Welcome to the 4th annual Shamrock Awards the informal and entertaining preview to the upcoming Fighting Irish football season. I've checked my math and we've been rolling this piece out since the summer of 2010 right before Brian Kelly's first season in South Bend. How time flies!
Let us not waste anymore time and get to the hardware.
The Top NFL Prospect: DE Stephon Tuitt
A case could be made for Louis Nix here, and if you really want to be radical maybe freshman Jaylon Smith, but we'll go with the NFL scouts on this one. Even dealing with a sports hernia couldn't stop Tuitt from dominating as a sophomore and rising into the Top 15 on most mock draft boards. Another strong season in which the Georgia native pushes for the school sack record and he'll be hearing his name called very early by Roger Goodell. I do think Nix is a more sure thing at the next level though.
2012- Manti Te'o
2011- Michael Floyd
2010- Michael Floyd
Most Likely to Break School Records: DE Stephon Tuitt
Tuitt becomes the first player since Michael Floyd in 2011 to win the first two Shamrock category awards in the same season. Stephon was on pace to break Justin Tuck's single-season sacks record (13.5 set in 2003) and flew out of the gates in 2012 with 6 sacks through 4 games. Unfortunately, Tuitt's injury slowed him down and he only notched 1 sack over the final 4 games to end the season 2.5 sacks short of Tuck's record. He'll aim at both single-season and career sack record this year---Tuitt only needs 12 sacks to become Notre Dame's top career sack machine.
2012- Tyler Eifert
2011- Michael Floyd
2010- Kyle Rudolph
Player Poised for a Breakout Season: RB/WR Amir Carlisle
I was tempted to pick Daniels for a second consecutive year but he had a pretty strong redshirt freshman season in 2012. He could have qualified for major breakout status (like the 2011 choice of Wood) or I could have picked Jarrett Grace too. I'm going with Carlisle who should be a major weapon in the offense. If he can stay healthy Carlisle might easily have 1,000 yards of offense in 2013.
2012- DaVaris Daniels
2011- Cierre Wood
2010- Shaq Evans
3 Things that will be Readily Apparent in the 1st Game
Good Luck Running the Ball on the Irish Defense
This is who we are. Ahh, it feels so good to say that.
One Player will Offer Major Hope for the Future on Offense
Who's it going to be? It could just be one huge play from someone like Tarean Folston or Greg Bryant. Or a dominating performance by DaVaris Daniels. Someone is going to step up immediately.
Middle Linebacker will be the Weakest Point of the Defense
This shouldn't be a huge surprise when Manti Te'o is now with the San Diego Chargers. I'm not saying the position will be a huge weakness, but compared to the rest of the defense it likely will be.
Assistant Coach who will Prove the Doubters Wrong: Scott Booker
Is there anyone else left at this point? Martin and Heistand had the magnifying glass on them last year and both acquitted themselves very well, especially the latter coach. Booker is still tasked with special teams---he'd be smart to improve some facets of that---and he gets to handle a wildly talented but quite unproven tight end corps.
I'm not sure if he proves the doubters wrong but he's really the only choice. Booker has his work cut out for him.
2012- Chuck Martin
2011- Bob Diaco
2010- Bob Diaco
The Biggest Impact Freshman: RB Greg Bryant
Ouch, not the best track record in this category although T.J. Jones did start 7 games as a freshman and totaled 23 receptions. That's pretty good for a true freshman.
It's tempting to pick Jaylon Smith but as a defender it's tough to know how much he'll be asked to do. With the Spond retirement it could very well be Smith with the biggest impact but I believe Greg Bryant is the easy pick here.
2012- Davonte Neal
2011- Cam McDaniel
2010- T.J. Jones
Freshman who should Play but will Probably Redshirt: LB Michael Deeb
This is a tough category because the coaching staff knows best whether some player is ready to play and contribute to the team's success. In looking at some of the borderline players and projecting towards 2014 needs I think Deeb could be a player, if ready, should see the field. I might throw Will Fuller or Hunter Bivin in there as well.
2012- Justin Ferguson
2011- Matthias Farley
2010- Louis Nix
Freshman who should Redshirt but will Probably Play: CB Devin Butler
Everyone expects 5-star freshman Max Redfield to see the field and the top corner in the class Cole Luke has certainly impressed and moved up to the third corner after a couple weeks of fall camp. However, Devin Butler has quietly moved up the depth chart as well and is pushing for playing time ahead of several veterans.
