SN has highest ND '12 ranking yet

The BCS title game may have put a cap on the 20111 college football season a little more than a week ago, but the early projections for 2012 keep coming.

The latest early top 25 is the Sporting News', and Matt Hayes has Notre Dame ranked the highest so far among all early preseason rankings from national outlets, at No. 20.

Hayes writes:

Why they’re here: Because there’s no possible way Notre Dame could have worse luck with turnovers. Coach Brian Kelly has a significantly upgraded roster on the defensive side of the ball, and star LB Manti Te’o decided to return for his senior season. Elite skill players (TB Cierre Wood, TE Tyler Eifert, WR Theo Riddick) and a solid offensive line should mean solid production.

Why it could change: If QB Tommy Rees can’t protect the ball (interceptions, fumbles), Kelly must move on to someone else (Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson?). It’s stunning the Irish won eight games with quarterback production that looked like this: 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions. Another problem: road games vs. Oklahoma, USC, Michigan State. Woof.

Hayes also ranks Irish opponents USC (No. 2), Oklahoma (No. 7), Michigan (No. 11), Michigan State (No. 12) and Stanford (No. 16).

For a recap of others' early 2012 top 25, click here.