Notre Dame Football: ND opponents to watch

Players to watch: Stanford

July, 23, 2013
There could be quite a lot on the line when these two gather in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 30.

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Kevin Hogan, QB. Is it possible that Notre Dame's perfect 2012 regular season doesn't happen if Hogan starts under center at Notre Dame Stadium? Perhaps. Either way, Hogan went 5-0 to finish the season, with four of those wins coming against ranked opponents. The Cardinal won the Rose Bowl, and they enter 2013 as a national title contender. Hogan has four of his five starting offensive linemen back to protect him, and while he loses his top two tight ends from last season, the redshirt sophomore will look to build off his 71.7 completion percentage from 2012, when he tossed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns to go with just three picks. He added 263 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground, too.

Defense: Shayne Skov, LB. There are about five guys you can't go wrong with here, but we'll settle on Skov, the Cardinal's leading returning tackler from 2012 (81 total). As a junior, he netted nine tackles for loss, including two sacks, to go with a break-up, a pass defended and two quarterback hurries. He's on virtually every watch list he's eligible for this fall, and he should be even healthier after posting those 2012 numbers less than a year after having major knee surgery. The redshirt senior anchors a defense that returns eight starters, including five of its starters from the front-seven, as the Cardinal look to continue their winning ways of the past three seasons.

Players to watch: BYU

July, 22, 2013
Last year's BYU contest was a little close for comfort for Notre Dame fans. What will be in store during the Nov. 23 Senior Day tilt at Notre Dame Stadium?

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Cody Hoffman, WR. The Biletnikoff watch lister was part of a miscommunication last year with quarterback Riley Nelson that resulted in a key misfire and eliminated upset hopes for the Cougars in a three-point loss in South Bend, Ind. Hoffman finished that contest with eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, and he finished the season with 100 grabs for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had four games with at least 10 catches, and he finished with eight 100-yard receiving games. Hoffman's decision to stay for his senior season is one more potential headache for opponents this fall, as the redshirt senior is one of the top returning receivers in the country.

Defense: Kyle Van Noy, LB. Van Noy is another Cougar who changed his team's fall fortunes for the better by deciding to return for his senior season in Provo, Utah. As a junior, he finished with 22 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks, to go with two interceptions, five break-ups, eight passes defended, one fumble recovery, six forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He returned one of those picks for a 17-yard score in the Poinsettia Bowl win over San Diego State. Van Noy received at least honorable mention honors from most All-America teams last season, and like Hoffman, he returns this fall as one of the best in the nation at his position.

Players to watch: Pitt

July, 19, 2013
Notre Dame has topped Pitt by three points in consecutive closer-than-anticipated contests. Nov. 9 is the schools' last meeting before the Irish's ACC scheduling agreement kicks in. (They will then meet in 2015, again at Heinz Field.)

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Devin Street, WR. The second-team All-Big East receiver hauled in 73 catches for 975 yards and five touchdowns last season. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior had just three catches for 35 yards in last year's loss at Notre Dame and two for 21 in the 2011 contest, but Street is capable of breaking out at any time, as evidenced by his three 100-yard receiving games for the second consecutive year. The question is how quickly a new quarterback and complementary receivers will emerge around the Biletnikoff Award watch-lister.

Defense: Aaron Donald, DT. Donald has been named to five different watch lists already, this after notching 18.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2012. His 1.54 tackles for loss per game were a Big East-best last season, and he has been named All-Big East in each of the past two seasons (first team in 2012, second team in 2011). The 6-foot, 285-pound Donald had seven tackles and one tackle for loss in last season's loss at Notre Dame.

Players to watch: Navy

July, 18, 2013
No jet-lag for this one. Notre Dame goes for its third straight win against Navy on Nov. 2, this time in South Bend, Ind.

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Keenan Reynolds, QB. Reynolds became just the third quarterback in Navy history last year to start under center as a freshman, as he took the first snap in the team's final eight games in 2012, going 6-2. Reynolds finished with 898 yards passing and nine touchdowns while completing 56.5 percent of his passes. He added 649 yards and 10 more scores on the ground. Those numbers earned him FBS independent rookie of the year honors. Reynolds led the Midshipmen to three fourth-quarter comebacks and orchestrated an offense that finished sixth nationally in rushing yards (278.46 per game).

Defense: Cody Peterson, LB. Peterson entered Navy as a fullback, switched to outside linebacker and is finally settled in at inside linebacker, where he started eight games last season. The co-captain for this year's squad will look to build off a 2012 campaign that saw him notch 67 tackles, including two for loss, and one forced fumble. Peterson had double-digit tackle outings against Air Force and Army, and the fourth-year junior is the Midshipmen's second-leading returning tackler this fall.

Players to watch: Air Force

July, 17, 2013
Air Force has actually outgained Notre Dame over their past three matchups, but the Irish have won two of those three contests. Can the Falcons get the better of the Irish on Oct. 26 in Colorado Springs, Colo.?

