For just the second time in 18 years, Notre Dame opens the college football season ranked as high as No. 11 in the Associated Press pre-season poll.
The No. 11 pre-season AP ranking marks the highest for Notre Dame since the 2006 season when Charlie Weis parlayed a 9-3 record in his first year at the helm into a No. 2 pre-season ranking in 2006. The highest pre-season ranking prior to that came in 1997 (No. 11).
Notre Dame also is ranked No. 11 in the Amway Pre-season Coaches Poll that came out the last week of July.
Of the eight times Notre Dame has been ranked in the pre-season top 25 since 2000, the Irish have finished unranked five times, including the 2011 (opened at No. 16) and 2014 (opened at No. 17) seasons under Brian Kelly.
Kelly’s highest pre-season ranking at Notre Dame had been No. 14 in 2013 when the Irish needed a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers to finish No. 21 in the AP poll.
Only once in five seasons under Kelly has Notre Dame exceeded its pre-season rating in the final tally -- 2012 -- when the unranked (No. 26 in the pre-season voting) Irish finished No. 4 following their four-touchdown loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
Since the end of the Lou Holtz era in 1996, Notre Dame has finished higher than its AP pre-season ranking just four times (out of 18 seasons) – 2000 (NR to No. 15), 2002 (NR to No. 17), 2005 (NR to No. 9) and 2012 (NR to No. 4).
Four 2015 Notre Dame opponents rank among the nation’s top 25 in the AP poll: No. 16 Georgia Tech in Week Three, No. 12 Clemson on the road in Week Five, No. 8 USC in Week Seven and No. 21 Stanford on the road in Week 12.
Only Texas, Notre Dame’s Week One opponent, and Virginia, Notre Dame’s Week Two foe, play as many ranked teams as the Irish among teams on Notre Dame’s 2015 schedule. Wake Forest (No. 10 Florida State, No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 12 Clemson) and Boston College (those same opponents) each play three ranked foes.
Among teams ranked in the top 25, No. 3 Alabama plays seven ranked opponents, including No. 6 Auburn and No. 9 Georgia. No. 8 USC and No. 18 Arkansas each play six ranked teams. No. 6 Auburn, No. 9 Georgia, No. 21 Stanford and No. 25 Tennessee each play five ranked opponents.
No. 1 Ohio State, which took all 61 first-place votes, plays just one opponent in the top 25 – No. 5 Michigan State in Columbus in Week 11. No. 2 TCU and No. 4 Baylor each play two ranked teams – each other and Oklahoma. No. 10 Florida State also has just two top 25 opponents (at Clemson and at Georgia Tech).
For Notre Dame, the lower the pre-season projection the better, at least based upon the last half-century. Of the last 50 AP pre-season polls, the Irish have finished higher than their AP pre-season ranking just 13 times, only five of which have come in the last two decades.