Ok, so we've taken a look at all of the various positional depth charts and using my patented "Hmmm, I guess this works" methodology, I've ranked all the positions. If you missed that, here are the links: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends/offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs. Now's the fun part where we add up all of those rankings and see what pops out.
One important thing to keep in mind though. These previews ignored coaching acumen (or lack thereof), offensive/defensive schemes, game location, cheerleader aesthetics, and many other important factors that determine just how hard a team really is to play. This table technically only represents one guy's opinion of how the talent and experience levels of the 2006 opponents stack up against one another.
| Ga. Tech||5||9||5||7||4||2||4||6||5.3|
| Air Force||9||10||12||11||12||12||12||10||11.0|
Taking a look at the final numbers, I have to say the rankings sort of fit my own idea of the hardest to the easiest games. Penn State looks a little low, but its average ranking is pretty much the same as Georgia Tech and Stanford so I'm willing to call those teams about even.
Looking at the distribution of the averages, you can almost make out distinct tiers. Michigan and Southern Cal in Tier 1, MSU in Tier 2, Tech, Stanford, and PSU in Tier 3, Purdue and UCLA in Tier 4, UNC and Navy in Tier 5, and Army and the Air Force Academy rounding out the list in Tier 6. That doesn't really sound that far-fetched, does it?
A few readers wanted me to include where I thought the various Irish positions would fall on this rankings scale, so here's my take on the 2006 Fighting Irish. I'll try to leave my homer bias on the wayside as much as possible. And since I did it for our opponents, I'll include the Phil Steele rankings where appropriate.
Irish Rankings Among Opponents
QB: 1st. So much for eliminating bias, right? Honestly, I think the presence of Brady Quinn (#1 QB) is enough to warrant this rank. The backups are all completely inexperienced, which is a concern, but Sharpley, Frazer, and Jones were all highly touted coming out of high school and Sharpley looked very sharp in the spring game.
RB: 2nd. Only Michigan's combo of Hart and Grady gives them the edge over the Irish. Darius Walker (#11 RB) is a proven, productive running back who had more rushing yards in 2005 than any other running back on the schedule. Travis Thomas, when not winded from playing defense is a very capable backup, and Munir Prince sounds very promising. Returning Asaph Schwapp (#15 - FB) at fullback doesn't hurt either.
WR: 2nd. To me the Jeff Samardzija (#3 WR)/Rhema McKnight (#55 WR) duo is just as talented as the Jarrett/Smith combo at Southern Cal, but the Trojans have more depth so #2 sounds about right for the Irish receivers.
TE: 1st. In a weak year for tight ends, I think John Carlson (#28 TE) and Marcus Freeman are a solid one-two punch and the trio of freshman tight ends provide solid depth.
OL: 3rd. This is the 2nd most experienced offensive line in Notre Dame history with very solid players like Ryan Harris (#17 OT), John Sullivan (#3 C), and Bob Morton (#38 OG). Still, the starting right tackle is just a freshman and there is little depth across the board. I would put them behind only Purdue and Southern Cal, who both have a strong core of experience and depth. Michigan might have been higher, but with Mike Kolodziej out for the year I think putting the Irish ahead of them makes sense.
DL: 2nd. Michigan is perhaps better, but no one else. The entire starting line returns including all three players who started at weakside defensive end last year. Victor Abiamiri (#11 DE), Derek Landri (#26 DT), and Trevor Laws (#30 DT) all should have a great year. The return of Travis Leitko adds solid depth at the tackle position while Pat Kuntz and Darrell Hand are a year older and stronger. The strong showing by John Ryan also helps.
LB: 8th. While Maurice Crum (#43 ILB) returns, I really can't rank the Irish any higher than this. Personally I have high hopes that Travis Thomas proves that he's a natural on defense, but for now, on paper, all of the linebackers save Crum are unknowns and even Crum is a bit of a question mark as he moves from the outside to the middle linebacker position. Phil Steele ranked Mitchell Thomas (#60 - OLB), but there is still the point that he's been a career backup thus far. Like I said, I have high hopes for the group, but for right now, it's clear that PSU, USC, Michigan, Tech, Michigan State, Navy and Stanford all have more proven linebacking corps than the Irish.
DB: 2nd. This pick is probably the one where my Irish bias shows up the most. The results just weren't pretty last year. Still, there is a lot of inexperience on the schedule while the Irish return the entire 2-deep as well as the addition of 2 very highly regarded cornerback recruits who have already impressed the coaching staff. With a veteran Ambrose Wooden (#13 CB) and Tom Zbikowski (#2 SS), I'm going to move the Irish secondary all the way up to #2, just behind Michigan.
So, what do you think? Too high? With these grades, the Irish average out to 2.625, which is the same grade Michigan would get if you added the Irish rankings into the mix. I'd say that is fair. Notre Dame doesn't have much depth at many positions, but the starting 22 are a veteran unit with a number of All-American caliber players.