2012- Jarron Jones
2011- Ben Councell
2010- Andrew Hendrix
Most Boring Game: Pittsburgh
This is just a really boring ‘rivalry' game for the Irish, isn't it? I mean last years game was about as exciting of a final 20+ minutes of football as you'll see and still...is anyone really looking forward to playing Pitt at Heinz Field? Nothing against Pitt, and we can't escape them now that they've moved to the ACC, but I'd favor a nice long break in this series.
Most Exciting Game: Oklahoma
There are quite a few options to pick from here. Under the Lights II, Revenge of the Rees? USC at home is always great particularly when you haven't beaten them in roughly 45 years in South Bend. The season ending game at Stanford could be excellent as well.
However, anytime you have a traditional power like Oklahoma coming to town that's awfully exciting.
3 Opposing Players that Need to be Stopped
Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
No opposing player holds the keys to Notre Dame's success quite like Gardner. If he struggles early this season the Irish can take a ton of momentum by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. If Gardner plays well it could cost Notre Dame an early loss and the potential for bad things to come with several quality teams still on the schedule.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Typically a receiver won't have this big of an impact but Lee isn't your typical receiver. If USC is getting above average or better quarterback play when the Trojans visit in October Lee is the kind of playmaker who can put up 200 yards and 3 touchdowns in his sleep.
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Hogan is a lot like Gardner but he has a better defense backing him up. If Hogan isn't quite a superstar Stanford's offense could really struggle with so many lost playmakers from a year ago. On the other hand, if he continues his trajectory from the end of 2012 the Cardinal will be awfully tough to beat.
3 Issues that Need to go Away
Does Brian Kelly Love Notre Dame?
I generally think Irish fans are a good lot, but boy do some of us show our small timey-ness (see what I did there?) when trying to argue about whether Brian Kelly appropriately loves and understands Notre Dame.
Perhaps Kelly does not see South Bend as the pinnacle of the football coaching world, perhaps he gets fed up with the restrictions, and perhaps he simply wants another challenge in life? We're showing our insecurity because we know Notre Dame truly isn't the pinnacle anymore. That's not the fault of Brian Kelly.
Will Notre Dame Join a Conference?
Have we finally put this behind us? Maybe for the next 3 years? I still await the day---and it better come within my lifetime---when the major teams break away and start becoming independent again.
Can Notre Dame Score in the Red Zone?
For a lot of fans it's a matter of simply running the ball more. Be tougher than your opponent!
Everyone loves those heavy sets and pounding the ball in for a touchdown. Well, unless it doesn't work (see the first drive of the 2012 Pitt game) in which case the head coach becomes an unimaginative play-caller. A little more aggressive play (yes that means sometimes throwing fades), smart quarterback play, and multiple playmakers that make teams afraid is a good way to improve in the red zone.
The Player Whose Popularity has Skyrocketed since 2012: DE Sheldon Day
No one challenged Day in replacing Kapron Lewis-Moore and everyone agreed the Indiana native would be the new starter along the defensive line. Yet, the praise for Day from the coaching staff in fall camp has been plentiful, particularly from Brian Kelly. Suddenly Day has gone from having a very nice freshman season to the fan base expecting big things in 2013.
2012- George Atkinson
2011- Harrison Smith
2010- Jack Swarbrick
The Player Most Likely to Overachieve During the Season: NG Kona Schwenke
This is a tough one because I feel like there's been a very solid grasp of everyone's expected role this year. Schwenke is the one player who could really turn in a fine senior season. He's added weight, strength, and I'm expecting to be pleasantly surprised this fall.
2012- Zeke Motta
2011- Robby Toma
2010- Anthony McDonald
The Player Dealing with the Most Pressure: RB Amir Carlisle
There is quite an interesting group of picks from the past 3 seasons, right? Hendrix was facing a do-or-die situation last year before Golson forever passed him on the depth chart but the Voodoo Child still sits in the two-deep heading into the fall. Of course Floyd was coming off his DUI and spring suspension two years ago and Harrison Smith was making the transition to safety after a disastrous two seasons in South Bend.
