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Opposing Players on ND's 2016 Schedule Who Terrify Me

Even the most optimistic fan will admit that Notre Dame will face some tough opponents. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the more frightening opposing players on the Fighting Irish's 2016 football schedule.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

When I was a mere 10 years old, my dad was tossing the football around with me during a family vacation in Florida. We were in dark, knee-to-waist-deep water (depending on how tall you are), and I was obviously using this father-son time to dare my dad to throw the ball farther and farther out in front of me, enabling me to make spectacular circus catches while crashing into the murky surf.

Eventually, my dad got aggressive with his throws, and sent me chasing after a terrible pass that landed harmlessly amongst the waves at least a few yards away. As I hustled over to retrieve it, I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my right foot.

"Hey Dad," I shouted in a probably very whiny voice, "I think something just bit me!"

"I'm sure you just stepped on a shell or something. Let's take a look."

I pulled my foot out of the water, and the [graphic imagery removed for the sake of the reader] nature of the wound made it very clear that I had not just clumsily landed on a shell. To tie up a story that became much longer than it needed to be - I was stung by a stingray. And ever since, I've been absolutely terrified of murky ocean water and, of course, of stingrays themselves.

In looking at the 2016 Notre Dame football schedule, it's no secret that it's set up a little nicer than typical Irish schedules. Michigan State and USC and Stanford are all breaking in new quarterbacks, and the top ACC teams (Florida State and Clemson) are not slated for this season. However, that doesn't mean the Irish won't be facing some very good teams full of some very good players.

So, I've decided to break down exactly which players on this schedule are the college football version of stingrays (or spiders or sharks or clowns, some of my other top fears) - those guys who scare the absolute crap out of me and make me worried for match-ups against them, even if their teams don't necessarily frighten me. So, without any more long-winded stories about 10-year-old Pat getting attacked by marine animals, let's jump into it.

Malik Jefferson - LB, Texas

Notre Dame fans are not strangers to super-athletic linebackers with incredible combinations of size and speed. Jaylon Smith was the best linebacker in the country last season, terrorizing offenses as they tried to strategize around him.

Malik Jefferson, who will be a sophomore at Texas in 2016, is incredibly reminiscent of Smith. He came to Austin in 2015 as a very highly-touted linebacker prospect with all of the physical tools (6'3", 232 pounds, and a legitimate 4.4-4.5 40-yard-dash time) and earned a starting spot on a young, struggling-to-rebuild Charlie Strong team.

He ended up being one of the few bright spots, accumulating 61 tackles (7 for loss), 2.5 sacks, 3 passes broken up, a forced fumble, and a 28-yard fumble return for a touchdown. He was productive and established himself as a likely future first round pick.

Now, with a year under his belt and memories of the beating Notre Dame handed him in his first collegiate game, Jefferson will surely be looking to rip some heads off. And if I were someone like Josh Adams, I wouldn't take that very lightly heading into the September 4th match-up.

Malik McDowell - DE/DT, Michigan State and LJ Scott - RB, Michigan State

If you were to ask just about any college football "expert," they'd tell you about how Michigan State lost a lot, including QB Connor Cook, and how they will definitely be a step below where they have been the past few years, competing for Rose Bowls and Cotton Bowls and College Football Playoff semi-finals.

Whether that ends up as true, the Spartans still have plenty of top-notch talent capable of physically dominating opponents in the way that has become their m.o. over the years.

Junior defensive lineman Malik McDowell (6'6", 280 pounds) is one of those physically dominant players.

After a freshman year in 2014 when he showed flashes of talent, McDowell broke out last season to the tune of 41 tackles (13 for loss), 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception where he displayed some impressive hands and quickness for a defensive lineman.

He's just a big, mean, physical player who, despite their typically sterling nature under coach Harry Heistand, will still likely give the Notre Dame offensive line all it can handle on September 17th. If he ever gets loose and has a chance to hit DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire, they're going to be in for a world of hurt.

Sophomore running back LJ Scott, meanwhile, poses a severe threat to a Notre Dame defense who has been gutted by talented, physical running backs in the past. And Scott is, indeed, very talented and physical.

Last season as a true freshman, Scott ran for 699 yards and 11 touchdowns while splitting carries with Gerald Holmes and fellow freshman Madre London, averaging nearly 5 yards per carry in the process. London and Holmes are both dangerous as well, but Scott is the kind of powerful, bruising back that wears defenses down over the course of a game. The Fighting Irish linebackers better be ready to hit him hard, because he will not go down easily.

Christian McCaffrey - RB, Stanford

There's no reason for me to explain this one.

Please see this video if you have been living under a rock with no access to college football highlights for the past year. This dude is like the biggest of all the stingrays (albeit a stingray that the ND defense largely corralled last year, but still - he scares the ever-loving shit out of me).

Brad Kaaya - QB, Miami

This one was tough for me. The hype train around Brad Kaaya has been filling up fast, with everyone proclaiming him the next big thing at QB and anointing him as the player who will bring Miami back to contention in the ACC and maybe eventually the national title picture.

However, I haven't seen him play much, so I've only got his stats to go off of, and they're definitely good (and pretty damn efficient) but nothing eye-popping - 3,238 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, completion percentage of 61.2 in his sophomore season - so I was unsure if I should include him in this list.

Then, I began to watch his highlights. Color me impressed.

Kaaya is a fantastic passing quarterback, and an ND secondary who lost KeiVarae Russell and Elijah Shumate and could be starting a true freshman in Devin Studstill might not be able to stop him from passing all over the place with major success. It should be an interesting match-up to watch, and is definitely one that worries me more than a little bit.

Juju Smith-Schuster - WR, USC and Adoree' Jackson - CB/WR, USC

At this point, talking about Smith-Schuster as a threat to the Irish is just redundant. He's a freak combination of size and speed who has more often than not torched whoever on the Irish was covering him and made them look foolish. He spent 2015 annihilating the vast majority of defenses he faced, accumulating 89 catches for 1454 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Of all of the opposing players the Irish face, he might be the most dangerous to break off a big gain, considering he had 6 different games in 2015 with at least one 50-yard catch. Oh, and he can play with a bit of a mean streak too, if you push his buttons:

His teammate Adoree' Jackson, who happens to be a world-class sprinter who can outrun literally anyone on the field not named Will Fuller, is another guy who can break a game open. Jackson plays on both sides of the ball, and for obvious reasons, considering his speed and ability to cut without losing steam, this makes him exceptionally dangerous with the ball in his hands.

The combination of these two athletes is enough to make Brian VanGorder break down crying as he tries to prepare his defense to stop them, so definitely expect at least a few big plays from these guys in the final game of the season. Hopefully the Irish will ultimately be able to stop Adoree' and Juju from celebrating a big home victory in the season finale.

So there you have it - those are the players that terrify me the most on the 2016 schedule. Other players like Nevada RB James Butler and Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford worry me a bit as well, but overall the guys who would keep me up at night if I were Brian Kelly and Brian VanGorder are the above proverbial stingrays, capable of absolutely ruining a perfectly good vacation and seriously wounding a promising young team.