Notre Dame Football: Fighting Irish Players Who Will Be All-Americans

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Notre Dame Football: Fighting Irish Players Who Will Be All-Americans
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Months removed from appearing in the National Championship Game, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have lost as much as any other team in college football. Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o, leading receiver Tyler Eifert and leading rusher Theo Riddick are in the NFL, while quarterback Everett Golson is on academic probation.

The question is, which Notre Dame players will rise up and become All-Americans in 2013-14?

There's no guarantee that any players on Notre Dame will earn that distinction, but faith remains in its ability to contend. Notre Dame is No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 14 in the AP Top 25, per ESPN, which suggests that the Irish will have the opportunity to shine.

Here are the players who will shine, regardless of how Notre Dame fares as a team.

 

George Atkinson III

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Position: Running Back/Kick Returner

Class: Junior

2012 Season Statistics

51 ATT, 361 YDS, 7.1 YPC, 5 TD; 22 KR, 441 YDS

 

George Atkinson III will have the opportunity to shine as an offensive playmaker working out of the backfield as the most experienced running back. He could emerge as an All-American candidate for that reason.

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With that being said, his inclusion on this list derives from a different role he serves: kick returner.

In this freshman season in 2011, Atkinson III returned 35 kicks for 915 yards and two touchdowns. That's good for an average of 24.7 yards per return, which wasn't elite but displayed his big-play ability.

In a season in which the offense is a major question mark, expect Atkinson to play a major role by determining the quality of the team's field position. As a result, he has a chance to earn a spot on the All-American squad as a return man.

The long shot here is he might earn that recognition as a runner, as he and Amir Carlisle carry the run game. Fortunately for Notre Dame, Atkinson III is a proven commodity who ran for 361 yards in 2012 on an outstanding average of 7.1 yards per carry.

Look for him to break out and earn a spot amongst the All-Americans, potentially as an all-purpose player.

 

Louis Nix III

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Position: Defensive Tackle

Class: Senior

2012 Season Statistics

50 tackles, 20 solo, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 SACK, 1 FF, 5 PD

 

Much has been made about the departure of Eddie Vanderdoes, but not enough praise is being given to Louis Nix III. Nix, the No. 7 player on Mel Kiper of ESPN's inaugural Big Board, is one of the best defensive tackles in the nation.

With the departure of interior linemen such as Sharrif Floyd, Johnathan Hankins and Star Lotulelei, the All-America squad will have holes to fill.

Nix III is currently on the watch list for both the Bednarik and Maxwell Awards. That alone should tell you how skilled a player he is. The senior defensive tackle can disrupt the run or break into the backfield and pursue the quarterback.

Most importantly, he'll open up the offensive line for linebackers to break through and stop the run.

Nix won't jump off the page like an Ndamukong Suh or Geno Atkins, but he's a disruptive force whom any team would love to have clogging the middle. That's exactly why he's a top-10 prospect and the driving force behind his potential as an All-American.

At this point, we're left wondering whether anyone can stand in his way of an All-America appearance.

 

Stephon Tuitt

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Position: Defensive Lineman

Class: Junior

2012 Season Statistics

47 tackles, 24 solo, 12.0 SACK, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD

 

Stephon Tuitt is a physical monster with a legitimate chance to become a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Before he hears about his caliber as a prospect, however, he will take the field for Notre Dame in 2013.

Much like Louis Nix III, he has an opportunity to become an All-American in 2013.

Tuitt is not without praise, as CBS, ESPN and Sports Illustrated all named him to their 2012 All-America squad. This year, he'll be a front-runner for multiple postseason awards and a virtual lock for the first-team All-American squad.

The only thing keeping him from that honor is an unforeseen collapse.

Tuitt finished the 2012 season with 12.0 sacks, ranking 13th in the nation. He also forced three fumbles, recovered one for a touchdown and made 24 solo tackles.

Te'o may have been the leader, but Tuitt was an absolute stud. In 2013, we'll be reminded of his prowess as the 6'7" and 322-lb lineman terrorizes quarterbacks everywhere.

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