Notre Dame football has been all over the place in the preseason rankings over the years. But have these preseason rankings meant anything at all for Notre Dame over the years?
Rankings drive ratings. People love to get entangled in the energy leading up to a high-ranked college football match-up. September 1st will offer us one of these match-ups to start the season when #14 ranked Michigan comes to South Bend to take on #12-ranked Notre Dame football. There is nothing like a top-15 clash against one of your biggest rivals, but do the numbers really matter?
Taking a look at sports-reference.com will give you all of the historical AP rankings for Notre Dame since the AP began ranking teams. The AP only ranked the top 10 or 20 teams until expanding to ranking the top 25 teams in 1989. For our purposes, we will look at the AP preseason rankings which the AP launched in 1950.
In that inaugural year of 1950, Notre Dame came in as the preseason #1 team in the country. However, they ended the season unranked with a record of 4-4-1. If you fast-forward to 1964, Notre Dame was unranked coming into the season, topped out at #1 during the season, and ended the year #3 in the country.
In more modern times, we saw Notre Dame ranked #10 to start the season in 2016 only to plummet to an unranked fate in Brian Kelly’s worse season at Notre Dame, posting a record of 4-8. And who of us could forget that magical season of 2012 when Notre Dame came in unranked and entered the BCS National Championship game as the #1 team in the country. Yes, we equally remember the team being manhandled by Alabama. This resulted in a final AP ranking of #4.
I could have discussed many more examples of Notre Dame not meeting or exceeding the AP’s preseason expectations for them. I could have also discussed other examples where Notre Dame ended where the AP poll had them positioned from the beginning (for the most part). But the evidence (at least for Notre Dame in recent history) largely suggests that these preseason rankings are not an indication of how good Notre Dame’s football team really is or where the team will be ranked at the end of the year.
But hey, we can still revel in the glory of the (mainly arbitrary) top 15 match-up we will all tune in to watch on September first. Even if these rankings are useless now, we do know that there is a point in the season when these rankings (although still seemingly arbitrary at times) come to matter: when we are talking about the College Football Playoff. I will care a lot more about rankings then.
But if you are someone who is into ranking trends this early in the season, I discovered another (odd and useless) nugget of information. Since the AP poll implemented preseason rankings in 1950, Notre Dame has never been ranked #12. They have been ranked #10, #11, and #13 and #14, some of which a few times over. But they have never been ranked #12 to start the season.
Is this new ranking a good omen or a bad omen for the Irish? I haven’t decided. But for a guy who doesn’t care much for preseason rankings, his Irish upbringing sure doesn’t allow him to shake the thought of omens too well.