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College Football Countdown: No. 29 Notre Dame

The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 29: Notre Dame

Coach: Brian Kelly (16-10, third season; 69-32 overall)

2011 record: 8-5

Look back: Year Two of the reclamation project for Brian Kelly didn’t go as smoothly as some thought it might. Turmoil at quarterback presented Kelly with challenges as starter Dayne Crist was replaced by Tommy Rees in the early part of the season. Rees had his moments as well but turnovers became an ongoing theme for this team. Miscues cost Notre Dame several opportunities including in games against USF and Michigan. Losses to Stanford and Florida State to finish out the season left this program with more questions than answers going into 2012.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 3/8

Defensive starters lost/returning: 5/6

Key losses: WR Michael Floyd, QB Dayne Crist, TE Mike Rogone, S Harrison Smith, CB Gary Gray

Top returnees: QB Tommy Rees, RB Cierre Wood, TE Tyler Eifert, LB Manti Te’O

Strengths: The offensive side of the ball was suppose to be one of the strengths of Kelly’s coaching although it hasn’t translated onto the field quite like he has hoping for. Take quarterback Tommy Rees, who completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns but also made poor decisions including throwing 14 interceptions as well as his offseason troubles with the law. Kelly experimented with junior Andrew Hendrix, a more mobile threat at quarterback, and with freshman Everett Golston and Gunner Kiel this spring. The competition will be fierce in the fall but one thing is certain, Kelly needs to pick with the best player and stick with him. … While the quarterback position is up in the air, the running back position is strong as ever with Cierre Wood returning. The junior rushed for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season  and will receive some help from senior Theo Riddick.

Weaknesses: There’s no way to replace the caliber of talent like Michael Floyd at wide out but Kelly will have to try. Tight end Tyler Eifert (803 yards, five touchdowns) always seemed to find an opening and could get hard-fought yards. His decision to return for this senior season was huge for the Irish. Junior TJ Jones and senior Robby Toma combined for 57 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns last season and will need to step up to help out whomever will start at quarterback. … Linebacker Manti Te’o was the heart and soul of the defense, leading the squad with 128 tackles. He’ll be called upon for an even bigger role with five starters from last year’s unit gone including up-and-comer Aaron Lynch, who transferred to USF in the offseason. The secondary lost major experience with the departures of safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Robert Blanton.

Outlook: It’s Year Three for Brian Kelly and that normally spells trouble for coaches at Notre Dame however I think fans are willing to be patient. There have been improvements with the program although they don’t seem like it. The fluidity at quarterback is a major concern going into the fall and finding someone to take the reins whether it’s Rees or someone else is a must. Especially with a schedule that features games against teams that appear to be top 25 contenders in Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 vs. Navy

Sept. 8 Purdue

Sept. 15 at Michigan State

Sept. 22 Michigan

Oct. 6 vs. Miami

Oct. 13 Stanford

Oct. 20 BYU

Oct. 27 at Oklahoma

Nov. 3 Pittsburgh

Nov. 10 at Boston College

Nov. 17 Wake Forest

Nov. 24 at USC

Rest of the countdown:
No. 30 Louisville 
No. 31 Missouri
No. 32 Iowa
No. 33 Cincinnati
No. 34 Utah
No. 35 Penn State
No. 36 Rutgers
No. 37 Boise State
No. 38 Mississippi State
No. 39 Georgia Tech
No. 40 SMU
No. 41 Wake Forest
No. 42 Houston
No. 43 Virginia 
No. 44 Northwestern
No. 45 Miami
No. 46 Southern Miss
No. 47 USF 
No. 48 North Carolina
No. 49 Illinois
No. 50 Tulsa
No. 51 California
No. 52 UCF
No. 53 Pittsburgh
No. 54 Arizona
No. 55 BYU 
No. 56 Ohio

No. 57 Temple

No. 58 Purdue

No. 59 Arkansas State

No. 60 Vanderbilt

No. 61 Connecticut

No. 62 Arizona State

No. 63 Wyoming

No. 64 Northern Illinois

No. 65 Utah State

No. 66 Louisiana-Lafayette

No. 67 Marshall

No. 68 Western Michigan

No. 69 Louisiana Tech

No. 70 Kentucky

No. 71 Air Force

No. 72 Western Kentucky

No. 73 UCLA

No. 74 Toledo

No. 75 FIU

No. 76 San Jose State

No. 77 North Texas

No. 78 Iowa State

No. 79 Nevada

No. 80 Eastern Michigan

No. 81 Hawai’i

No. 82 East Carolina

No. 83 Texas Tech

No. 84 Washington State

No. 85 San Diego State

No. 86 Ball State

No. 87 Navy

No. 88 Tennessee

No. 89 Kent State

No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 91 Bowling Green

No. 92 Syracuse

No. 93 Minnesota

No. 94 Boston College

No. 95 Kansas

No. 96 Oregon State

No. 97 Rice

No. 98 Ole Miss

No. 99 Colorado

No. 100 New Mexico State

No. 101 Duke

No. 102 Idaho

No. 103 Army

No. 104 Maryland

No. 105 Colorado State

No. 106 Miami (Ohio)

No. 107 UTEP

No. 108 Troy

No. 109 Fresno State

No. 110 Central Michigan

No. 111 Indiana

No. 112 Memphis

No. 113 Middle Tennessee

No. 114 UAB

No. 115 Buffalo

No. 116 Tulane

No. 117: FAU

No. 118: UNLV

No. 119: Akron

No. 120: New Mexico

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