Notre Dame Football
The Fighting Irish are looking to make a run at hoisting the NCAA National Championship after falling short of reaching even a BCS Bowl game last season. While the team looks like it has plenty of promise, it’s going to take a full team effort to go out and beat opponents like Michigan, Louisville, and the defending national champions, Florida State.
Every championship teams carries a player or two that have breakout seasons. Florida State had Heisman winner Jameis Winston, first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, and Rimmington award winner Bryan Stork. The previous national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, were able to beat Notre Dame with several key players including Eddie Lacy, Dee Milliner, and Dont’a Hightower.
The Fighting Irish were solid all around last season, but none of them were able to truly stand out as an individual to the rest of the country as a dominant force. If this upcoming season is going to be any different from the last, I think the following players are going to need to have breakout seasons.
Greg Bryant – Running back
Greg Bryant is a rising sophomore who was a four-star recruit coming out of American Heritage high school. While he didn’t have much of an impact on the field last season tallying only 14 yards on three carries, Bryant showed tremendous potential in the Spring game. Bryant picked up over 100 yards on only 12 carries including a 51-yard run that displayed Bryant’s impressive elusiveness.
The Irish have both Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston ahead of Bryant on the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean Bryant can’t contribute in a big way this season. Bryant also returned kickoffs and punts in the Spring game, and with former returner T.J Jones no longer handling those responsibilities, Bryant has an opportunity to take that role and become a special returner. He has enough speed and quickness to take kickoffs and punts for long distances, but he needs to work on his hands to become a legitimate threat. If Bryant can live up to his potential, teams will have to take Notre Dame’s special teams unit much more seriously than they did last season.
Jaylon Smith – Outside Linebacker
Jaylon Smith is another rising sophomore that Brian Kelly is expecting big things from. Smith finished third on the team in tackles with 67 as a true freshman. He wasn’t able to compile many sacks, but in Brian VanGorder’s new defense, Jaylon should see an increase in tackles and sacks. Some wonder if Smith will be able to handle the increase of responsibilities in the new defense, but Smith has the athleticism to thrive in dominating the outside linebacker position. Manti Te’o had a significant impact on the 2012-2013 Notre Dame defense that led the Irish to the national championship, so Smith should keep in mind that his play can be the difference between qualifying for a playoff spot and watching the national championship from home. If Smith can pick up the new defense quickly and master it on the field, the Irish can help its offense out with a strong defensive presence every game of the year.
Ronnie Stanley – Left Tackle
It has been recently reported that junior Ronnie Stanley is moving to the left tackle position now that Zack Martin has left to play for the Dallas Cowboys. Martin was able to dominate at left tackle despite his smaller stature, and in the Pinstripe Bowl, Martin won the most valuable player of the game leading the Irish to a 29-16 victory. He anchored the offensive line in a performance where Notre Dame rushed for 175 yards and gave up no sacks. Those are big shoes for Stanley to fill. He has the body type to play the tackle position standing at 6’5″ and weighing in at 318lbs. If he can continue to bulk up in the weight room, Stanley can be a player that the Irish can rely on in the run game. If Stanley fails to play well this season, Notre Dame will have trouble not only going to the playoffs, but also going over .500 for the season.
If these three players can play like the potential All-Americans that they are, then the Fighting Irish have a legitimate chance at playing in the four team playoff postseason. However, if all three of these players fail to come even close to having a breakout season, then Notre Dame could be looking at having a long, rough season.
One of the biggest rivalries in college football, Michigan vs Ohio State is this year’s most expensive game on the 2014 NCAA football schedule.
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