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Ty MacArthur, WR. The Falcons have a quarterback battle this spring, but whoever emerges as the leader will have the benefit of throwing to MacArthur, the team's leading receiver last season. MacArthur hauled in 24 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns in 2012, and he added 467 yards and two more scores on 57 carries. He caught a six-yard touchdown pass in Air Force's 59-33 loss at Notre Dame in 2011.

Defense: Christian Spears, FS. Air Force struggled defensively last year, finishing 72nd nationally in total D and 71st in scoring defense. Spears is the team's leading returning tackler this season, as he notched 91 total takedowns in 2012, including 2.5 for loss. He added a pick, two pass break-ups and two forced fumbles for the 6-7 Falcons, who return seven safeties and should have a far better passing defense than last year's, which ranked 105th nationally in pass efficiency D.

Players to watch: USC

July, 16, 2013
USC was the preseason No. 1 team last season and ended up becoming an unranked team that lost to No. 1 Notre Dame at home to close the regular season. And Notre Dame, for good measure, was unranked heading into the season. The Irish hosted their first night game in 21 years in 2011, only to have the Trojans ruin the party. Which rival will get the best of each other this time around, on Oct. 19? The road team has won the last four games in this series.

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Marqise Lee, WR. What has Lee not accomplished in his first two years in Los Angeles? Last year he won Pac-12 offensive player of the year honors, won the the Biletnikoff Award (nation's top receiver) and was a unanimous first-team All-American. He probably would have received much more Heisman Trophy consideration had his team not struggled so much last season. But his numbers were outstanding: 118 catches for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns, not to mention 13 carries for 106 yards and a 28.5 yard-per-kick-return average, including another score. In short, keep an eye on him at all times, as he is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Last year Notre Dame committed a number of (smart) pass interference penalties on Lee, who finished with five catches for 75 yards and had a 43-yard kickoff return.

Defense: Morgan Breslin, DE/OLB. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior will be featured in more of a hybrid role this season under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. In his first year at USC after transferring from Diablo Valley Junior College, Breslin finished with team-bests of 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks while also forcing a fumble and recovering another. He was named an honorable mention All-American by several outlets, and he was credited with half of a sack in the regular-season finale against Notre Dame.

Players to watch: Arizona State

July, 15, 2013
The Shamrock Series is taking over Jerry World this year, with the Irish "hosting" Arizona State in Arlington, Texas, in Todd Graham's second year in charge of the Sun Devils. Graham beat the Irish with Tulsa in 2010 and came awfully close to repeating the feat with Pitt in 2011. Can he pull off the upset on Oct. 5?

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Taylor Kelly, QB. Kelly is one of the more underrated quarterbacks returning to college football in 2013, as he is coming off a season in which he set a school-record 67.1 completion percentage, throwing for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns to go with just nine picks. He added 516 yards and another score on the ground, and the redshirt junior returns his top three pass-catchers from last season. ASU appears to be one of the dark horses in the Pac-12 and on Notre Dame's schedule this fall.

Defense: Will Sutton, DT. This game will be fascinating if for no other reason than to see how the game's two-best interior defensive linemen fare on the same field: Louis Nix and Sutton. The reigning consensus All-American finished 2012 with 63 total tackles, including 23.5 tackles for loss (fourth nationally) and 13 sacks. Sutton was named the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts. The 6-foot-1, 288-pound redshirt senior is on the watch lists for both the Bednarik and Maxwell awards, one of just six defensive players to be named to the latter list. (Nix and Stephon Tuitt are two of the others.)

Players to watch: Oklahoma

July, 12, 2013
Notre Dame's win at Oklahoma last season was a defining moment that announced the program's arrival back among college football's elite. Both teams feature plenty of new faces in key places this season, as the Sooners will look to reciprocate the road upset on Sept. 28 in South Bend, Ind.

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Jalen Saunders, WR. Notre Dame fans will remember Saunders for his historic performance in last year's contest, as the then-junior caught a school-record eight first-quarter passes en route to a school-record 15 grabs for 181 yards. The Fresno State transfer led the Sooners in receiving yards per game (92.1) last season, his first in Norman. Saunders finished with 62 catches in nine games, tallying 829 yards and three scores. He also returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the regular-season finale win over rival Oklahoma State. In 2011, his final year with the Bulldogs, Saunders hauled in 50 catches for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns and added two more scores on the ground, earning first-team All-WAC honors.

Defense: Aaron Colvin, CB. Colvin is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award after recording four interceptions for the Sooners last season. He was third on the team with 61 tackles, and he added two sacks to go with 11 pass break-ups and 15 passes defended. He had 10 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss in last season's contest against the Irish. A potential first-round NFL draft pick, Colvin is back for one more season, this after earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. The 6-foot-1, 181-pounder also started at safety as a sophomore in 2011, tying for the team-lead with 84 tackles.

Players to watch: Michigan State

July, 11, 2013
On Sept. 21, Notre Dame will be looking to notch its first three-game winning streak against Michigan State since the Lou Holtz days (1987-94). The two will take a two-year break before meeting in East Lansing, Mich., on Sept. 24, 2016. Who are the biggest Sparty threats to another Irish win?

