College football guru Phil Steele has had so much success with his projected preseason poll that he decided to expand the field, from 10 to 24.
But Notre Dame still isn't in it.
Steele, who was nailed nine of the preseason top 10 teams in each of the last three seasons, left the Irish out of his projected preseason top 24 — which, he stresses, is where he thinks the voters will place each team, not necessarily his feelings on each team.
Notre Dame opponents USC, Oklahoma and Michigan appear in the top — at Nos. 2, 5 and 8, respectively — as do Michigan State (12th) and Stanford (20th).
I've got to say, I'm a little surprised by the omission of the Irish, given Steele's criteria for these projections:
Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First they look at the number of returning starters that the team has coming back particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting QB and a combination of its RB and WR’s is often times more highly thought of than a team that loses its starting QB but returns its entire offensive line. Similarly a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers usually is more highly thought of than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill position players on offense.
Another factor that is heavily weighted is the performance of the team in the bowl game, which undoubtedly is the lasting image of that team in the off-season. A team coming off a huge bowl win usually is more highly thought of than a team that is coming off a bowl loss regardless of what their schedule looks like for the upcoming season.
Notre Dame returns virtually all of its playmakers on offense except for Michael Floyd. And its front-seven figures to be a huge strength this coming season.
Of course, that last part, bowl performance, hardly left a positive final impression on too many. And we saw this past season just how big of an impact a strong finish can have on a team's projected forecast for the ensuing season, as Notre Dame was looked at by many as a BCS contender heading into 2011.
The schedule next year, of course, is extremely tough. But it is still Notre Dame, a school that usually gets the benefit of the doubt, at least in the minds of Harris and coaches poll voters.
Then again, most early 2012 projections have the Irish in the 20s, and Steele does leave one spot open for "a wildcard team that could slip into the Top 25 due to injuries, suspensions, transfers or preseason magazine projections."