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The Top 60 Players to Watch Out For on the Irish Schedule (Part 3 of 3)

Here is the final edition of the top 60 players to watch out for on the 2010 Notre Dame schedule.

We’ve already taken a look at 40 outstanding players in parts one and two, and as we head into the last week of pre-season I give you the last 20 playmakers.

As I mentioned in the part one, USC and Michigan State lead the way with the most players on the list, but part three is really filled with a mix of talent from a broad spectrum of the Irish schedule.

Some of these players you may never have heard of, but the objective of this series was to get Notre Dame fans familiar with all the top players that they will see from their opponent each and every week.

So remember these names when their respective teams get ready to play against Notre Dame. You may be surprised at how good some of these athletes are.

Here’s part three.

Quarterback

GJ Kinne (Tulsa) Junior

2009 stats:

2,732 yards (61 percent)

22 TD

10 INT

A transfer from Texas who redshirt in Austin and sat out in 2008, Kinne finally took the field last season as the quarterback for the Tulsa Hurricanes.

A lot of people don’t know about Kinne outside of Texas, but he’s the complete package of a quarterback who definitely has BCS-level skills.

The more you look into their roster, you’ll discover that Tulsa is not as bad as a lot of people are making them out to be, and Kinne has a strong arm and decent wheels (393 rushing yards, 5 TD in 2009) to be able to put some points on the board against Notre Dame.

Detate Forcinson (Michigan) Sophomore

2009 stats:

2,238 yards (57.3 percent)

15 TD
14 INT

591 rushing yards (3.1 average)

Last year versus Irish:

240 yards (69.7 percent)

2 TD

1 INT

91 rushing yards (5.3 average)

Okay so I put the two Michigan quarterbacks together as one person and combined their statistics because we still don’t know which one will be starting against Notre Dame and it’s probably likely that both will get the chance to run the offense at some point.

It’s been one long and agonizing off-season watching highlights from last year’s game and how good the Notre Dame defense made Tate Forcier look. Unfortunately for Forcier, playing the game of his life and defeating a 6-6 Notre Dame squad could be his career claim to fame as it appears Denard Robinson is taking over the QB competition in Ann Arbor.

Reports from Michigan say that Robinson is vastly improved as a passer, but his biggest asset will be using his legs and making plays on the ground. Notre Dame fans would be smart to watch the Michigan-UConn match up in week one to see what Rich Rodriguez has in store.

One other thought if I may for all those Wolverine fans hoping to see the explosive offense that Rich Rod displayed in West Virginia.

During his sophomore season, former Mountaineer quarterback Pat White rushed for 1,219 yards, at 7.4 per carry, with 18 touchdowns on the ground, to go along with a spectacular 159.73 passer rating.

Steve Slaton also chipped in 1,744 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground for that 11-win West Virginia club. Rodriguez has been trying to fill those shoes on the field for years now.

Trent Steelman (Army) Sophomore

2009 stats:

637 yards (49.1 percent)

3 TD

2 INT

705 rushing yards (3.4 average)

5 TD

A short, stocky, but powerful athlete, Steelman was the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Black Knights in the modern era and did a decent job leading Army’s quirky option offense.

In reality, Steelman and Army will be like Navy-light and there’s little chance that the Black Knights offense is as productive and dangerous as the Midshipmen’s.

Still, Steelman could continue to improve and develop some other weapons around him to deflect the amount of defenders spying on him. Not a whole lot of people expect Army to be any good, but they could surprise some folks with a more mature quarterback in his second year.

Running Back

Montel Harris (Boston College) Junior

2009 stats:

1,457 yards (4.7 average)

14 TD

Last year versus Irish:

38 yards (1.7 average)

1 TD

In one of the biggest anomalies in recent Irish history, the Notre Dame defense was able to completely shut down Montel Harris last year in South Bend. It’s just too bad the focus on stopping Harris opened the door for Eagle quarterback David Shinskie to punish the Irish through the air.

At any rate, Harris is one of the top two or three running backs Notre Dame will see all year, and he already seems like a fifth year senior with the amount of experience and carries he’s had against the Irish.

Another strong effort against Harris will be key to a Notre Dame victory on the road early in the season.

Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) Sophomore

2009 stats:

303 yards (5.4 average)

2 TD

Last year versus Irish:

35 yards (2.9 average)

There has been a lot of lamenting of the loss of Toby Gerhart for Stanford, but the word from Palo Alto is that Stepfan Taylor is a very explosive running back in his own right.

