After playing for the BCS Championship last season, Notre Dame finds themselves in Yankee Stadium this year for the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers. The Fighting Irish started the season 7-2 before dropping two of their final three games at Pittsburgh and Stanford.
The Scarlet Knights come in struggling as well but their problems have persisted over the season’s final two months, losing 5 of their final 7 games after a 4-1 start. Just once during that stretch has the offense scored more than 23 points and considering the talent on Notre Dame’s defense, Rutgers may have trouble moving the football even without Louis Nix III on the other side.
This is one of the more lopsided bowl matchups with the Irish favored by more than two touchdowns and after looking at the NFL talent on the field, it’s easy to see why.
(JR) Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (#1), 6’3, 342
Considered a potential top 10 pick early in the season, Nix lost some momentum throughout the season but is still considered a virtual lock to be taken in the first round. He played in just eight games before undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus and acknowledged battling knee tendinitis since the BCS Championship last season. A powerful tackle with great athleticism for his size, Nix flashes speed in pursuit and explosive power when left one on one. He faced consistent double teams this season when he was on the field but plays with good extension and fights hard with his hands, which should allow Nix to transition to the NFL without being over reliant on his physical skills if he comes back fully healthy.
(JR) Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (#7), 6’6, 312
Reportedly 50-50 on whether to enter the NFL Draft early, Tuitt recently received a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee and will likely take his decision close to the January 15 declaration deadline. Draft analysts are split on Tuitt, with some ranking him as a top 10 prospect and others rating him as an early Day 2 prospect. While not as athletic as Nix on a pound-for-pound basis, Tuitt is a solid five-technique prospect with the talent to make himself a surefire first-round pick if he returns to school. Tuitt struggled with an early-season back injury but picked up his play as the year went on and his Pinstripe Bowl performance without Nix in the lineup could very well decide his draft fate one way or the other.
(JR) Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers (#17), 6’6, 220
Another early entrant into the 2013 draft, Coleman’s lack of production this season may give some teams pause in the draft process. A player scouts expected to take off this season thanks to a great combination of size, fluidity and strong hands, Coleman had just 32 receptions for 473 yards and 3 touchdowns, 2 of which came in the season opener against Fresno State. A key drop late in that game sent Coleman on a downward spiral, as he caught just six passes in his next four games combined. While quarterback Gary Nova was very inconsistent, Coleman had his own problems creating separation and leaving plays on the field. He has first-round talent but will be a risk/reward pick for a team in the second or third round, while a big showing against Bennett Jackson will make teams feel more comfortable taking him on Day 2.
Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame (#70), 6’4, 308
A versatile left tackle who shows ability anchoring in pass protection, many NFL scouts feel Martin may eventually settle in at the guard position thanks to his quick feet and ability to block in motion and at the second level. While he lacks classic size to protect the blind side in the NFL, Martin does a nice job forcing defensive ends to beat him to the outside where he’s quick enough to slide out and protect. He keeps a balanced base, understands angles well and shows good recognition on stunts and blitzes, rarely getting beat to the inside. Like Coleman, Martin will likely find himself drafted on Day 2 next May as a consistent lineman with the chance to quickly break into an NFL starting lineup.
Other Players to Watch
Jeremy Deering, S, Rutgers (#18), 6’2, 205
Jamil Merrell, OLB, Rutgers (#92), 6’4, 255
T.J. Jones, WR, Notre Dame (#7), 5’11, 195
Chris Watt, OG, Notre Dame (#66), 6’3, 321
Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame (#2), 6’0, 195
Prince Shembo, OLB, Notre Dame (#55), 6’1, 258