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Leftovers & Links: Even the ‘way-too-early’ 2019 polls already respect Notre Dame

Cotton Bowl Football

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) runs the ball for a gain in the first half of the NCAA Cotton Bowl semi-final playoff football game against Clemson on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)


Idle time leads to endless arguments. Sports typically makes for a harmless venue to have them, even as they pertain to college football and Notre Dame. Thus, a deluge of “way-too-early” top-25 rankings for next season are published only hours after this season ended.

For once, those rankings support a stance held in these parts.

Take four national websites’ listings from Tuesday — Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Yahoo and The Athletic. They put the Irish at Nos. 5, 5, 6 and 11, respectively.

Now, none of those will directly mirror August’s preseason top 25 from the Associated Press or Phil Steele’s power listing in July. They will, however, not vary all that much, barring any massive offseason changes. (Like, as an obscure possibility not at all drawn from the last time Notre Dame went unbeaten in the regular season, a quarterback getting suspended for the season.) The Irish will enter 2019 a consensus top-10 team and arguably in the top 5.

Notre Dame will not rise any higher than that thanks to the mainstays at the top of the polls in this era of college football. As argued for a week now, it is Clemson and Alabama, and then a gap before another grouping of 3-5, led by Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma, but now also containing Brian Kelly’s Irish.

Returning a starting quarterback will lead to preseason expectations like that, especially when four offensive linemen also return to protect him. Bringing back a complete set of dynamic defensive ends will catch that attention. Winning 22 games in two seasons will do that.

Those seven teams? The six already mentioned here, as well as Washington, a program that has gone 1-4 against ranked out of conference opponents in the last five seasons, the one victory a 35-7 triumph vs. No. 20 BYU this past September. The Huskies may be the class of the Pac 12, but they are not currently in the mix with the Bulldogs, the Buckeyes, the Sooners or, yes, the Irish.

No, Notre Dame was not near a national title this season, but only two teams were, and in retrospect, maybe only one actually was. Yes, the odds are slim the Irish pull that off next season, but such is always the case, especially in the current time of Clemson and Alabama supremacy.

There is no other viable argument claiming Notre Dame has not re-joined the national conversation for more than a moment. There is no national bias against the Irish — again, ESPN slotted them as next season’s No. 5; that is hardly an insult. Sure, the final AP poll of 2018 dropped Notre Dame from No. 3 to No. 5, but such is the nature of ending the season with a 30-3 loss. That is neither right nor wrong. It just is.

The Irish will have an early chance to rise further within the considered second tier, facing unanimous No. 3 Georgia on Sept. 21. Provided the Bulldogs can survive a trip to Vanderbilt and then slip by Murray State and Arkansas State, they should still be No. 3 when Notre Dame arrives in Athens.

Until then, may this discussion of where the Irish stand compared to the country’s elite go quiet. They are one of 10 teams to have made the College Football Playoff, one of seven to win at least 10 games each of the last two seasons, and one of only a handful of teams within even shouting distance of Clemson and Alabama.

Most notably, Michigan will be a fringe top-10 team in the preseason, but Notre Dame may face up to five total ranked opponents.

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Of course, those polls will all change between now and August, based on roster movement, spring hype and further research, but they provide a starting point.

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