Taylor didn’t do a whole lot last year as a freshman, but he did carry the ball the most all season against the Irish last year. He wasn’t terribly effective, but then again, neither was Toby Gerhart against Notre Dame for a couple years prior to his All-American breakout as a senior.

Stanford is lining up some really good play makers and Taylor should see plenty of opportunities to succeed with Andrew Luck throwing the pigskin around.

Fullback

Charles Clay (Tulsa) Senior

2009 stats:

236 yards (3.7 average)

10 TD

39 receptions

530 yards

5 TD

Although technically a fullback, Clay is used more like a pass-catching running back in Tulsa’s spread offense. And just check out those numbers from last year, this kid is a serious player on the field.

With only one defensive player making this series from Tulsa, this is the third offensive weapon that the Golden Hurricanes have brought to this list. I know a lot of people are expecting a blowout of this team, but because of guys like Clay, Tulsa make keep the game a lot closer than you think.

Wide Receiver

Jon Baldwin (Pittsburgh) Senior

2009 stats:

57 receptions

1,111 yards

8 TD

Last year versus Irish:

5 receptions

142 yards

1 TD

An All-American talent, Baldwin may be the best wide receiver the Irish face all season. The question lingering in Pittsburgh is if they can find a quarterback who can get the talented senior the ball.

Despite the praise heaped on Baldwin, he’s not as consistent as an All-American should be, but he is one of the best home run threats in the entire country. His performance last year against the Irish was a microcosm of his entire season: a couple really long deep balls, one of which went for a touchdown, but not a truly dominant performance.

If I had to pick right now, I believe the Irish will have an easier time shutting down Baldwin than they will his teammate running back Dion Lewis.

Ryan Whalen (Stanford) Senior

2009 stats:

57 receptions

926 yards

4 TD

Last year versus Irish:

6 receptions

75 yards

1 TD

Whalen is one of the most underrated receivers in the entire country and will form a dominant duo with teammate Chris Owusu.

Even though Stanford didn’t throw the ball a ton last year, Whalen still put together a solid season statistically and you can bet he’ll improve those numbers in 2010.

He has played well against Notre Dame in his career and last year was a break out of sorts for Whalen as he did the most damage to the Irish from a player not named Toby Gerhart.

Darryl Stonum (Michigan) Junior

2009 stats:

13 receptions

199 yards

1 TD

1,001 return yards

Last year versus Irish:

4 receptions

54 yards

94 yard kick return for TD

Based on his stats, Stonum probably doesn’t deserve inclusion on this list, but despite his low numbers he was an absolute killer against Notre Dame in 2009.

Stonum had a third of all his receiving stats against Notre Dame and scored his only touchdown of the season on the back-breaking kickoff that he returned for a touchdown late in last year’s second quarter battle with the Irish.

Needless to say he will be a major weapon on special teams and if Michigan can improve in the passing game, Stonum could develop into a viable weapon on offense.

Robert Arnheim (Western Michigan) Junior

2009 stats:

59 receptions

701 yards

3 TD

Without a doubt Western Michigan’s biggest offensive threat, Arnheim will get plenty of attention from the Notre Dame defense when the Broncos roll into South Bend this year.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2007 and seeing minimal action in 2008, Arnheim had a tremendous season in what was a disappointing team effort last year for Western Michigan.

Keep an eye out for this kid as the season progresses.

Offensive Line

Stephen Schilling (Michigan) Senior

The anchor of Michigan’s front line, Schilling looks to lead what could be a very solid offensive line unit this fall.

A former Freshman All-American, he made a terrific transition last season to guard after playing the previous two seasons at tackle.

The Wolverines are looking to improve their offense in 2010 and Schilling will be a big part of that success.

Jason Pinkston (Pittsburgh) Senior [RS]

Right up there with the best offensive linemen Notre Dame will face all season, Pinkston has been a rock at left tackle for Pittsburgh in recent years.

Behind his blocking the Panthers have produced a 1,000 yard rusher each of the last two seasons and it is likely that total will grow to three in 2010.

With Pittsburgh rebuilding the interior of their offensive line, Pinkston will play a pivotal role in stabilizing the offense and giving the new Panther quarterback time to throw the ball.