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Travis Jackson, C. The junior was hampered by injuries last season, starting just five games before going down with a broken leg and a knee injury. Now healthy, Jackson is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy and will look to pave the way for a backfield that is without Le'Veon Bell. He had 10 knockdowns in five contests last year and started 10 games as a freshman in 2011, earning freshman All-America honors from Phil Steele and conference all-freshman honors from three different publications.

Defense: Max Bullough, LB. The three-year starter in the middle for the always-stout Spartan D has amassed 223 total tackles in 40 career games, including 21 for loss and 6.5 sacks. The Big Ten coaches named Bullough a first-team all-conference selection last season, with the media placing him on the second team. Bullough had a team-best 111 total tackles last season, including 12.5 for loss, to go with 2.5 sacks, one pick, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. He led the team in tackles (89) in 2011, too, getting named second-team all-conference by the coaches and honorable mention by the media. Bullough's grandfather, Jim Morse, played halfback at Notre Dame under Terry Brennan from 1954-56. His uncle, also named Jim Morse, was a cornerback for the Irish under Dan Devine from 1976-77.

Players to watch: Purdue

July, 10, 2013
Our series continues today with Purdue, which hosts Notre Dame on Sept. 14 in yet another prime-time contest. The game will be the Boilermakers' third under new head coach Darrell Hazell.

To read previous entries, click here.

Offense: Akeem Hunt, RB. Think of Hunt as the Purdue of version of George Atkinson III, because both will be counted on to provide more offense this year. Hunt ran for just 335 yards and two scores last season but averaged 8.0 yards per carry, 15.7 yards per catch and 22.2 yards per kick return. He added two receiving touchdowns and a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. Four different times in 2012, Hunt reached the end zone on plays of 50 or more yards. His 19 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown in Purdue's spring game only enhances his case heading into the fall.

Defense: Ricardo Allen, CB. Allen was selected by Big Ten coaches as a second-team all-conference performer in each of the last two seasons, and the media named him second-team All-Big Ten as a freshman in 2010. Allen notched 45 tackles last season, including four for loss, to go with a sack, four break-ups, five passes defended and one interception -- which he returned 39 yards for a score in a Week 3 victory over Marshall, giving him the school record of four career pick-sixes. He is one off the national record of five. Allen has seven picks for his career, and he forced a fumble against Notre Dame during the Irish's 2011 win in West Lafayette, Ind.

Players to watch: Michigan

July, 9, 2013
Our series continues today with Michigan, which will host Notre Dame on Sept. 7 in the Big House's second-ever night game. The two teams will also get together in 2014 -- the last time for the foreseeable future.

To read the Temple entry, click here.

Offense: Taylor Lewan, LT. Yes, we know this isn't the flashiest pick, especially with Devin Gardner now at the helm under center for the Wolverines. But Lewan's decision to return to Michigan for another season is huge for the program. He is coming off a season in which he was named the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year and was on a number of different All-American teams. Watching the 6-foot-8, 308-pounder going head-to-head with Notre Dame defensive line behemoths Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III should make for one of the better matchups in the nation this fall.

Defense: Desmond Morgan, LB. The two-year starter on the weak side saw time in the middle this spring and will have added responsibility in the fall -- both against the run and as a field general. Morgan tallied 81 total tackles, including five for loss, to go with two pass break-ups last season despite missing two games due to injury. In holding Notre Dame to just 13 points in the Irish's win over the Wolverines last season, Morgan notched seven tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. Someone will have to make up for the production this fall without Jake Ryan, who could miss the season because of a torn ACL suffered during the spring, and Morgan seems like a prime candidate to do so.

Players to watch: Temple

July, 8, 2013
Today we kick off a new series looking at some of the top players Notre Dame will be facing this coming fall. There are some familiar faces on the Irish's schedule (hello again, Blake Bell and Marqise Lee), but other key rivals are off to greener pastures (goodbye, Denard Robinson and Le'Veon Bell).

Then there are entirely new opponents, like Arizona State. Or today's entry, Temple.

We'll start things off with the Owls, who come to South Bend, Ind., on Aug. 31 for the inaugural game of the Matt Rhule era. Who should the Irish keep an extra eye on?

Offense: Connor Reilly, QB. A new offense under a new coach has given Reilly quite the opportunity this offseason. And to say he has taken advantage would be a massive understatement. Reilly ascended from fourth to first on the Owls' QB depth chart this past spring, as the pro-style passer and dual-sport athlete (he's also played for Temple's baseball team) threw for 366 yards and four scores in the spring game. Two of his competitors for the job have switched positions (Kevin Newsome to H-back; Chris Coyer, last year's starter, to tight end/H-back). Not surprisingly, Reilly was named the team's most improved offensive player this spring.

Defense: Tyler Matakevich, LB. The reigning Big East rookie of the year became the first freshman in school history last year to notch 100 tackles, finishing with a team-best 101. No teammate came within 25 tackles of the newcomer. Matakevich had three tackles for loss, three pass break-ups, a pair of fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. He didn't start until the fourth game of the season, and it's important to remember that the Owls played only 11 contests last year. Matakevich had seven double-digit tackle outings. He was a second-team all-conference pick, a freshman All-American and the ECAC defensive rookie of the year.


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