College football preseason rankings can be funny. Often times they’re based too heavily on the results of the year before, despite players being off the NFL and other roster changes.
Notre Dame is no exception to this as they’ve been ranked highly in preseasons the last 20-or so years and disappointed. They’ve also gone from unranked to top-five finishes as well.
2023 figures to see Notre Dame ranked somewhere between 10 and 14 to start the year. Where they finish will remain to be seen.
How has Notre Dame started the year in terms of the national media’s eye and ended up finishing this millennium? Here is a look back at every AP Poll start and finish for Notre Dame football since 2000:
2000 saw the Irish start the year with a win over Texas A&M before a heart-breaking loss to No. 1 Nebraska. They’d beat Drew Brees and Purdue a week later before losing another heartbreaker at Michigan State before going on a seven-game winning streak to cap the regular season, earning their first BCS berth as a program. That’d be the final highlight for Bob Davie and the Irish who were blown out in the Fiesta Bowl by Oregon State.
It started badly with a blowout loss at Nebraska to start the year and got worse before it got better, losing to Michigan State and Texas A&M to start 0-3. The Irish would rally to win three-straight but another loss at Boston College started another spiral as the Irish would end 5-6 and Davie would be dumped at season’s end.
Despite not scoring an offensive touchdown for the first two weeks of the year, Notre Dame was a national sweetheart as they knocked off Michigan to move to 3-0. They’d get to 8-0 with a 34-24 upset win at Florida State but a home upset to Boston College a week later sent the Irish into a tailspin Tyrone Willingham was never able to recover from.
2003 saw the Irish have to come back to force overtime to beat Washington State as things obviously weren’t right. A 38-0 dismantling by Michigan a week later set the tone for a team that at one point would be 2-6 and end up missing a bowl game.
Perhaps the oddest year I can remember of watching Notre Dame football. The Irish beat a pair of top-10 teams in 2004 (Michigan and at Tennessee) but went just 6-5 in the regular season as Tyrone Willingham was shown the door. They capped the year with a blowout loss to Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.
Charlie Weis had the nation buying into his ways as Notre Dame started the year 4-1 before suffering an all-time heartbreaking loss to USC in the famed “Bush Push” contest. Notre Dame would rebound, led by Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija, as they’d go 9-2 in the regular season before falling to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
A 2-0 start with wins over Georgia Tech and Penn State had Irish fans believing but reality came in a hard way as Michigan destroyed the Irish 47-21 in Week 3. Although the Irish would rally to another 9-2 regular season, things were never the same for Weis at Notre Dame after that blowout loss.
2007 was a year you couldn’t even pick a low point because there were so many options. A blowout loss to start the year vs. Georgia Tech, non-competitive losses to Penn State and USC, followed up by losing to Navy and Air Force both. If it gets worse as a college football fan than 2007 was for Notre Dame fans I really hope to never experience it. The Irish would go just 3-9.
Things briefly looked to be back on track for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame after a 2-0 start and win over Michigan and eventually starting 4-1, but dropping a last second contest at North Carolina to fall to 4-2 sent the Irish into a tailspin, ultimately finishing 7-6 after a Hawai’i Bowl victory over Hawai’i.
Golden Tate put up a season for the ages in winning the Belitnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver, but it was a November to forget for Notre Dame. The Irish entered the month 6-2 but wouldn’t win again as they finished 6-6 in a year that included an embarrassing senior day loss to UConn. Weis was shown the door at season’s end.
After a 1-3 start in Brian Kelly’s first year, Notre Dame started to turn a corner. Sitting 4-5 after an upset loss to Tulsa, the Irish would rattle off wins over top-15 Utah, Army, and at USC before routing Miami in the Sun Bowl to finish 8-5.
Expectations were raised in year 2 of Kelly, especially after how 2010 ended. Mind-numbing losses the first two weeks killed any dreams of a big-time bowl as Notre Dame fell to both South Florida and Michigan. They’d end up 8-4 on the regular season before falling to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
One of the most improbable and exciting years in the long history of Notre Dame football. From unranked to the national championship, Notre Dame’s 12-0 regular season featured a goal line stand to beat Stanford, a huge road win as a big underdog at Oklahoma, and an epic comeback to beat Pitt. Manti Te’o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting that year but unfortunately Alabama sent Notre Dame to the moon in the unlikely BCS Championship appearance for the Irish.
Luck would catch up with Kelly and the Irish in his fourth year heading the program. Notre Dame surrendered 41 points in a Week 2 loss at Michigan and 35 a few weeks later in a loss to Oklahoma. The Irish would finish 9-4 after a Pinstripe Bowl win over Rutgers.
Things started great for Notre Dame as a 31-0 win over Michigan set the tone for a 6-0 start. A controversial (truly awful) call at the end of their trip to No. 2 Florida State sent the Irish into a tailspin they wouldn’t recover from in the regular season. Notre Dame finished the year with a last-second win over LSU in the Music City Bowl.
Notre Dame would rise as high as sixth nationally but their comeback efforts fell short at Clemson in early-October. The Irish would be 10-1 entering the final game of the year at Stanford and were seconds away fro a likely College Football Playoff appearance before a leaky defense would allow Stanford to end those dreams on a last-second field goal. Notre Dame would finish 10-3 after losing to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
A 50-47 overtime loss at Texas set the tone for the most disappointing season in recent memory for Notre Dame. Back-to-back home losses to Michigan State and Duke left the Irish 1-3 as they’d ultimately struggle to a 4-8 finish.
Entering November, Notre Dame looked the part of a College Football Playoff team in what was an epic turnaround. Reality struck in a hard way however as Miami routed the Irish 41-8 and Notre Dame would end up in the Citrus Bowl, where they’d use heroics from Miles Boykin to win and finish the year 10-3.
Notre Dame started the year with a dominating win over Michigan. A quarterback switch to Ian Book helped guide the Irish to a 12-0 regular season that was led by a defense that allowed just 18.2 points per game. The season would end for the Irish in their first College Football Playoff appearance, a 30-3 loss to Clemson.
Notre Dame was again close to beating Georgia early in 2019 and remained a College Football Playoff contender despite the loss. However, an embarrassing 45-14 loss at Michigan in late-October capped where the Irish could potentially finish in the rankings. Despite that, they’d rally to win their final six games to finish 11-2.
Its possible, perhaps even likely that without Notre Dame joining the ACC in 2020 that college football wouldn’t have been played at all that fall. Instead, Notre Dame would go 10-0 in the regular season which included an upset of No. 1 Clemson at home. However, the postseason was unkind as Clemson got revenge in the ACC championship game and Alabama routed the Irish in the CFP.
In what would be the final year of Brian Kelly’s run at Notre Dame, the Irish were a home stumble against Cincinnati away from again reaching the College Football Playoff. The Irish would instead go to the Fiesta Bowl under newly promoted head coach Marcus Freeman where they’d fall to Oklahoma State.
Notre Dame started the Marcus Freeman era with a competitive loss at Ohio State before an all-time stumble at home against Marshall. Despite the slow start and without their starting quarterback the rest of the regular season, Freeman and the Irish would go 9-2 the rest of the way and earn a Gator Bowl victory over South Carolina to cap the year.