The 2nd Annual Shamrock Awards

The Shamrock Awards are back!

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Shamrock Awards, a less formal season preview for the Fighting Irish football team.

Last year’s first edition was a success and we hope once again to have a little fun with this 2011 version. In 2010 the awards were very long and broken up into two posts. This year we've cut back on the amount of awards in order to keep them in one splendid post.

Plus, now picking up a Shamrock has more meaning.

Are you excited, or what?

Let's let it all hang out and have some fun.

This is how we do it...

TOP NFL PROSPECT: Michael Floyd

No big surprise here, unless you think Manti Te’o is going to leave school early.

With a big final season in South Bend, Floyd has the opportunity to become the highest Irish draft pick in many years. Right now he’s sitting in the late-1st/early 2nd spot on most scouts' boards. If he can put his off the field issues to rest and produce like he has in the past, Floyd might sneak into the top 20 and walk on stage at RadioCityMusic Hall.

MOST LIKELY TO BREAK SCHOOL RECORDS: Michael Floyd

Another no brainer, as Floyd already holds numerous school records, but will be looking to completely own the Irish receiving record books after 2011.

Floyd already holds the school record for most receiving touchdowns (28), and will have a chance to break both the receptions and receiving yard records this year, in addition to a whole myriad of smaller records.

PLAYER POISED FOR A BREAKOUT SEASON: Cierre Wood

If Wood can stay healthy we might see some big things from him in 2011.

Brian Kelly had backs routinely averaging very healthy YPC at Cincinnati and Wood appears to be the perfect back to explode towards 6 YPC in 2011. With Jonas Gray set to pound the ball in short yardage situations, Wood will be able to stay fresh and break off longer runs from scrimmage.

The result is likely an YPC north of 5.5 and a 1,000 yard season.

Runner-up: Kapron Lewis-Moore

THREE THINGS THAT WILL BE IMMEDIATELY APPARENT IN THE FIRST GAME

The Defense is Really Big & Strong

I’m not sure how many other schools have a bigger defense, but it can’t be many. The Irish will basically be trotting out an NFL-sized defense in 2011.

The team made big strides last year stopping the run up the middle and I look for that to continue along with more tenacity and a few more eye-popping tackles.

The Players are More Comfortable in the Offense

Last year the offense struggled with the screen passes, run blocking, and communication between the receivers and quarterback.

In 2011, we should see a team that is more comfortable in the spread system and can run the simple things much smoother right out of the gate.

The Pass Rush is the Best it’s Been in Years

It’s been quite a while since an opponent has had to fear Notre Dame’s pass rush. Last year we saw an improvement over the laughingly bad pass rush from the Weis years, but with the addition of a space eater like Louis Nix, and fresh youth like Aaron Lynch, the Irish might take a big step forward in this category in the fall.

ASSISTANT COACH WHO WILL PROVE THE DOUBTERS WRONG: Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco

For the second year in a row, Bob Diaco is placed in this spot.

The Navy Debacle aside, Diaco had a very successful first season in South Bend with statistical improvement across the board and the installation of fundamentals that had been lacking at Notre Dame.

Due to the Meltdown in the Meadowlands last year, Diaco still has much to prove to many people. I expect him to continue improving this Irish defense and proving the doubters wrong.

BIGGEST IMPACT FRESHMAN: Cam McDaniel

From start to finish I think McDaniel will be the most used freshman on both sides of the ball. He’s shaping up to be the third string running back---which could bring him a lot of carries in some games---and he’s also likely to make an impact on special teams via the return game.

Other freshmen might make a few more big plays, especially the new blood on defense, but expect McDaniel to be a fixture for four quarters and all season long.

Runner-up: Aaron Lynch

FRESHMAN WHO SHOULD PLAY BUT WILL PROBABLY REDSHIRT:

Matthias Farley

I didn’t quite jump on the "Farley will be the next Golden Tate as a freshman" bandwagon a couple months ago, but I think the receiving corps needs new blood and Farley should have the size, strength, and speed to see the field at some point in 2011.

However, it appears that Farley has a good chance of sitting out this year and getting used to playing on offense and understanding Brian Kelly’s offense, especially if fellow freshman Davaris Daniels steps up and a couple veterans push for more playing time.

FRESHMAN WHO SHOULD REDSHIRT BUT WILL PROBABLY PLAY: Ben Councell

For the record, a few months ago I thought Councell would definitely come in and fight for some playing time. However, now Shembo and Spond are holding down the Dog position, and Troy Niklas appears ready to throw his hat in both the Dog and Cat positions.

Now, I think Councell might be better off taking a redshirt---but I still think the coaches desperately want size and speed on the edge of the defense and Councell can bring that, so he plays.

MOST BORING GAME: WakeForest

It’s the most winnable game against the likely weakest team on the schedule. It’s late in the season on the road and in a terribly small stadium. To make matters worse, it will probably be subject to the ABC/ESPN coverage map of death.

MOST EXCITING GAME: Michigan

USC, you say? It’s close but I think the Michigan game is more exciting because:

1. First ever night game at the Big House

2. Broadcast on ESPN is more exciting than on NBC

3. Retro uniforms

4. It’s early in the season

5. A win brings incredible momentum

6. Notre Dame really needs to beat Michigan more than USC

7. UM’s speed on offense will test the Irish defense

3 OPPOSING PLAYERS WHO NEED TO BE STOPPED

Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan

Shoelaces is going to need an effort similar to last year’s epic performance to keep his Michigan team and its offense in the game against Notre Dame. Only this time he’ll have to do more damage with his arm.

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

He’s the engine that makes the Cardinal offense go. If he’s healthy at the end of the year and his offensive line proves capable, Luck will be a tough player to slow down.

