College Football Top 25: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, No. 19

By Ty Duffy

Four-Year Trend: 2008 (7-6), 2009 (6-6), 2010 (8-5), 2011 (8-5)

Notable Player: Starting quarterback. The position has been a controversy and a muddle since Jimmy Clausen left. Spring Practice clarified little. Redshirt freshman Everett Golson should start, at least against Navy, though Tommy Rees will return from suspension and be a factor. There’s also Andrew Hendrix who saw time last year. That’s not even mentioning five-star recruit and probable redshirt Gunner Kiel.

Top Newcomers: Gunner Kiel (QB), Davonte Neal (WR), Elijah Shoumate (S), Sheldon Day (DT)

Circle This Game: Michigan at Notre Dame [Sept. 22] Michigan’s 35-31 comeback under the lights last year was one of the season’s best games and one of the rivalry’s most memorable. This year’s in South Bend could be just as compelling and make or break the season for both schools.

Turnovers: Notre Dame was a better team on paper in 2011 than the record indicated. The reason is turnovers, incredibly costly turnovers. In their five losses, the Irish turned the ball over 3.8 times per game. In their eight wins, they turned the ball over just 1.25 times per game. The self-inflicted losses to South Florida and Michigan (10 turnovers) cost them what should have been a 10-win season.

Why We Like Them: Notre Dame returns veteran leaders in All-Americans Tyler Eifort (TE) and Manti Te’o (LB), who opted to return for their senior seasons. The Irish should also have a physical defensive front. They will be in their third year under Brian Kelly’s system. If they find a quarterback that does not self-destruct in the red zone, Notre Dame could be formidable and competitive.

Best-Case Scenario: Notre Dame finds a quarterback. The defensive front is as formidable as it looks on paper. The Irish perform admirably through a brutal schedule that sees them face top teams, while criss-crossing timezones and continents. They finish 10-2 and return to the BCS for the first time since 2006.

Worst-Case Scenario: Tommy Rees is Tommy Rees. The turnovers are crippling. They get bogged down by their nightmarish schedule and finish 5-7, missing a bowl game and cranking up the burner under Brian Kelly’s seat.

Projected Bowl: Champs Sports

25. Kansas State 24. Virginia Tech 23. Clemson 22. Boise State 21. Stanford 20. Michigan State