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Guru Phil Steele has Irish ranked 16th

If you’re a true college football dork like I am, Phil Steele’s College Football Preview marks a turn in the calendar. While there are still a few more months before we truly get back into football season, Steele’s magazine is like that half-way point of a long jog, and we’re at least working our way back home now.

The past few years, Steele has been bullish on the Irish. Even though he missed big on them last season and was mildly disappointed with the ’08 edition, Steele is the first of the big-name preview magazines to put Notre Dame in the Top 25, with the Irish checking in at #16, even after Steele himself points out that Notre Dame ranks 113th out of 120 teams in percentage of lettermen returning, with only 61.1 percent.

(Those are the kind of stats that get people excited about Phil Steele...)

Steele was kind enough to give a free preview of his positional outlook for the 2010 Irish, and here are a few tidbits I found interesting:

* For all the griping we’re sure to hear about Notre Dame’s ultra-soft schedule, Steele has it rated the 17th toughest in the country. While we’re sure to hear a few guys over at the Four-Letter mentioning games against Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Army (I think you can stop calling Navy a gimme game by now), once again the perception of Notre Dame’s schedule versus Steele’s number-crunching objectiveness presents two different realities.

* Ever want a sure bet? When Notre Dame is set to play Michigan State, just bet on the Spartans. Steele gives the last five betting lines against the Spartans. Here are the results:

2005 -6 44-41 L No
2006 -3 40-27 W Push
2007 +10 31-14 L No
2008 +8 23-7 L No
2009 -10 33-30 W No

In other news, I’m 0-4-1 in predicting Notre Dame’s success against the Spartans since 2005.

* Since 1993, Notre Dame has only had two double-digit winning seasons: Tyrone Willingham’s first year in South Bend was a 10-3 season that ended in a Gator Bowl loss to North Carolina State in 2002. Charlie Weis’ 2006 campaign ended ugly with back-to-back losses to USC and LSU, but the Irish ended 10-3 as well.

Conversely, Brian Kelly has produced three double-digit win seasons since 2007, winning at least 10 games each season he coached at Cincinnati. Since 1993, Kelly has won 10+ game six times.

* For as much heartbreak as there was in the 2009 season for the Irish, you tend to forget just how frustrating the 2008 campaign was as well. Notre Dame gave up three double-digit leads in 2008, just an inexcusable amount. Even worse, Notre Dame was 1-8 in the last two seasons in the month of November. (1-3 in 2008, 0-4 in 2009).

* Looking for another area for improvement for the Irish? Try kickoffs. Notre Dame had just four touchbacks in the past three years, second worst in all of D-I football. With Brandon Walker looking healthy again, Nick Tausch and David Ruffer returning, let’s hope they figure out how to kick the ball past the goal line.