Aug. 20, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame was ranked 16th in the Associated Press preseason poll that was released Saturday morning. It marked the highest preseason ranking for the Irish in the AP poll since 2006 when they opened No. 2. In fact, Notre Dame has not been ranked higher in an AP poll since Dec. 9, 2006 when it was No. 11. Just over two weeks ago, Notre Dame was ranked No. 18 in the 2011 USA Today preseason coaches' poll.
It marked the 18th time in the last 25 seasons that the Irish have been ranked in the AP preseason balloting, with all but two of those appearances coming in the top 20. Notre Dame has appeared in 50 of the possible 62 AP preseason polls dating back to 1950 (the advent of the preseason AP poll), which ranks fourth-best all-time. Ohio State (58), Oklahoma (53) and USC (51) are the only schools with more preseason appearances. In all, the Irish have appeared in 713 of the possible 1,022 AP polls dating back to the inaugural poll in 1936. Only the Buckeyes (786) and Michigan (761) have more appearances.
Irish second-year head coach Brian Kelly entered each of his three years at Cincinnati absent from the AP preseason poll only to finish those respective seasons (2007, 2008 and 2009) No. 17, No. 17 and No. 8, respectively. Notre Dame nearly achieved a similar feat in 2010 - Kelly's first year with the Irish. Notre Dame registered its longest winning streak to close a season since 1992 and routed Miami (Fla.) in the 2010 Hyundai Sun Bowl, but just fell short of the top 25 in the season's final rankings.
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. Kelly also became the first Notre Dame football coach to record a bowl victory in his first season on the Irish sidelines.
Senior QB Dayne Crist and sophomore QB Tommy Rees - who directed Kelly's spread offense attack - led the Irish offensively in 2010. 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 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 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. 7 Stanford, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 25 USC. The Irish also play Air Force, Pittsburgh, Michigan and Maryland - all of whom received votes.