Notre Dame Football kicks off in less than two weeks and another daunting schedule stacked with All-Americans and future NFL stars awaits. It seems like a good time for ND fans to take a breath away from projecting carries for George Atkinson III, sacks for Stephon Tuitt and the atom bomb press conference we witnessed Saturday August 17th. Here's a look at the best players the Irish will face this fall in the 2013 Notre Dame All Opponent Team.
This list is a combination of three things: MY impressions of rivals during past performances against the Irish, player statistics, and a perusing of Preseason All-Conference teams. Did you know Notre Dame faces a linebacker who totaled 2 September tackles and finished the season with 101 … as a freshman? Maybe you weren't aware of a opposing team's linebacker whose tallied 44.5 career tackles for loss & forced 11 fumbles? That's just a sampling of the information gathered during this review. Here are the players you'll be hearing much more about in the weeks/months ahead. I only allow 11 players to make the 1st team so based off merit we'll be facing a 4-4-3. Today – Defense:
|DL||Will Sutton||Arizona St.||2012's Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year resides not in Eugene or Palo Alto but in the Valley of the Sun. 23.5 Tackles for loss at Defensive Tackle is just absurd. Our beloved Louis Nix III's 7.5 pale in comparison and point to why Sutton tops Nix on Pre-Season All-America lists. Sutton's 13 QB sacks, 5 Passes defended & 3 Forced Fumbles rounds out as impressive a DL resume you find in all the land.|
|DL||Ben Gardner||Stanford||14.5 Tackles for Loss to go along with 7.5 sacks for the Wisconsin native on one of the nation's best defenses. At 6'4'', 277 lbs with an mullet as ragged as his demeanor – Gardner excels at all aspects of the game. If he ends up locking horns all night with Notre Dame's Zack Martin it will be one of the premiere duals in all of college football.|
|DL||Bronson Kaufusi||BYU||The massive Kaufusi (6'7'', 282) was playing football for the first time in 3 years last fall after a high school injury & Mormon mission. If he was rusty in 2012 while amassing 5.5 Tackles For Loss & 4.5 sacks, then the sky can only be the limit in 2013. A talented athlete, Kaufusi was a reserve for the the BYU basketball team – an amazing freshman year considering his lengthy layoff. Could be primed for a monster season. Kaufusi was a high school teammate of Notre Dame safety Chris Badger.|
|DL||Aaron Donald||PITT||Donald is another defensive lineman whose been extremely disruptive over the past two seasons. In that time the senior has made a living in the opponents backfield to the tune of 34.5 Tackles for Loss & 16.5 sacks – both more than Stephon Tuitt over that stretch.|
|Bruce Gaston||Purdue||Honorable Mention: His stats won't jump off the page (26 Tackles, 1 Sack in 2012) but Irish fans shouldn't forget how much ND struggled to run the ball against Purdue in Week 2 last year. ND's 52 Rushing Yards were nearly 1/4 of their season average (189) and Gaston created problems all game for the Irish.|
|LB||Shayne Skov||Stanford||Coming off a major knee injury in 2011, Skov starred for the Cardinal in 2012 much like he had in 2010 when he finished the season with 12 tackles & 3 sacks in the Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. Skov wasn't even a year removed from an ACL tear when last season started. After a year of rehab he could post a Manti Te'o like senior season. His hometown is listed as Guadalajara, Mexico which I enjoy.|
|LB||Kyle Van Noy||BYU||Van Noy is a preseason All-America and his career numbers are the most impressive on this team. In 2012 Van Noy punished offensive lines to the tune of 13 sacks & 22 Tackles for Loss bringing his career totals to 22/44.5, respectively along with 11 forced fumbles. As a senior he'll look to improve on his South Bend performance – one of only 3 games where he didn't tackle an opponent in the backfield. He finished last year strong with 3 TFLs in each of the final three games.|
|LB||Tyler Matakevich||Temple||I wasn't just looking for a pity contribution from Temple on the squad. Matakevich was a tackling machine for the Owls when entered in the starting lineup on October 6th. At kickoff that afternoon, the freshman had 2 total tackles and finished the year with a staggering 101. The Big East Rookie of the year amazingly produced 10 or more tackles in every start but one and hammered his way to 19 in an OT win over Connecticut. You are guaranteed 197 mentions of him by Mike Mayock next week.|
