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Notre Dame Football: Future NFL Players Irish Must Stop Against Alabama

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 15:    Dee Milliner #28 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Crimson Tide defeated the Razorbacks 52-0.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

It may seem like an eternity, but only 10 days stand between now and the BCS national championship between Notre Dame and Alabama.

The Tide are favored by 9.5 points, and some more thick-headed spectators have already deemed them the champions. That is, of course, a massive disservice to the season Notre Dame enjoyed, but it's not hard to understand why it's happening.

After all, Alabama's roster is brimming, from top to bottom, with future NFL players.

Here are three future pros in particular that Notre Dame must stop in Miami.

 

CB Dee Milliner

The Irish passing game is far from a powerhouse. They average 218.8 yards per game through the air, good for 77th in the nation. But at some point during the National Championship, be it during a two-minute drill or a fourth-quarter rally, they're going to need to throw the football.

That's where Dee Milliner comes in.

The junior cornerback was stellar, as predicted, in 2012, earning First-Team All-American honors. He only had two interceptions, but that's a testament to how often other teams avoided throwing in his direction.

ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. gives him a grade of 94, denoting him a "Rare Prospect" and projected first-round pick. They have ranked 11th on their big board and squarely atop the rankings for cornerbacks.

If and when Notre Dame reverts to the passing game, it'll either need to avoid or successfully counteract Dee Milliner. The latter of those chores is much easier said than done.

 

T D.J. Fluker

This honor could have easily, and perhaps rightfully, gone to Chance Warmack or Barrett Jones. But I think Fluker is the more important player in this game for a number of reasons.

Warmack and Jones, the top-rated guard and center in the country, respectively, are especially potent in the run game. They manhandle interior defensive lineman and create holes for Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon

They will be important on the first level, but on the second level, Notre Dama has Manti Te'o, the ultimate defensive failsafe, to clean up any and all messes. He will put a cap on many of Lacey and Yeldon's rush attempts regardless of Warmack and Jones. He's just that good.

Fluker is more vital to this game because he could find himself matched up, one-on-one, with Notre Dame sack artist Stephon Tuitt. The Irish sophomore from Georgia racked up 12 sacks this season, earning him a spot on the All-America Second Team.

Notre Dame has relied on his pass rush to pester opposing quarterbacks all year. But if Fluker, a fellow Second-Team All-American, is able to put him in his place, A.J. McCarron may get nice and cozy in the pocket.

And that could spell doom for the Irish.

 

DT Jesse Williams

As alluded to earlier, Notre Dame will need to deal with Dee Milliner in the passing game. When the Irish hit the ground, however, Jesse Williams is the one they must pressingly attend to.

The plucky senior tackle has flashed a mean streak for the Tide this year, wreaking havoc in the middle of opposing offenses. He doesn't have dominant measurables like former Tide tackles (think Marcel Dareus and Terrance Cody), but he's got the attitude of a champion.

Notre Dame center Braxton Cave has been up to the task all season for the Irish. But he could have his work cut out for him against the relentless Williams, who Scouts Inc. rates the 43rd-best overall player in the upcoming draft.

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