Four respected, long-time college football annuals are all over the map regarding the Irish and the team’s top stars for 2011.
- Athlon’s: Pre-season ranking #6 behind Boise State and ahead of Virginia Tech. None of Notre Dame’s 12 2011 foes are ranked ahead of the Irish while Stanford (13), USC (20), and Michigan State (22) earned a spot on Athlon’s Top 25 list.
- The Sporting News: Ranked #18 ahead of South Carolina but just behind Week Three opponent Michigan State. Stanford (4) is the highest-ranked Irish foe on the magazine’s list; USC does not appear.
- Lindy’s: Notre Dame debuted at No. 19 with Stanford (8) and Michigan State (22) as 2011 opponents likewise honored.
- Phil Steele: Like Athlon’s placed the Irish at No. 6 in his pre-season Top 40, with Stanford (16), USC (17), Pittsburgh (27), Michigan State (28), and Air Force (30) rounding out Notre Dame’s opponents on Steele’s radar. He also listed Michigan (41), among team’s just missing the cut.
Athlon’s also ranked the performance of last year’s new head coaches, placing Brian Kelly No. 3 behind Charlie Strong (Louisville) and Jimbo Fisher (FSU). Skip Holtz, head coach of Notre Dame’s first 2011 opponent, South Florida, finished 55th on Athlon’s list.
Pre-season offensive honorees
The Sporting News included a Dayne Crist/Tommy Rees matchup in its quarterback controversies, giving the starting nod to Crist.
Of the four magazines, only Steele mentioned Crist as an individual standout, ranking the senior No. 51 on a list of 60 QBs. Lindy’s placed five opposing quarterbacks among its Top 25; facing the Irish in 2011 are Stanford’s Andrew Luck (#1), Michigan’s Denard Robinson (#4), USC’s Matt Barkley (#11), Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins (#13) and Maryland’s Danny O’Brien (#21).
Steele ranked Luck (#1), Barkley (#3), Cousins (#6), O’Brien (#19), Robinson (#22), Tino Sunseri of Pittsburgh (#45), B.J. Daniels of South Florida (#52) and Air Force’s Tim Jefferson (#57), though Steele focuses on only draft-eligible players.
(In other words, no true sophomores would be included).)
He sees the Irish quarterbacks as the nation’s 20th best group entering the season.
Running backs: None of the preview magazines included Notre Dame’s running backs unit among the nation’s Top 10 groups, nor should they have, as only Cierre Wood ranks as a proven commodity, and his 2010 performance reflected the ability to withstand just over a half-season of pounding.
Wood placed No. 34 on Steele’s list of 64 running backs, a list that included five opposing runners ahead of and three behind, the junior runner. Steele credited Notre Dame with the 38th best running backs group of his 38 listed.
Wide Receivers and Tight ends: Michael Floyd earned All-America mention from both Athlon’s and Phil Steele, though both Lindy’s and the Sporting News omitted the senior from their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team lists. Lindy’s did not include Floyd among the nation’s Top 20 wide receivers, nor was Notre Dame among it’s Top 10 WR/TE groupings.
Athlon’s award Floyd second-team All-America status as did Steele, who also ranked the Irish senior as his No. 4 wide receiver. Steele placed junior tight end Tyler Eifert at No. 10 on his list of 44 tight ends while no other Irish wide receiver found a spot on Steele’s list of 72 pass-catchers or 44 tight ends (Mike Ragone was listed at No. 31 entering last season).
Steele awarded the Irish wide receivers and tight ends his No. 6 pre-season ranking – one spot ahead of Week Two foe, Michigan.
Offensive Linemen: The Irish front five received ample credit from Steele, though none appear on Lindy’s player rankings nor any other unit Top 10s.
Steele ranked center Braxston Cave at No. 17 among 44 at his position group; Zack Martin (#33) and Taylor Dever (#54) among 64 offensive tackles, and both Trevor Robinson (#23) and Chris Watt (#34) among his 60 offensive guards. Watt exited spring in competition with 5th-year senior Andrew Nuss for the starting left guard spot.
Steele ranks the front wall No. 11 nationally – and better than each of its 12 opponents next fall (USC finished No. 15 with Michigan, Air Force, Purdue, Navy, and Stanford all earning a spot in his Top 40 OL units).
Pre-season defensive honorees
The Sporting News listed 81 “game-changers” throughout its publication and linebacker Manti Te’o was Notre Dame’s candidate. Te’o, however, was omitted from the magazine’s first, second, and third-team All-America groups. He did not place on Lindy’s first or second-team lists, either, though did finish as the No. 5 inside linebacker for the publication (Boston College’s Luke Kuechly ranks No. 2 while Stanford’s Shayne Skov finished at No. 12).
Te’o earned first-team All-America honors from Athlon’s and was a Steele second-team honoree while placing as the No. 3 draft-eligible inside linebacker for the respected analyst.
Also earning pre-season mention among the Irish linebackers is Darius Fleming (No. 10 on Lindy’s list of outside ‘backers and at no. 17 for Steele, as well as Carlo Calabrese, who placed No. 34 among inside linebackers on a list of 57 for Steele. Lindy’s placed Irish linebackers at No. 7 nationally while Steele ranked the group at No. 5, just behind Boston College.
Defensive Line: The veteran Irish front three did not receive mention from Lindy’s, either individually or as a unit. Steele ranked the Irish defensive line as the No. 15 unit nationally with individual nominations for defensive ends Ethan Johnson (#31) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (#36), and NG Sean Cwynar (#51 among defensive tackles).
Defensive Backs: Steele ranks the Irish defensive backfield No. 8 overall with Harrison Smith as his No. 5 free safety and Zeke Motta as the 27th-best among 44 strong safeties entering the season. Gary Gray placed at No. 30 among cornerbacks while Robert Blanton was not listed. Lindy’s ranked Smith No. 3 among the nation’s safeties.
Special Teams: Steele ranked punter Ben Turk No. 12 nationally with kicker David Ruffer No. 4. He placed the Irish specialty units at No. 19 though no Irish player appeared among his top punt or kick returners.
Ruffer is curiously absent from Athlon’s, Lindy’s, and the Sporting News kicker nominees.
Pre-season 2011 Ranked Irish: Manti Te'o, Michael Floyd, Darius Fleming, and Harrison Smith (multiple); Cierre Wood, Dayne Crist, Tyler Eifert, Braxston Cave, Zack Martin, Taylor Dever, Trevor Robinson, Chris Watt, Ethan Johnson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sean Cwynar, Carlo Calabrese, Gary Gray, Zeke Motta, Ben Turk, and David Ruffer (Steele).