Ten Players to Watch

Which players will step up this season? It is a question that is asked every year. Here are my top 10 players to watch that must come through for Notre Dame to win big this fall:

#10 Chinedum Ndukwe - Ndukwe has yet to settle into one specific position. Being physically blessed is good, but Ndukwe still needs continuous repetitions at one position to master it like anyone else. He will be tried at strong safety this fall, but who knows, maybe he ends up at Apache linebacker down the road? The key is actually not Ndukwe, but rather other players at safety making enough progress for Ndukwe to shift back to Apache. The secondary is once again the biggest concern heading into fall camp. Until several members of the secondary make significant improvement, Ndukwe will likely stay put. Having his versatility is certainly a bonus for Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

#9 Maurice Stovall - It is time for Stovall to be consistent. No more big game one week, disappearing act the next. Make plays, every week, period. There are no excuses with the quality of the current coaching staff surrounding Stovall coupled with his physical ability.

#8 Maurice Crum, Jr. - Crum has the inside track for the starting Apache linebacker position. His physical skills are very good, but he's young, as in redshirt freshman young. Crum has a lot to learn and if he is not ready opposing teams will exploit him early and often. Crum may be playing the most difficult position on the football field outside of quarterback. Experience or not, he will be thrown to the wolves.

#7 Corey Mays - Mays is taking over Mike Goolsby who was lost to graduation. Mays has a lot of physical ability, but the knock on him has always been he could not learn the schemes. Notre Dame will be in big trouble if that is indeed the case this fall. Any defense needs a middle linebacker that knows what is going on at all times. Mays' athleticism could truly help the Irish defense in pass coverage if he is up to the task. That alone would make him a valuable commodity.

#6 Mark LeVoir - LeVoir has been inconsistent throughout his career, especially when it comes to pass protection. His dedication has been questioned numerous times, but he has reportedly stepped up his play since the end of last season. If he comes through this year Notre Dame will have one of the better offensive lines in college football.

#5 Rhema McKnight - McKnight will finally be playing for a coaching staff that will utilize his talents completely. Now it is up to him to maximize his opportunities. Look for McKnight to shine this fall.

#4 Victor Abiamiri - Abiamiri has as much God-given talent as any player playing college football today. It is up to him to become the All-American he is capable of being. The rush end position is all his. It's time. It is critical that he succeed with so many talented quarterbacks facing the Irish this year. Without his pass rushing presence each and every game, Notre Dame will struggle to slow down talented passing attacks such as Purdue, Michigan, Tennessee and Southern California.

#3 Darius Walker - For the Irish defense to be successful, Walker needs to carry the mail, and then some. When opposing quarterbacks are standing next to their head coaches instead of completing passes that likely means Walker is chewing up yardage, and more importantly, the clock. Walker is now the feature tailback and he will be given a golden opportunity. His production will ultimately help dictate the outcome of many games this fall. As a barometer, Walker needs to average 100+ yards per game and at bare minimum five yards per carry this season.

#2 Mike Richardson - Fair or not, Richardson is as maligned as any member of the current roster. If his play does not dramatically improve Notre Dame will once again be torched by opposing quarterbacks. He has enough talent and better than average size for a cornerback to make it happen. Now Richardson has to show he can do it.

#1 Brady Quinn - It all starts at quarterback. Quinn has been up-and-down his first two seasons at Notre Dame. Like many of the others who dot this list, consistency is the question mark. Beyond improving his passing accuracy, Quinn must continue to grow as the leader of the offense and the team. He has done well to date considering his age, but now he must be the clear-cut leader of the offense. Head coach Charlie Weis has a diverse offense that will apply a considerable amount of mental pressure upon Quinn to not only know his reads and checks, but to know the assignments of all of the other players as well. As Quinn goes, so will Notre Dame this season.

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