There's just a lot of pressure on Carlisle to stay healthy. In addition we're looking for him to be a dynamic playmaker and he's still without many college game snaps in his career.
2012- Andrew Hendrix
2011- Michael Floyd
2010- Harrison Smith
The Player Who will Become a Household Name: RB Greg Bryant
If Bryant doesn't average at least 5 carries per game I'll be shocked. If he has more of a Theo Riddick-type of freshman season (29 carries) the Irish ground game is going to be very effective with Atkinson, Carlisle, and McDaniel. That's a pretty positive outtake, right?
2012- Sheldon Day
2011- Darius Fleming
2010- Ethan Johnson
The Player Flying under the Radar: DE Tony Springmann
Springmann only totaled 11 tackles last season but he was solid in a reserve role and played really well against Michigan State notching a sack against the Spartans. He's being overlooked a little bit as we focus on the starters and the battle raging between the other players fighting to make the two-deep. Springmann's fiery red beard alone might earn himself a few sacks this season. If his injury is long-term that will be a shame.
2012- Alex Welch
2011- Theo Riddick
2010- Theo Riddick
Toughest Road Game: Michigan
If the Irish were playing Stanford in week two I would undoubtedly pick the Cardinal here, but that game isn't until the end of the season and Palo Alto really isn't that intimidating of a place to play. Michigan may not be as good as Stanford but I'd like to remind everyone that Notre Dame has won just 1 game at the Big House since 1997.
Top 2 Home Games to Attend
The Sooners once beat the Irish 40-0 inside Notre Dame Stadium back in 1956---Oklahoma's only win in the series. They'll be making just their second trip to South Bend in 45 years and the first since 1999.
It's been 12 years since Notre Dame beat USC in South Bend. Gross.
Major Worry that will Subside by October
Has Someone Stepped up at Running Back?
I'm pretty confident that a couple guys will emerge from a deep selection of talent.
Major Worry that won't Subside by October
Is the Offense Good Enough to Reach a Major Bowl?
We'll have a clearer picture after a month and by then the answer could certainly be a resounding "no."
Top 3 Opponent Uniforms
Clean and crisp white uniforms with sparkly red candy apple lids. One of the better looks in the country.
I love the royal blue with gray and white mixed in with a little black and the always awesome thunder bolts.
I'd move them up to No. 1 on the list if they returned to the royal blue of the past.
Ugliest Opponent Uniform
Damn, this team is in need of a makeover. Pitt has one of the worst helmets among major college football teams and with all the change in coaches over the past few years I'm surprised Nike hasn't been able to get a full remodel through.
The Senior with the Most to Prove: TE Alex Welch
Welch has impressed in practice when he's been able to stay healthy but his career has flown by very quickly and he finds himself already a senior with just 1 career catch. We've talked on the site recently about Welch's chances of returning for a fifth year and if he can stay healthy I like his chances.
2012- John Goodman
2011- Steve Filer
2010- Brian Smith
Top 2 Opponent Coaches
Like Hansel from Zoolander David Shaw is so hot right now. He's 23-4 in his first two years and lost just 2 league games since 2011. He doesn't have a national title but it's tough to argue that anyone else on the Irish schedule has a higher stock right now.
Big Game Bob has won double-digit games in each of the past 3 seasons and in 11 of his 14 seasons in Norman. He has lost 13 games over the past 4 years though and some rot may have set in a while ago for Stoops.
3 Guarantees before the Season Begins
The Irish Will Rush for 2,000 for the 3rd Straight Season
The first ever article I wrote for One Foot Down was a prediction before the 2010 season that the Irish could run for over 2,000 yards. That did not happen but Notre Dame has achieved that goal in each of the last two seasons.
Tommy Rees Will Score 2 Rushing Touchdowns
It's a brave new world.
Notre Dame Will Win Their Bowl Game
Just two bowl wins since 1994, you guys.
One Opponent that can't be Overlooked: Southern California
Arizona State is the too easy pick, so I'll say don't sleep on the Trojans.
The Player whose Bandwagon is Filling Up Quickly: TE Troy Niklas
Niklas finished his freshman season with 20 tackles and moved to tight end last year where he played in the shadow of 1st-round pick Tyler Eifert. Big things are expected from Hercules and he'll have to improve on his 5 total catches last season.
2012- George Atkinson
2011- Louis Nix
2010- Cierre Wood