There are many milestones throughout the summer that fans and media have declared as the unofficial start of the college football season. For some, it’s the annual circus known as SEC Media Days in Birmingham.
For others, it might be the first day of fall camp.
The final marker will occur Saturday when the Associated Press releases its Preseason Top 25. While the poll no longer factors into the BCS Standings, it is still considered to be the most fair and accurate poll, encompassing national and regional media from all over the country.
Some of the key questions include how far will LSU fall thanks to last Friday’s dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu (the AP allowed voters who submitted ballots to re-vote in light of the news), how high will Ohio State be ranked (ineligible for USA Today Coaches Poll) and of course, where will Notre Dame be ranked?
The Coaches Poll, released earlier this month, ranked Notre Dame No. 24, in between two SEC middleweights, Auburn and Florida. Last year, the Fighting Irish began the season as No. 16 in the AP Poll and No. 18 in the Coaches Poll. O
f course, one week into the 2011 season, they were out of both polls following an ugly 23-20 loss to USF.
Coaches (OK, let’s be honest, sports information directors) and media members tend to vote differently. Coaches will often have more respect for traditional powers and legendary peers in the coaching industry. The media is likely more focused on teams’ schedules, which could lower the ranking for a team like Notre Dame, which has arguably the most difficult schedule in the country.
Another factor is that teams on probation are eligible for the AP Poll, unlike the Coaches Poll. Ohio State will almost certainly be in the Top 25, which would bump the Irish down a spot. Other teams on probation (North Carolina, Penn State, UCF) are likely to be unranked despite being eligible.
Most preseason rankings have Notre Dame anywhere between No. 20 and No. 35. Certainly, that is the range in which the Irish will land on Saturday. The projection here, however, is for Notre Dame to just miss the top 25. With Ohio State in the mix, only one team ranked below them in the Coaches Poll would have to leapfrog the Irish to bump them completely out of the poll.
That team could be Auburn, who as an SEC team will always garner respect from the media.
Like the Irish, they play a challenging schedule, with three top-15 teams and a road trip to Mississippi State all on the slate in the first six weeks. However, the Tigers have a marquee opener against Clemson. Many pundits are picking the SEC version of the Tigers to win that game. With Clemson expected to be ranked in the top 15, those favoring Auburn may be inclined to rank the 2010 national champions in their ballots in order to help hype the Sept. 1 showdown in the Georgia Dome.
Therefore, expect Notre Dame to land just outside of the poll, sitting squarely at No. 26 as the first team listed in the Others Receiving Votes category. Given that Notre Dame is 2-5 in its last seven games when ranked in the AP Top 25, that might be a good thing for the Irish.