Notre Dame Football: 5 Most Critical Players for Irish vs. Alabama

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IDecember 21, 2012

Notre Dame Football: 5 Most Critical Players for Irish vs. Alabama

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    Notre Dame's impending matchup with Alabama in next month's BCS National Championship Game is filled to the brim with breathtaking talent, and the Irish will need every ounce of that talent to defeat the Crimson Tide.

    Among the immense talent on the Irish roster, a handful of players will be critical to an Irish victory on Jan. 7 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.

    Who might those players be? Let's have a look. 


5. Tyler Eifert, TE

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    It's not a common theme for a tight end to be a team's leading receiver, but such is the case with Tyler Eifert and Notre Dame. 

    The 6'6", 251-pound senior holds the team lead for receptions (44) and receiving yards (624), and is tied with receiver T.J. Jones for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (4).

    Clearly, Eifert has been quarterback Everett Golson's favorite target throughout the season, which will be an aspect of the Irish offense that Alabama head coach Nick Saban's defense will attempt to eliminate altogether.

    Should the Tide key in on Eifert, it may play into Notre Dame's advantage, as Irish head coach Brian Kelly would prefer to spread the field by distributing the ball to different receivers.

    Whether Eifert is used as a primary receiving target or simply a decoy, his presence on the field is crucial to the Irish offense moving the ball down the field.  

4. Louis Nix, NG

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    Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix, jovially referred to as "Irish Chocolate" and "Big Lou," presents an enormous (pun intended) challenge to Alabama's rock-solid offensive line. 

    Nix will be matched up with Alabama center Barrett Jones, a unanimous All-American.

    Jones is responsible for opening up either of the A-gaps (either space between the left and right side of the center) for running backs T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy.

    If Nix is able to physically outmaneuver Jones at the point of attack, the Alabama rushing game, which is paramount to its offensive success, will take a significant blow.

    Now, neither Jones nor Nix will dominate the other for long stretches, which makes this individual battle even more intriguing.  

3. Theo Riddick, RB

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    Some may disagree with Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick's inclusion on this list, but his importance to the Irish offense can't be undersold.

    Riddick was recruited by former head coach Charlie Weis as a running back, but was moved to receiver by Brian Kelly upon his arrival in South Bend. However, Riddick made the switch back to running back at the end of last season to provide depth when Jonas Gray was lost for the season to a knee injury.

    The Manville, N.J., product has flourished since returning to his natural position and is currently the Irish's leading rusher, with 880 yards on 180 carries.

    What makes Riddick so dangerous is his ability as a receiver out of the backfield.

    On obvious passing downs, should the play break down, Riddick can be counted upon to leak into the flat in an effort to make something out of nothing. 

    And when Riddick has the ball in space, watch out, for he is an elusive, shifty athlete capable of picking up large chunks of yards. 

2. Matthias Farley, SS

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    Prior to the beginning of the current season, Matthias Farley was a little-known strong safety and a former receiver. 

    An under-recruited prospect out of Charlotte, N.C., Farley was forced into the starting spot at strong safety following Jamoris Slaughter's season-ending tear of his Achilles tendon on the first snap of the Irish's 20-3 victory over Michigan State on Sept. 15.

    Since then, Farley has been a very pleasant replacement for Slaughter and figures to be Notre Dame's starting strong safety for the next three seasons.

    His presence within the secondary will be of the utmost importance against Alabama and its leading receiver, Amari Cooper.

    As the last line of defense, Farley will be tasked with covering Cooper like a glove, which will require discipline against the Tide's effective play-action passing game.

1. Everett Golson, QB

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    Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is the key to the Irish's hopes of defeating Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, plain and simple. 

    The redshirt freshman quarterback, a first-year starter, has developed into the Irish's main signal-caller through 12 games, though it wasn't always a smooth ride. 

    Golson was benched for the duration of the second half of his team's 13-6 victory over Michigan on Sept. 22, and he was benched in favor of Tommy Rees for a portion of the second half of an eventual 29-26, triple-overtime victory over Pittsburgh on Nov. 3. 

    Luckily for the Irish, Golson was playing his best football during the Irish's final three contests, and he is hoped by Irish fans to peak during the matchup with Alabama.

    Against that stingy Tide defense, Golson must play mistake-free football along with displaying his improved decision-making skills.

    And while he's not Johnny "Football" Manziel—the Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner who led the Aggies to the only Alabama loss of the season—Golson's dual-threat capabilities may prove lethal against Saban and Co. if he manages the game well.