Top 25 Countdown
College Football Top 25 Countdown: No. 19 Notre Dame
• Last Season: 7-6 (defeated Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl)
• Returning Starters: 16 (10 offense, 6 defense)
• Key Game: vs. Southern California, Oct. 17
Why They're Worth Watching
Coach Charlie Weis's reputation as an offensive guru has taken a hit over the past two seasons, but he has an experienced group to work with this fall.
The offensive line could start four seniors, and quarterback Jimmy Clausen is entering his third season as a starter. Clausen completed 22 of 26 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in the Hawaii Bowl. The senior brought his top three targets -- tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd -- to his home in California in late spring for a series of workouts.
The Fighting Irish have a manageable schedule, facing only one opponent (Southern California) that is ranked in the preseason coaches' poll, and that bitter rivalry matchup will be at South Bend.
Player to Watch
Michael Floyd, Soph., WR
The high school all-American flourished almost immediately at Notre Dame; his first collegiate reception was a 22-yard touchdown catch. Floyd had 48 catches for 719 yards and seven touchdowns, which set freshman records in each category. He already ranks ninth in school history with four 100-yard receiving games.
Why They're Vulnerable
The Fighting Irish picked up their first postseason victory since the 1993 season, but they stumbled badly at the end of the regular season with a dismal 24-23 loss at home to Syracuse and a 38-3 blowout defeat at USC, which has won seven in a row in the storied rivalry by an average of 27 points.
Notre Dame has just four road games, but three -- Michigan, Purdue and Pittsburgh -- are difficult.
Weis finally has his recruits in place, but after 15 losses in the past two seasons, an early stumble could renew questions about his job security.
Jon Tenuta is taking over as defensive play-caller and is hoping to bring a little more aggressiveness to a unit that gave up an average of 169 rushing yards and 28 points in six losses last season.
-- Camille Powell