With a month of practice until the Cotton Bowl vs. Clemson, Notre Dame football has some potential break out athletes they can unleash to the college football world.
It happens every year during bowl season: Teams are able to implement athletes that haven’t necessarily been focal points of the roster throughout the regular season. Whether that is due to injury, youth or the new red shirt rule, plenty of Notre Dame football players have a chance to make their mark.
Let’s first discuss how we came up with the criteria for eligible athletes. This isn’t a list for those who know nothing about Notre Dame and it’s starters. If a Clemson fan is reading this and hasn’t heard of Chris Finke, Jalen Elliott, Chase Claypool, etc. than it might be beneficial to stop reading now. It’s certainly possible these players make their mark on the college football playoff and get people talking, but around Notre Dame they are known quantities.
However, players that have made minor impacts on this season or even more major impacts on past seasons could certainly be discussed. I asked each Slap the Sign contributor to provide a name and small write up on that name. Here are your possible College Football Playoff breakout players for Notre Dame:
WR Kevin Austin – If his “traits” are back on track with the coaches (Austin did not travel with the team the last two weeks of the season), I think we could see a lot more of Austin – mainly working as a downfield threat. The Irish have lacked that dynamic weapon down the field on a consistent basis this year, but Austin’s size and speed combo could really benefit the Irish offense in the Playoff – especially against a stingy Clemson secondary.
WR Michael Young – Arguably one of the fastest players on the roster, we haven’t heard Young’s name called too often this season. His play-making ability has been apparent on the few times he’s been thrown to, averaging just under 20 yards a reception on his 7 catches this year. His speed might make him a nice target vs. Clemson’s athletic defense and while Clemson is focused on stopping Boykin, Claypool and Finke, Young could sneak in a few big receptions and shine on the biggest stage of the season.
CB Troy Pride Jr. – As the starting corner opposite of Julian Love, Pride is definitely overshadowed in Notre Dame’s secondary. However, he has been solid all season long. Clemson has a ton of weapons, and I’d expect them to avoid testing Love as much as possible. Pride will face his toughest test yet, and he should be targeted often on December 29th. He will need to step up in a big way, and I expect him to do just that.
TE Cole Kmet – If not for an early season ankle injury, Kmet would likely already be on the college football map. Kmet is one of four Notre Dame tight ends that sees extensive playing time, and he fits the bill as a breakout receiving threat this bowl season. With seniors Alize Mack and Nic Weishar in the discussion, Kmet’s opportunities have been limited, but his talent is undeniable. He will undoubtedly move up to TE1 in 2019, so in the Cotton Bowl look for him to contribute in a big way and exploit the middle of the field. That doesn’t mean a ton of catches for the sophomore, but don’t be surprised if he’s involved in a few big plays.
RB Jafar Armstrong – While Armstrong had a very strong start to the season in Dexter Williams’ absence, he has been relatively quiet since. Obviously, he had the minor knee surgery to clean out an infection, but when he’s been on the field his presence is felt. I expect his speed to be key against Clemson if Notre Dame wants to out of Dallas with a “W”. Armstrong’s quickness and versatility out of the backfield will prove to be a very real match-up problem for Dabo Swinney’s defense. Expect Jafar to have a big game as Clemson will look to take away home run hitter Dexter Williams.
OG Aaron Banks – Banks was thrust into the limelight when Alex Bars went down against Stanford. Although I understand he is young and was called upon to contribute earlier than expected, it is undeniable that there has been some growing pains. However, this playoff game is the perfect opportunity for Banks to have a breakout game. I think he will step up in a big way against arguably the best defensive front in the country and show everyone his ability. A great performance on the biggest of stages will set him up for future success with the Irish.
ATH Brandon Wimbush – Wimbush’s name is certainly known around the college football world considering he started for Notre Dame at QB in 2017 and the first 3 games of this season. However, his job was taken by red shirt sophomore Ian Book, and it has never been relinquished – outside of the Florida State game when Book was injured. In games that Book has started, Wimbush has rarely seen playing time – whether as the backup or as a trick play/athlete type. That said, it has been a much discussed topic, even by Brian Kelly. In his comments during his most recent press conference raised by eyebrow just a tad. Here is what he said, “We’re not going to protect him in the sense that we did during the year. But, if we can get him in and not disrupt the rhythm of the offense, we are going to play him. And…not worry about, well, we gotta keep our number two safe”. Certainly interesting comments to say the least. Wimbush has a cannon for an arm, is one of the best pure athletes at the quarterback position in college football and is powerful. With plenty of practice time leading up to the Cotton Bowl, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Wimbush makes an impact on the playoff.
S/CB Houston Griffith – I’m not going to look too far ahead with this pick. But against a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence, defense will be key, especially in the secondary. That’s why my pick is Houston Griffith.
He’s only a freshman, but he’s appeared in seven games his year so there’s no redshirt to worry about. Griffith hasn’t played since Syracuse, but had some key contributions from the Vanderbilt to Virginia Tech games.
I think he can step up and be a huge help, especially considering with you have guys like Love, Coleman and Coney roaming he field, they can mask a few of his mistakes. I wouldn’t bet on a 15 tackle, 2 interception game, but I think he can make a big impact even if it doesn’t show on the stat sheet.
TE Cole Kmet – Notre Dame is going to have to balance the run and pass game against a vaunted Clemson defensive front. For that reason, a wrinkle I’d expect to see out of the Irish could be multiple tight end sets. If that’s the case, Cole Kmet could see plenty of snaps, and as a lesser-known commodity at tight end, he could get some favorable matchups against slower linebackers and undersized safeties.
WR Michael Young – Notre Dame’s collection of big-name offensive weapons is well documented and will be well-scouted by the Clemson defensive staff. With so much attention being paid to the usual suspects, I like the chances of Young — the team’s only true lid-lifter in the passing attack — to break free for several explosive plays. Clemson is vulnerable to the deep ball in the secondary, and Young has the ability to exploit that weakness.