseason publications or major networks think the Fighting Irish will be able to repeat that.
None of those magazines or outlets have the Irish in the playoff in 2021, and many don't even view the Irish as a Top 10 preseason squad. Here's a rundown of the rankings and what they are saying about Notre Dame ahead of the 2021 season.
ATHLON SPORTS MAGAZINE
Athlon ranks Notre Dame 12th in its preseason magazine. It has opponents Cincinnati (#8) and North Carolina (#10) ranked ahead of the Irish and Wisconsin (#13) and USC (#18) ranked behind Notre Dame.
Athlon predicted Notre Dame to go 10-2, and it projected the Irish to face Texas in the Cheez-It Bowl. Based on how it projected records it would seem Athlon believes Notre Dame will lose to North Carolina at home and possibly Virginia on the road.
"ND returns to its independent status this year after using the ACC as its coronavirus safe haven. The Irish also welcome a new quarterback in Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, who will have to keep the chains moving while a rebuilt offensive line finds its footing." - Athlon
One of the cool features Athlon does in their preseason magazine is they get anonymous quotes from opposing coaches. This particular comment sums up what many outside of the ND program believe about the Irish:
"Just based solely on their personnel losses, we're expecting them to take a significant step back. That's not a value judgment on the program overall; it's more that they maxed out in a lot of areas last season. They graduated a ton of guys - it happens - and now this is the year you see how consistent they are in development." - Athlon
LINDY'S SPORTS MAGAZINE
Lindy's ranks Notre Dame 11th in its preseason magazine. It has opponents Cincinnati (#8) and North Carolina (#9) ranked ahead of the Irish and Wisconsin (#13) and USC (#22) also ranked but behind Notre Dame.
"Even coach Brian Kelly calls this team, with fewer returning starters than any other ranked team, a 'work in progress.' But that doesn't mean a deep setback on his watch. After four-year starting QB Ian Book went to the NFL, Jack Coan transferred in from Wisconsin to give the Fighting Irish a chance. And when Clark Lea became head coach at Vanderbilt, Kelly plucked highly respected defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman from Cincinnati." - Lindy's
Phil Steele has Notre Dame ranked 10th in his preseason Power Poll, which is his projection on how he views each team based on its overall quality without regard for outside context like schedule. It isn't based on how he thinks teams will finish.
Notre Dame ranks No. 7 in his preseason Top 40, which takes into account how he predicts teams will finish. Steele actually makes a case for Notre Dame to go undefeated, which makes his No. 7 ranking a bit puzzling.
"The Irish only have 9 returning starters and are #128 on my [Experience] Chart. They still have RB Kyren Williams, a talented but just not as experienced OLine, and QB Jack Coan who led Wisconsin to 10 wins in 2019. Notre Dame has six starters back on D and my #8 rated defense in the country to go along with my #13 rated special teams. There are no easy games on the schedule but no non winnable ones either and they could win all 12 games. The Irish will be much better than most expect this year." - Phil Steele
Notre Dame opponents Cincinnati (#10), Wisconsin (#11), North Carolina (#12) and USC (#13) rank among Steele's top 25 teams in his preseason Top 40.
Steele ranks Notre Dame has having the 23rd toughest schedule in the country.
Sporting News is much higher on Notre Dame than most programs, with the outlet ranking the Fighting Irish as the No. 6 team in the country heading into the 2021 season.
SN ranks Notre Dame opponents Cincinnati (#10), USC (#12), North Carolina (#14) and Wisconsin (#20) in its Top 25.
"The Irish — who return to independent status in 2021 — face heavy losses on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Ian Book. Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan has experience, but Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner could push for the job. With Brian Kelly, you never know. Running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree return with tight end Michael Mayer. The offensive line and front seven will need to be rebuilt, but Kelly successfully retooled both sides of the ball each of the last three seasons. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea is gone, but Kelly managed to pull Marcus Freeman from Cincinnati. The matchup against Wisconsin at Soldier Field is an interesting test to see how the interior will hold up on both sides. Cincinnati, USC and North Carolina also are on the schedule." - Sporting News
ESPN has yet to release its official preseason Top 25, but the Irish did rank 15th back in January when the outlet released its Way-Too-Early Top 25. ESPN Football Power Index has Notre Dame ranked 8th and projects the Irish to go 9-3.
Irish opponents North Carolina (#14), Wisconsin (#17) and Cincinnati (#22) also ranked in the FPI Top 25.
One of the more comical preseason prognostications came from Bill Connelly's SP+ rankings, which he describes as "predictive forward-facing." He goes on to state, "It is not a resume ranking that gives credit for big wins or particularly brave scheduling -- no good predictive system is. It is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football."
Connelly's formula ranks Notre Dame 25th in the preseason and he projects the Irish to go 7-5. He has Wisconsin as a "likely loss," and has Virginia Tech, USC, Cincinnati and North Carolina as toss-ups. Connelly's formula lists Notre Dame has having less than 50% odds of beating USC, Cincinnati or North Carolina. Notre Dame has not lost a home game in almost four full seasons, yet Connelly's formula believes the Irish will lose three home games this season.
"What is Notre Dame's floor at this point? In a year in which seemingly everyone returns their starting quarterback and 80% or more of last year's production, the Fighting Irish have to replace starting QB Ian Book and their top two WRs, four All-ACC offensive linemen (!!) and stars at defensive end, outside linebacker, cornerback and strong safety. They rank 123rd in returning production, and initial SP+ projections had them dropping to their worst ranking since 2014." - Connelly
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