- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Notre Dame is what we thought it was. Well, at least based on pre- and post-spring evaluations.
Colleague Mark Schlabach has released his latest version of too-early Top 25 rankings for the 2013 season, and the Irish check in at No. 10 following a spring that saw three players transfer, a second-year starting quarterback continue his growth and a defense plug in newcomers and develop depth at key positions following the graduation of three starters.
From Schlabach's story:
Previous rank: 9
The Fighting Irish went into spring practice looking for more offensive playmakers, after they averaged only 25.8 points during their 12-1 season in 2012. Quarterback Everett Golson made some strides as a passer, but the Irish are still looking for a dependable tailback and still haven't shored up the middle of their offensive line. Notre Dame lost starting center Braxston Cave and right guard Mike Golic Jr.; Conor Hanratty and Mark Harrell are battling for the guard spot, while Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty are competing at center. George Atkinson III left spring as the No. 1 tailback, but he'll be pushed in the fall by incoming freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston. The Irish will probably again be carried by their defense, so it had to be promising to see junior Jarrett Grace step into the inside linebacker spot vacated by All-American Manti Te'o.
The formula for these rankings actually takes into account who has the easiest path to run the table in 2013. And the Irish certainly have their challenges, though not unlike the ones they faced in running the regular-season table last season. (Despite hearing about their perceived 2012 slate, rightly or wrongly, after the Alabama game.)
Speaking of the Crimson Tide, there is a new No. 1 in Schlabach's rankings: Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have yet to lose a game in the Urban Meyer era, will likely be only better in Year 2 and play in a Big Ten conference that does not seem to have a legitimate No. 2 to pose as a threat to the Bucks. OSU avoids Nebraska and Michigan State in 2013, and the nonconference schedule consists of Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M.
Irish rivals Stanford and Michigan come in near the top of Schlabach's rankings, at Nos. 5 and 9, respectively. Oklahoma and USC, other 2013 opponents, are at Nos. 17 and 23, respectively.