Aug. 4, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Fresh off its longest winning streak to close a season since 1992 and rout of Miami (Fla.) in the 2010 Hyundai Sun Bowl, the University of Notre Dame football team was ranked 18th in the USA Today preseason coaches' poll Thursday. It marked the highest preseason ranking for the Irish in the coaches' poll since 2006 when Notre Dame opened tied for No. 3.
In addition to the victory over the Hurricanes, the Irish registered a convincing 28-3 victory over 15th-ranked Utah. The triumph was Notre Dame's largest over an Associated Press top 20 opponent in 14 years. The Irish then closed the regular season by snapping an eight-game losing streak to archrival USC. Second year head coach Brian Kelly also became the first Notre Dame football coach to record a bowl victory in his first season on the Irish sidelines.
Offensively in 2010, the Irish were led by senior QB Dayne Crist and sophomore QB Tommy Rees who directed Kelly's spread offense attack. Junior RB Cierre Wood averaged 5.1 rushing yards per carry (second most by a Notre Dame running back with at least 100 carries in the last 14 seasons), and senior WR Michael Floyd caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Irish defense helped spur the late-season surge as it allowed an average of 9.8 points, 91.8 rushing yards and 276.5 total yards over the last four games. For the season, Notre Dame's defense was drastically better when compared to the 2009 defense in almost every statistical category: scoring defense (63rd in '09 to 23rd in '10), pass efficiency defense (82nd to 25th), rushing defense (89th to 50th) and total defense (86th to 50th).
The Irish open practice Saturday and feature 50 monogram winners and 20 combined starters (players that started at least seven games) from offense, defense and special teams. Nine starters on offense return, including four of five offensive linemen and every skill-position player except running back (Wood started five games in 2010). Notre Dame lost only one player from each level of the defense as eight starters are back from a unit that was much improved in `10. The Irish special teams are buoyed by the return of senior PK David Ruffer, as well as the punter and long snapper enter their third year together.
The Irish had 10 different players appear on watch lists this summer. Junior LB Manti Te'o made the Bednarik, Butkus, Lombardi and Nagurski watch lists. Senior WR Michael Floyd made the Biletnikoff, Maxwell and Walter Camp watch lists. Wood made the Doak Walker, junior TE Tyler Eifert made the Mackey, junior OT Zack Martin made the Outland, senior S Harrison Smith made the Nagurski and Thorpe, senior LB Darius Fleming made the Butkus, Ruffer made the Groza, senior C Braxston Cave made the Rimington and senior QB Dayne Crist made the Maxwell and O'Brien.
Alabama (13) and Arkansas (12) are the only two schools with more players on watch lists. Notre Dame was tied with Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
The Irish open the 2011 campaign at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 3 against USF at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame faces a pair of foes ranked among the top 25 - No. 6 Stanford and No. 17 Michigan State. The Irish also play Michigan, Air Force, USF and Pittsburgh - all of whom received votes.