|LB||Max Bullough||Michigan St.||Bullough has led the Spartans in tackles the past 2 years and his name is so ideal for a bruising middle linebacker it's comical. He was one of the 12 Finalist for the 2012 Butkus Award (Te'o if you didn't recall) and is on the 2013 Watch List for nearly every major award. Pretty sure Max had no choice about playing football and where – his father, grandfather & TWO uncles played at MSU while his younger brother Riley will take his first snap in 2013 after redshirting a year ago.|
|DB||Darqueze Dennard||Michigan St.||Another 3-year starter from MSU. Dennard is one of the nation's top cornerbacks and has an impressive 105 career tackles and 16 passes defended. In last year's ND match-up Dennard totaled 6 tackles and one for a two yard loss.|
|DB||Jason Hendricks||PITT||Hendricks put on a show for the Panthers last fall when he led the team in tackles (90) & interceptions (6). If bowl games are any indication of the next season's potential then opponents should be nervous. Against the vaunted SEC's Ole Miss, Hendricks pulled down 17 tackles, 2 TFL and an interception for good measure. The last time Hendricks was in South Bend he notched an interception of Tommy Rees in the Red Zone.|
|DB||Aaron Colvin||Oklahoma||After leading the 2011 team in tackles from the safety position, Colvin moved back to his more natural corner spot in 2012 and excelled en route to a 1st Team All Big IX selection. He finished 2nd in the conference with 11 pass break-ups. Colvin is an aggressive player and one of the top CB prospects in the country and registered 10 tackles in the loss to ND last October.|
|Ricardo Allen||Purdue||Honorable Mention: This slot was likely going to BYU's Jordan Johnson but he tore his ACL last week. Allen has been named 2nd Team All-Big 10 during each of his first three seasons but his production dropped off significantly in 2012 after logging 80+ tackles in 10' & 11'. He only had 43 despite playing every game. Allen is a play maker and already holds the Purdue record for interceptions returned for touchdowns – 4.|
|Specialist||JD Falslev||BYU||Another reason to fear BYU this fall – Notre Dame fans would kill for half of Falslev's punt return production where he averaged 9.5 yards/return on a healthy 26 attempts. He ranked 22nd nationally in Punt Return Yards and perusing the list for Notre Dame's highest rated player will involve hitting "Next Page" more often than you'd like.The senior's all-purpose game included a solid 26 yard average on 11 kick returns.|
See: Our friends over at Her Loyal Sons also enjoy introducing you to Irish opponents in there "Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy" series. Bayou Irish recently analyzed ND's linebackers and tabbed the BYU All-American as the best of the opponent bunch. Van Noy was an easy choice on this team as well.
0 – Players from the service academies. Navy & Air Force are not the threats they once were during Charlie Weis's heyday.
1 – Temple lands a single standout player on the team which should surprise
5 – Stanford is very, very good. They lead Irish opponents with five players total on the team..
1 – Remember when USC was going to win the 2012 National Championship?? A single Trojan makes the cut, as many as Temple, and another made Honorable Mention.
5 – BYU returns some serious firepower on offense and defense. The Cougars placed 4 players on the offense/defense and their specialist made it an even 5 with Stanford.
2 – Arizona State will make legit claims to fielding the best player in America at two positions – DT Will Sutton & TE Chris Coyle.
4 – It's very possible that when 2013 is said and done Notre Dame will have faced four receivers with 3,000+ career yards. FOUR!
On offense we see a lack of proven QBs and on defense it's fair to say the defensive backs just aren't as impressive as the players in the front seven. Fans who've seen Will Sutton above Louis Nix III on Preseason teams may not have taken the time to appreciate the eye-popping numbers garnered in 2012. Nick Martin has been praised by many while taking over the center role, but that game against the Sun Devils in Cowboys stadium will be a major measuring stick for the first time starter. Kyle Van Noy was held back by ND last year but if Bronson Kaufusi builds on his freshman year then dedicating extra attention to the All-America LB could be difficult. I personally tab Kaufusi as the biggest breakout defensive player on the Irish schedule and expect him to be a known commodity by the time they visit Notre Dame in Week 11.