MichiganState’s Running Backs

Edwin Baker had 90 yards on 14 carries last year against ND, and still wasn't Sparty's leading rusher.

Okay so I cheated here, but the Spartans ran all over the Irish at times last year ending the thriller in East Lansing with 203 yards on the ground. It will be imperative to slow down the collection of running backs MichiganState will throw at Notre Dame.

3 ISSUES THAT NEED TO GO AWAY

Joining a Conference

It just won’t go away. And it won’t any time soon unfortunately.

Notre Dame is Finding it Difficult to Recruit Elite Running Backs

This is sort of a myth, but Kelly hasn’t nabbed a top 10 guy, let alone a top 20 guy for his backfield just yet. I expect that drought to come to an end in this recruiting cycle.

Notre Dame Stadium has Terrible Field Conditions

If there haven’t been any significant changes to the field, are you miraculously expecting a better surface in 2011?

PERSON WHOSE POPULARITY HAS SKY ROCKETED SINCE 2010: Harrison Smith

It’s been an amazing turnaround for Smith and let’s hope he keeps up the good work and finishes with his best season yet.

MOST LIKELY TO OVERACHIEVE DURING THE SEASON: Robby Toma

I’m starting come around on Toma. I was admittedly a little late to the party in praising his skills, but I’m expecting him to be a sneaky good slot player for the Irish.

PLAYER DEALING WITH THE MOST PRESSURE: Michael Floyd

From his rehabilitation and breaking school records, to chasing a national title, being the heart of the offense, and preparing himself for the NFL. Michael Floyd is probably feeling a whole lot of pressure these days.

PLAYER WHO WILL BECOME A HOUSEHOLD NAME: Darius Fleming

Fleming is well known to many Irish fans, but he’s still not quite a household name. If we believe what Kelly is saying in that Fleming has been dominant during the fall and is ready to break out in a big way, then everyone will know his name by the end of the season.

PLAYER FLYING UNDER THE RADAR: Theo Riddick

Riddick was on pace for a big year in 2010 before being injured.

A somewhat interesting choice, but here’s why: Riddick still isn’t very well known across the country and a lot of people think the Irish don’t have much in the receiving department outside of Floyd.

Well, don’t be surprised if Riddick leads the team in many offensive categories and proves himself to be an electric playmaker. Once he found some comfort with the system last year he was a huge weapon for Notre Dame.

TOUGHEST ROAD GAME: Stanford

As mentioned in the Road Stadium Tour, the Fighting Irish have not played well historically in Palo Alto, and Notre Dame is likely to face a ranked Stanford team on the road for the first time since 2001.

Stanford may be the most complete team on the Irish schedule, and there is a good possibility that there are some major postseason prospects on the line when this one is played.

Runner-up: Michigan

TOP TWO HOME GAMES TO ATTEND

USC

The first night game in 21 years. First ever night game in South Bend against USC. Nothing more needs to be said.

Michigan State

The Spartans should come back with another very strong team this year, and Notre Dame will be looking to avenge last year’s heart breaking loss.

MAJOR WORRY THAT WILL SUBSIDE BY OCTOBER

Can Notre Dame Run the Ball Effectively?

I’m not sure we’ll see a huge improvement in the running game---and I’m not calling for 2,000 yards like I did last year---but I think this will be an effective team on the ground and one that can break off the much-needed long running play a few times a game.

MAJOR WORRY THAT WON’T SUBSIDE BY OCTOBER

Can Dayne Crist Stay Healthy?

Let’s face it, until Dayne Crist gets through an entire season without a major injury, this will always be a concern.

TOP 3 OPPONENT UNIFORMS

USC

Begrudgingly at the top but only because their competition is so weak.

Air Force

Very underrated uniform.

Michigan

I still kind of like Michigan’s retro jersey, but it keeps them from claiming the top spot.

UGLIEST UNIFORM

Maryland

Way to stick it to Nike, UnderArmour!!

Wake Forest's boring design had this award all wrapped up until the Terps unleashed eye cancer on the world.

SENIOR WITH THE MOST TO PROVE

Steve Filer

Many are not expecting Filer to do much in his final season in South Bend, and if he doesn’t he will be one of the biggest busts in recent memory for Notre Dame.

TOP TWO OPPONENT COACHES

Mark Dantonio

This is a very weak group of coaches Notre Dame will go up against this year, and Dantonio is at the top. He has a somewhat mediocre .586 career winning percentage, but he is sitting at a solid .634 with MichiganState and has proven to be a good coach at two BCS schools.

Troy Calhoun

Calhoun is extremely underrated and always has his Air Force teams ready to play. His .653 career winning percentage isn’t too shabby either.

3 GUARANTEES BEFORE THE SEASON STARTS

The Quarterback Play is Markedly Improved

A small decrease in turnovers, a small increase in accuracy, plus an improvement in big plays. I would be shocked if the quarterback stats weren’t very good in 2011.

The Defense Will Hold 3 Opponents Under 10 Points

And those teams will be Purdue, WakeForest, and BostonCollege.

There Will Be Two Freshmen All-Americans

Most likely they will be Aaron Lynch and Cam McDaniel. George Atkinson and Stephon Tuitt might also have a chance.

ONE OPPONENT THAT CAN’T BE OVERLOOKED: Air Force

They are an option team with a good pedigree and a quality coach. Notre Dame will be returning to the comforts of South Bend after two weeks on the road, and a bye awaits them afterward. There’s not a lot to like about this matchup.

PLAYER WHOSE BANDWAGON IS FILLING UP QUICKLY: Louis Nix

Louis Nix, nose tackle aficionado.

It’s filling up fast too!

The season is only five days away!!

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