Tight End

Kevin Koger (Michigan) Junior

2009 stats:

16 receptions

220 yards

2 TD

Last year versus Irish:

4 receptions

38 yards

1 TD

Like fellow teammate Darryl Stonum, this Michigan player’s statistics probably does not merit him to be on this list, but once again, he saved his best game of last year for the Irish.

Nearly a quarter of all of Koger’s production on the season came against Notre Dame in the crushing loss in Ann Arbor last year.

The tight end may not be used a whole lot in Rich Rodriguez’s offense, but Koger could be someone who makes a few pivotal plays against Notre Dame this year.

Defensive Line

Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue) Senior

2009 stats:

66 tackles

13 sacks

18.5 TFL

7 FF

Last year versus Irish:

7 tackles

1 sack

2 TFL

One of the best defensive ends in the country, Kerrigan is coming off a season in which he led the Big Ten in sacks and played one of his best games against Notre Dame.

An extremely aggressive, strong and smart player, Kerrigan is the leader of a Purdue front seven that is looking to be one of the best in their conference.

In the season opener next weekend, he will be one defender to keep an eye on.

Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) Sophomore

2009 stats:

37 tackles

4.5 sacks

9 TFL

Last year versus Irish:

2 tackles

1 TFL

A freshman All-American in 2009 after redshirting his first year in East Lansing, Worthy brings a solid presence to the middle of the Spartan defensive line.

Still a young player, he has plenty of room for growth and should thrive with competent linebackers playing behind him.

If Michigan State can find a way to get decent production from the defensive end position, Worthy may develop into one of the Big Ten’s best defensive tackles.

Linebacker

Mark Herzlich (Boston College) Senior

2009 stats:

DNP

One of the best stories in college football this season will be the return of Mark Herzlich to the Boston College lineup after a battle with cancer in 2009. All reports are that he will be as close to 100 percent as can be and it is tough not to root for a guy who has been through so much at such a young age.

Nevertheless, Herzlich is going to pop some people in the mouth and before he missed last season he was one of the best linebackers in the country. Even if he only regains three-quarters of his production from 2008, he will still be a huge player for the Eagles.

Joining super-sophomore Luke Keuchly at linebacker, Herzlich will look to lead a very strong Boston College defense.

Eric Gordon (Michigan State) Senior

2009 stats:

92 tackles

3.5 sacks

7.5 TFL

Last year versus Irish:

8 tackles

0.5 sacks

Gordon has been in the shadow of All-American teammate Greg Jones at linebacker, but has put together an impressive resume of his own despite the relative lack of attention.

Still, Gordon comes into this season as a 2nd team All-Big Ten linebacker according to Phil Steele and will be one of the senior leaders of the Michigan State defense.

Combining with Greg Jones, Gordon should have a spectacular season in 2010.

Max Gruder (Pittsburgh) Junior

2009 stats:

91 tackles

4.5 TFL

Last year versus Irish:

11 tackles

Gruder is quietly one of the best young linebackers in the country who will be called upon to lead the Panther defense this year at his position.

A gritty defender with a good nose for the ball, Gruder had a career high 11 tackles last year against Notre Dame and should improve his production this season and top 100 tackles for the first time.

With a lot of attention paid to Pittsburgh’s two dynamic defensive ends, make sure to watch out for Max Gruder this year as well.

Cornerback

Chris Rucker (Michigan State) Senior

2009 stats:

58 tackles

1 INT

Last year versus Irish:

5 tackles

Perhaps the best and most experienced cornerback the Irish will face in 2010, Rucker leads what is otherwise a very shaky Michigan State secondary.

A strong tackler who often breaks passes up more than picks them off, he will be a key to the Spartans chances of winning the Big Ten this year.

If MSU can get pressure on the quarterback on a consistent basis, Rucker may find himself an All-Big Ten honoree.

Safety

Wyatt Middleton (Navy) Senior

2009 stats:

68 tackles

4 INT

Last year versus Irish:

8 tackles

1 fumble recovery

A defensive player from Navy on the list!

But Wyatt Middleton is that good; some say he’s the best defender at Annapolis in twenty years. Blessed with a terrific all-around game, he is truly one of the best safeties in the country.

If Navy plans on beating Notre Dame for a second time in a row and third time in four years, Middleton will have to play even better than he did last year against the Irish.

Keep an eye out for this Midshipman.