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 perousing of Preseason All-Conference teams. Did you know Notre Dame faces a tight end who had more receptions, receiving yards AND receiving TDs than Tyler Eifert in 2012? Maybe you weren't aware of a receiver who scored a TD in Notre Dame Stadium last fall and also logged eight 100+ yard receiving games last season? 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. First up – Offense:
|QB||Kevin Hogan||Stanford||After taking over the Cardinal offense in Week 8, Hogan was electric through the air and on the ground (222 Total YPG). The Irish narrowly defeated Stanford in 2012 with Hogan watching from the sideline. He appears primed to star for the most complete football team Notre Dame will face.|
|Blake Bell||Oklahoma||Honorable Mention for the Sooners QB expected to named the starter sooner than later. The "Belldozer" is a major factore for Bob Stoops and the 2013 offense in any capacity and beats out Devin Gardner for the honors in an Irish schedule light on well-known, established signal-callers. (UPDATE: Bell was NOT named the starter. He'll still score more TDs versus ND than Devin Gardner.)|
|RB||Jamaal Williams||BYU||As a freshman in 2012, Williams burst on the scene with a 15 carry, 155 yard performance against Hawai'i in Week 5. Dynamic as a pass catcher as well he totaled 106 All Purpose yards in the loss to ND. Should be a catalyst for an improved BYU attack.|
|RB||Damien Williams||Oklahoma||Over 1,200 total yards during his first season in Norman to go along with 12 TDs. Only NCAA player with 4 runs of 65+ yards in 2012. Cierre Wood knows something about long TD runs right guys? He should be featured even more while working in a new starter at QB.|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Michigan||Honorable Mention – It was between two great names for the HR slot and the Wolverine beat out Silas Redd of USC. He wasn't all the way back from injury in 2012 but the Shakepearian back's return to 2011 form (1,041 yards/5.6 YPC) in a pro-style offense could be a problem for ND in Week 2.|
|WR||Cody Hoffman||BYU||The best WR you've never heard of? In spite of spotty QB play, Hoffman put together an all-time 2012 season in Provo: 100 Receptions, 1,248 Yards, 11 TDs. ND's stout defense didn't exactly limit him when he nabbed 8 balls for 86 yards & a score.|
|WR||Marqise Lee||USC||The best WR you already heard of. Lee racked up 345 yards receiving in a single Pac-12 game a year ago to join SIX(!!!) contests where he topped 150 yards through the air. ND kept Lee out of the end zone in LA last November and held him to the second fewest catches of the season (5). Repeating this result is unlikely.|
|WR||Devin Street||Pitt||He's gotten better every year at Pitt in spite of constant coaching turnover since his arrival. If he nears his 2012 yardage (975) then he'll likely join the other two 1st teamers with 3,000+ career receiving yards. This is incredible.|
|Jalen Saunders||Oklahoma||Honorable Mention: Another likely candidate for 3,000+ career receiving yards is Saunders who transferred to OU and wasn't cleared until mid October. Saunders stuffed the stat sheet against ND with 15 catches for 181 yards – his best game as a Sooner. He slots just below Street due to his off-the-field transgressions because his numbers are uber-elite.|
|TE||Chris Coyle||Arizona State||The Sun Devil star had more catches (57), receiving yards (696) & TDs (5) than Notre Dame's Mackey Award Winner Tyler Eifert last fall. This type of production didn't even land him on the Pac-12 1st Team for the preseason. Coyle can't be hidden again if he produces on an improved ASU team.|
Ikard & Yankey are Pre-Season All-Americans and projected high draft picks. They all share similar problems in that they will be forced to take on the country's best defensive line – something they struggled with a year ago. Ikard was thoroughly dominated by Irish nose tackle Louis Nix III during the 30-13 blowout in Norman and Nix can't be happy to see Preseason lists with Ikard's name on it and his nowhere to be found.
These five players represent 3 teams who scored a total of ONE touchdown against Notre Dame last fall. Maybe it tells us more about Nix & Tuitt than it does about them.
Honorable Mention: Lewan is a consensus All-American and touted as a possible #1 overall pick next April … May I ask why? Are the scouts skipping over the film against Notre Dame the past two seasons? Aaron Lynch embarassed Lewan in 2011 and in 2012 the Wolverine offensive line was a collective matador in South Bend.
His name is Ryker! He's also the Cougars top returning lineman and I seem to remember him playing well against ND in last year's slugfest.
Let's be honest – if you're the best offensive lineman at USC then you're a fantastic player. The program may have falled off due to the Reggie Bush sanctions but their bruisers are always solid. Graf is the pick to represent So Cal.
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 a BYU All-American as the best of the opponent bunch. That same player also makes the cut at Subway Domer.
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 surprised me.
5 – Stanford is very good. They lead Irish opponents with five players on the squad.
1 – Remember when USC was going to win the 2012 National Championship?? A single Trojan makes the final cut while a couple more land Honorable Mentions.
3 – BYU returns some serious firepower on offense and defense. The Cougars placed a trio of players on the list with two more making Honorable Mention.
2 – Arizona State will make legit claims to fielding the best player in America at two positions.
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!
The 2013 Schedule is much lighter than normal on marquee quarterbacks and running backs while being absolutely stacked with record-setting wide receivers. In 2011 the Irish schedule including the bowl game took on Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Denard Robinson, BJ Daniels & EJ Manuel – all players in NFL camps at the moment and not including Matt Barkley who missed the game with injury. Whether this schedule does in fact prove to include the next crop of NFL-caliber QBs is something that will play out before Irish fans over the next four months.