Notre Dame Is No. 10 In CBS Sports’ Preseason Top 25. Here’s Why
This is the time of year when, with few exceptions, college football’s big brand teams get dapped up and pop into preseason rankings no matter what happened the prior year.
It is often grumble-inducing from certain segments who dislike a team that finished 7-5 like Texas appearing in most top 20s. Or Michigan, a frequent preseason top-15 squad despite publicized problems defeating Ohio State. Or Notre Dame, annually slapped with an overrated label for its performance in marquee games. Or maybe because all those teams are fun to hate for swaths of college football fans.
There are plenty more examples. This year is no departure from the trend.
Notre Dame’s spot in various preseason 2020 top 25s, power rankings and other prognostications is largely in line with where it finished the season. The Fighting Irish won six straight games to finish 11-2 and ranked No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll.
Talking season has so far concluded a similar mark sound about right for 2020, too. Pro Football Focus’ simulation-based early power rankings put Notre Dame No. 8. And now, CBS sports’ preseason top 25 slots it at No. 10 and dove into the reasons why in its team profile.
“It’s no secret what Notre Dame expects most seasons to look like,” CBS’ Ben Kercheval wrote. “The question is how much can the team live up to the hype. The 2020 Fighting Irish have a good chance to get to double-digit wins once again thanks to a combination of a strong core of returning players and a favorable schedule.
“The hardest opponent the Irish will face all year is at home, and there are a couple of other chances to show this program can win on the big stage.”
Notre Dame has to replace six draft picks and six players who signed undrafted free agent deals. Among those are the leading rusher (Tony Jones Jr.), top two pass catchers (Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet), both starting defensive ends (Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem) and four major secondary contributors.
Ian Book is back at quarterback, and so is the entire offensive line and its 114 career starts. The line’s 2019 performance was remembered as up and down, particularly due to running game struggles as the year went on.
“Tackles Robert Hainsey, Liam Eichenberg and Josh Lugg, guards Aaron Banks and Tommy Kraemer and center Jarrett Patterson all return with significant experience off an injury-plagued unit both toward the end of last season [Hainsey and Kraemer] and at the start of the abbreviated spring practice [Banks],” CBS’ Barrett Sallee wrote. “That offensive line helped the Fighting Irish average 6.3 yards per play a year ago.
“If they’re going to get back to the College Football Playoff, it’ll be up to the big guys up front to get the job done.”
Elsewhere, junior wide receiver Braden Lenzy is one of a few offensive players who are in a favorable spot to see their numbers jump. Junior Kevin Austin is built more like Claypool and is a frontrunner for his spot, and Northwestern graduate transfer Bennett Skowronek will be involved, too, but Kercheval tabbed Lenzy as a key returning skill position player.
“Fellow wideout Javon McKinley has been around longer, but Lenzy is probably the better option to be Notre Dame’s big-play threat,” Kercheval wrote. “He was used in both the running game and passing game last year and is more of a home-run threat, averaging about 19 yards per play from the line of scrimmage.”
ESPN’s FPI pegged the Oct. 3 neutral site game versus Wisconsin, the Nov. 7 home game against Clemson and the regular-season finale at USC as Notre Dame’s three most challenging games. Kercheval agreed. What Notre Dame can do in each will dictate the postseason ceiling and perception of the 2020 season more than anything else.
“It’s a neutral site game at Lambeau Field, which in most cases would be a de facto home game for the Badgers,” Kercheval wrote. “However, this is Notre Dame we’re talking about, and if any fanbase can make this seem more neutral, it’s them. This should be a matchup of ranked teams and would be a quality win for the Irish.”
Clemson is the preseason No. 1 team in most way-early rankings. It would be a surprise if the Tigers don’t earn the same treatment in the preseason AP poll. They’re currently the national title betting favorite.
“If you’re going to draw Clemson, best to draw them in South Bend,” Kercheval wrote. “The Tigers should be easy favorites in this game, but it would be an opportunity for Notre Dame to make a statement.”
With some of the uncertainty surrounding California schools and their plans for the fall, the game at USC seems more dubious than most of the others on the schedule. But it’s one of only two true road games for Notre Dame. And the Trojans have some cache after freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis emerged.
“The Trojans are a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 with so much talent returning,” Kercheval wrote. “This could be a year in which coach Clay Helton finally puts it together in Los Angeles. These are two programs in similar spots, so winning this game would be a nice stamp on the season.”