Back and Better in 2013?Irish fans looking for an indicator regarding Louis Nix's forthcoming decision to forgo his senior season or enter the 2013 NFL Draft: longtime draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. has 13 defensive linemen listed among his top 32 prospects at present.
It would likely be a bad business decision for Nix to leave early as marked improvement next fall is likely (he'll still have tremendous talent surrounding him) and a first round grade seems well within reach -- top 10 a possibility pending his continued development.
The fact that Nix has been snubbed by All-America teams shows how little voters understand football or actually watch machinations along scrimmage. One Notre Dame employee with knowledge of the team and their game film told me in November that Nix was "1B to Te'o" in terms of importance...
Snubbed player No. 2 was of course left tackle Zack Martin. If there are six collegiate offensive tackles (good for three All-America teams) better than Martin, I'd love to meet them.
For Informational Purposes OnlyIf you happen to be driving through Las Vegas this week -- or if you are one of a few hundred thousand people that can place a wager by other nefarious means -- I coincidentally like the favored team in seven of the first eight bowl games played this month, the exception Central Florida favored by 7 vs. Ball State.
If you're scoring at home, that's calling for Arizona, Utah State, BYU, Louisiana-Lafayette, Boise State, Fresno State, and Western Kentucky to cover, with the Military Bowl matchup (San Jose State -7 over Bowling Green) too far off my radar. You can add Cincinnati laying seven vs. Duke to my list of preferred early bowl favorites, while the Baylor/UCLA matchup is one to just sit back and enjoy.
The above takes us through games played on December 27 -- I'll be back with the rest prior to kickoff on the 28th. (Of the choices above, I'm wary of Boise covering vs. Washington, though am confident the Broncos will manage the 4th Quarter well enough to win.)
Projected Bowl Upsets: Outright wins by underdog teams: Rutgers, Syracuse, Texas, Northwestern, Michigan, Northern Illinois, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, though Northern Illinois and Notre Dame are probably smarter bets with the points on your side...
Five to PonderThree months of weekly film study for our Eye in the Sky reviews has convinced me of the following truths:
- What do running backs Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon have in common? They're all in for a rude awakening in the title game, because Notre Dame and Alabama tackle much better and are far more disciplined in their gaps than previous foes USC and Georgia, respectively.
- Right guard Mike Golic, Jr., is underrated by Irish fans for his work in the running game. He likewise greatly improved in that regard since looking a touch soft in East Lansing in Week Three -- but pass protection remains an issue for the dedicated graduate. Alabama can make hay over Golic's right side with power moves.
- The USC game prepared Irish cornerbacks Keivarae Russell and Bennett Jackson for what might otherwise have been a shock to the system on January 7: the Tide receivers' perimeter speed. While freshman Amari Cooper is college football's immediate future at wideout, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods had no peers this season (if I was starting a team, my first choice at receiver would be the ultra-competetive Woods). Russell and Jackson earned our trial-by-fire trust this fall -- they're both far better on film today than either showed in September.
- If Cat OLB Ishaq Williams continues to rotate in for Prince Shembo in the base defense, Notre Dame will give up a rushing touchdown to the Tide -- with a fairly long run over his edge keying their march. Williams has quietly played well in the team's various nickel packages, both as a zone coverage 'backer and pass-rushing end. But when the sophomore subs for the stout Shembo on the edge, the outside is far less secure. The Crimson Tide will take advantage of a player still learning to play with fury rather than good intentions…
- Performance on 3rd down and medium situations (4-7 yards to move the chains) will be crucial to the Irish defensive effort vs. Alabama. I'd prefer to see a nickel defense that puts Williams on the field and keeps Dog 'backer Danny Spond in the game in favor of freshman nickel Elijah Shumate. After a standout effort in September by the true freshman, there were too many mini-breakdowns in coverage with Shumate in the fold, especially late in the season (BC is the chief example). I trust the base D plus Williams more. In fact, this needs a full column closer to game week.