As a reminder, it's pretty difficult guess to what any team's final record will be, before a single practice has begun (of course that hasn't stopped the idiots at ESPN from doing exactly that). So instead, I use the great Phil Steele's 2010 College Football Preview as a proxy. I figure teams ought to beat the teams below them, lose to the ones above them, and anyone within a range is a toss-up. Knowing that injuries and upsets will factor in, you have a rough idea of a team's strength compared to who's on the schedule.
Phil has two ranking systems: the preseason Top 40 (prediction of where teams will finish, layers subjective info on top of data) and the Power Poll 120 (team strength in a vacuum, does not consider schedule, computer-driven). And this year, we have rankings from Paul Myerberg's Pre-Snap Read blog, formerly hosted at the New York Times (he is still mid-countdown, hence the question marks for teams yet unrevealed).
Let's start with the Hawkeyes. Coming off an awesome season capped by an Orange Bowl win and the quote of the year, Iowa returns a lot of talent and limited question marks. On paper, the sky's the limit. But what say the rankers?
|NA||Eastern Illinois||NA / NA|
PSR = Pre-Snap Read. PP=Power Poll.
Both systems agree: the only competition should come from Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. I say SHOULD because they aren't looking at factors like rivalry (Iowa State and Minnesota will be seeking payback) and where/when games are played (like 9:35 Central in the desert of Tucson, Ariz.) But if Stanzi can cut down on interceptions, if the O-line can gel enough to open running lanes, if Clayborn continues to terrorize Division I football ... things are looking good.
As for the first year of the Brian Kelly Era:
|??||Southern Cal||14 /8|
Myerberg has four ranked higher (we don't know how high yet), three toss-ups, and five that appear to be easy wins. ND would have to over-acheive to get to eight wins in that scenario--but that would mean a two-win improvement over last year.
On the other hand, Phil has a reputation for being high on the Irish, and it continues this year. He sees ND just outside the Top 25, with only Stanford and Southern Cal higher. That would be a 10-2 year. Frankly, when it comes to Irish football, I'll believe it when I see it.
Now on the surface you'd think Iowa has the harder schedule: traditional powers Penn State and Ohio State, plus two BCS-level out of conference games in Arizona and Iowa St (they are still in the Big teXIIas conference, right?) But take a closer look at Steele's preseason rankings--his estimation of where teams will END the season, based on factors like talent, opponents, and when you play those opponents. ND has 7 teams on his list, Iowa only 6.
Keep this in mind as the season goes along. We're only four weeks away!