Top 25 player countdown: No. 17

No. 17. Zeke Motta, S

2011 numbers: Motta started eight of 13 games last season, splitting time with Jamoris Slaughter opposite Harrison Smith. Motta recorded 40 tackles, had an interception and returned a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown in Notre Dame's Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State.

Making the case for Motta: The secondary will be under the spotlight this season, as the Irish face vaunted passing attacks like Oklahoma and USC while breaking in two new starting cornerbacks. Having a veteran safety helps, and no one is more experienced than Motta. Thrown into the fire as a sophomore in 2010 because of injuries, Motta has played in all 38 games of his college career through three seasons. His job has become all the more important following the off-season shoulder surgery of Austin Collinsworth, who could miss the season. The Irish will need him and Slaughter to be anchors in the back of the defense this season.