Nothing helps predetermine preseason college football rankings more than what was achieved by a team the previous one to five seasons.
That is understandable. Based on the past five years, who wouldn’t have schools such as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma among their top five to 10?
However, as this week’s Associated Press poll showed, much can change usually beyond the top five in preseason perception. For example, Athlon this summer had from No. 6 to No. 9 Miami, Auburn, Washington and Wisconsin.
Entering the final week of regular season play, only 8-3 Washington at No. 16 is in this week’s AP poll.
In the preseason, Notre Dame’s schedule was perceived in many circles as another “killer” again, mainly because five were ranked in Athlon’s preseason top 25: Michigan (No. 5), Florida State (No. 13), Virginia Tech (No. 16), Stanford (No. 18) and USC (No. 21). That’s part of why the Fighting Irish were rated only No. 15. Surely, when you play that many schools bunched in there with you, getting out of there 3-2 could be considered a victory unto itself.
Interestingly, 11-0 and now No. 3 Notre Dame has defeated the Seminoles, Hokies and Cardinal all by anywhere from 21 to 29 points, and also handed No. 4 Michigan its lone defeat. All that is remaining for a College Football Playoff bid is toppling a reeling USC outfit that is just 5-6 after losing its last two games, most recently to 3-8 UCLA, and four of its last five.
And yet … Notre Dame remained:
• One of five AP top 25 teams to play four teams in the current top 25 (joining Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Pitt).
• The lone team among those five to be 4-0 against such foes.
• The lone school with more than two such triumphs.
When looking at the final eight teams with the most realistic chance of making the four-team College Football Playoff that will be announced Dec. 2, here is the breakdown:
No. 1 Alabama: 2-0 — Defeated No. 9 LSU (29-0) and No. 22 Mississippi State (24-0)
No. 2 Clemson: 1-0 — Defeated No. 19 Syracuse (27-23)
No. 3 Notre Dame: 4-0 — Defeated No. 4 Michigan (24-17), No. 19 Syracuse (36-3), No. 20 Northwestern (31-21) and No. 24 Pitt (19-14).
No. 4 Michigan: 2-1 — Lost at No. 3 Notre Dame (24-17), defeated No. 15 Penn State (42-7) and No. 20 Northwestern (20-17), with a trip to No. 10 Ohio State coming up this weekend.
No. 5 Georgia: 2-1 — Lost at No. 9 LSU (36-16), defeated No. 13 Florida (36-17) and No. 17 Kentucky (34-17).
No. 6 Oklahoma: 2-1 — Lost to No. 11 Texas (48-45), defeated No. 23 Army (28-21 in overtime) and No. 25 Iowa State (37-27), with a journey to No. 12 West Virginia coming up this weekend.
No. 7 Washington State: 1-0 — Defeated No. 18 Utah (28-24), and will be hosting No. 16 Washington this week in the Apple Cup.
No. 10 Ohio State: 1-0 — Defeated No. 15 Penn State (27-26), and will be hosting No. 4 Michigan this weekend.
This can all change in the weeks to come, with the possibility that Syracuse, Northwestern and Pitt could all fall out of the rankings, while conference title games could elevate the standing of other teams.
For now, though, Notre Dame once again demonstrated that it has nothing to apologize for in its intent to assemble quality schedules with good enough competition to boost its profile. You can’t always control how the opponent fares, but you can control what you achieve.