Notre Dame will open the 2009 ranked in the USA Today Coaches poll for the first time since 2006. The Pre-Season Coaches Poll, released on Friday ranks the Fighting Irish 23rd marking Notre Dame’s first appearance in the poll since the final poll of the 2006 season.
After a disappointing season which saw the Irish lose three games in which they held double digit leads in 2008, the Irish closed out strong with a dominating performance in the Hawaii Bowl. The bowl victory, combined with 15 returning starters and an improved coaching staff has expectations amongst Notre Dame fans raised this season and it seems the coaches agree that the Irish should be better in 2009.
This marks only the second time in the Weis Era that Notre Dame will start the year ranked in the Pre-Season Top 25 Coaches Poll. Notre Dame started Weis’s first season in 2005 outside the poll despite moving into it rather quickly after dispatching of Pitt in week 1. In 2006, Notre Dame entered the season with national championship hopes and started the season ranked 2nd behind Ohio State. Notre Dame was not ranked prior to either of the last two seasons nor were they ranked at any time during that span.
Notre Dame is the only team to lose six or more games in 2008 ranked in the poll. LSU (#9) and North Carolina(#20),both with 8-5 records in 2008, are the only other team with 5 losses ranked.
Just one of Notre Dame’s opponents – USC – appears in the Pre-Season Coaches Poll. The Trojans will start the season off ranked 4th overall despite replacing a lot of talent and having to break in a new starting quarterback.
A few Irish opponents, however, can be found in the “Others receiving votes” section of the poll. Michigan State (#27), Pittsburgh (#30), Nevada (#40), Boston College (#50), Navy (#55), and Michigan (#58) all received at least one vote. Michigan, coming off a 3-9 season in Rich Rodriguez’s first season, in fact received just one vote in the poll.
Most Irish fans might be surprised to see Nevada ranked as highly as they are considering most see the week one contest as little more than a tuneup game. Many college football analysts, however, have circled the game as a dangerous matchup for Notre Dame. It will come as a surprise to most that the Wolfpack received more votes in the poll than both Boston College and Michigan.
Purdue, Washington, Washington State, UConn, and Stanford did not receive any votes.
The lack of representation from Notre Dame’s opponents in the poll gives further proof that Notre Dame will be facing a much lighter schedule than they did a year ago.