What Notre Dame Must Do to Vault Up USA Today Coaches Poll

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What Notre Dame Must Do to Vault Up USA Today Coaches Poll
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As the scorching summer heat has reached its crescendo and the calendar has flipped to August, Notre Dame finds itself in familiar territory. 

On Thursday afternoon, the annual, eagerly anticipated preseason USA Today Coaches Poll was released, and the Irish were tabbed with a No. 11 ranking between No. 12 Florida State and No. 10 Florida. 

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And with college football in its final season of the BCS system before the College Football Playoff begins in 2014, initial rankings and poll positions are, unfortunately, a key component in the race to the BCS National Championship Game. 

As it stands, the Irish would need to climb at least nine spots to reach the top two of the current Coaches Poll in an effort to avenge last season's blowout loss to Alabama in the national title game. 

For such an ascension to become a reality, Notre Dame must take care of its own business, and that begins with the Irish's season-opening contest against Temple on Aug. 31. 

I've always likened every team's season-opener to a first impression; the first glimpse the pollsters and voters have of any given team. Given that Notre Dame faces, perhaps, the most scrutiny of any college football team in America, it's imperative for the Irish not only to defeat Temple, but to cover the spread as well. 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If by some perplexing set of circumstances the Owls hang close with the Irish through 60 minutes of action, head coach Brian Kelly and Co. would likely experience a tumble down the polls. 

In fact, Notre Dame began the 2011 season ranked No. 18 in the preseason Coaches Poll, only to drop out of the rankings completely the next week following a tumultuous 23-20 loss to then-unranked South Florida in the first week of the season. 

Should the Irish dispatch of Temple, they would be presented a golden opportunity to rise in the rankings in the form of a road date at preseason No. 17 Michigan. 

As shocking as it may seem, the Irish would be facing a ranked Michigan team at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 2005, when former head coach Charlie Weis' squad knocked off the Wolverines, who were the nation's third-ranked team at the time. 

That Weis-coached team climbed 11 spots in the Coaches Poll—23rd to 12th—the following week. 

Although Michigan won't be ranked within the top five when it hosts Notre Dame this season, an Irish victory would certainly aid in the process of "movin' on up," as I'm fond of saying. 

In layman's terms, a smooth 2-0 start to the season for Notre Dame could, essentially, vault the Irish well into the top 10 of the Coaches Poll. 

However, the season's first two games are only the tip of iceberg. 

Per the preseason rankings, the Irish, beginning in week three, still have three top 25 teams remaining: No. 16 Oklahoma, No. 24 USC and No. 4 Stanford. 

What should have Notre Dame fans concerned is the very likely possibility that both Oklahoma and USC could, potentially, be ranked higher than their current respective rankings. 

The Sooners open their season with three easily winnable contests on their home turf—Louisiana-Monroe, West Virginia and Tulsa—prior to their trip to South Bend, Ind., to meet Notre Dame in the return game of a home-and-home agreement. 

As for USC, the Trojans could very well be a top 10 team by the time they meet the Irish, with their first six games being as follows: at Hawaii, vs. Washington State, vs. Boston College, vs. Utah State, at Arizona State and vs. Arizona. 

Should each team arrive at Notre Dame Stadium with undefeated records intact, both would present the Irish with unmistakable chances to ascend within the rankings while proving their worth as national title contenders. 

The mere possibility of these scenarios playing out should have not only Notre Dame fans excited, but college football fans as a whole. 

All the Irish must do is take care of business and control what they can control. 

And in the words of the late Al Davis, "Just win, baby." 

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