2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 120 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 119 combo in 2020. The Tigers have the pre- sumed No. 1 overall pick next spring in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and one of the nation's most explosive running backs in Travis Etienne. The two have sparked one of the country's best offenses the last two years. There is depth, too. Backup running back Lyn-J Dixon averages 7.3 yards per rush. Clemson also has a five-star freshman in Demarkcus Bowman. Lawrence's backup is likely D.J. Uiagalelei, the No. 3 player in the 2020 class. 2. USC — Quarterback Kedon Slovis became a star as a true freshman when he snagged the job in mid-September and will again pilot coordinator Graham Harrell's quick-strike Air Raid offense. Depth behind him is a concern after former starter JT Dan- iels' transfer to Georgia. USC's top three running backs returned after injury-filled seasons. Vavae Malepeai rushed for 500 yards in 2018 and 2019. For- mer top-50 recruit Stephen Carr is a rush- ing and receiving threat, but one-time Notre Dame commit Markese Stepp may have the highest ceiling. 3. Louisville — Scott Satterfield found an explosive quarterback-tailback- wide receiver triumvirate that boosted Louisville's offense from inept to potent. Micale Cunning- ham doesn't throw a lot and is asked to operate a quick-hitting offense, but he is efficient, takes care of the ball and presents a run- ning threat. Running back Javian Hawkins broke out after receiving just one carry in 2018. He is a joystick and a home-run threat with the ball in his hands due to his speed and change-of-direction ability. His backup, Hassan Hall, is another big-play back who ran for 501 yards and averaged 30.5 yards per kickoff return. Best Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends 1. USC — The Trojans lost second-round pick Michael Pit- tman but still boast as much re- ceiver depth and skill as anyone in the nation. The Trojans have five ready-to-go playmakers out wide. Amon-Ra St. Brown is a down- field, contested-catch threat. Tyler Vaughns is a reliable possession receiver. Drake London broke out in the second half as a true fresh- man. The trio combined for 2,521 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2019. USC also has former five-star receiver Bru McCoy eligible after his transfer from Texas. Gary Bryant, the highest-rated 2020 signee, is a slot weapon and could see punt return action. 2. Louisville — Tutu Atwell is a screen pass nightmare thanks to his straight-line speed and yards-after-catch ability. He hauled in 70 passes and averaged 18.2 yards per reception last year. There are playmakers behind him, too. Dez Fitzpatrick (635 yards, six touch- downs) came back for a fifth year, and tight end/H-back Marshon Ford (seven touch- downs) is a moveable piece and downfield threat because defenses often lose him when he sneaks out on seam routes. Gone is Seth Dawkins, a 6-3 boundary target who signed with the Carolina Panthers. 3. Stanford — No single player's statis- tics jump off the page, but Stanford returned its top four wide receivers from 2019. The 2020 Cardinal projects to be a pass-heavy team with former five-star recruit Davis Mills at quarterback and unproven running backs. Simi Fehoko is the clear breakout candi- date after averaging 23.6 yards per catch. Michael Wilson (672 yards) returns after leading the team in receptions and receiving yards. Connor Wedington is a yards-after- catch weapon. There is no obvious heir to Colby Parkin- son at tight end, but Stanford has found tight end production just about every year under David Shaw. Best Offensive Lines 1. Stanford — No Notre Dame opponent has a particularly great offensive line situa- tion. Stanford struggled to run the ball and was ravaged by injuries, particularly to left tackle Walker Little, a possible first-round pick who tore his ACL in the season opener. Now healthy with every starter and two important backups returning, Stanford has all the pieces to have an offensive line closer to its dominant ones of the mid-2010s. Both tackles are former five-star recruits. Former Rivals250 prospect Branson Bragg could push for a starting job in the interior. 2. Pitt — This is another experienced- based projection pick. Pitt's offense needs to take a massive leap if it is going to contend for an ACC Coastal title. If it does, the front line will be a big reason why. The Panthers were 118th in yards per rush and 86th in sacks allowed last year, but return four starters, including All-ACC block- ers Jimmy Morrissey (first-team center) and Bryce Hargrove (third- team guard). The lone vacancy is at right tackle, where Hampton grad- uate transfer Keldrick Wilson is a front-runner. He chose Pitt over a few other Power Five programs. 3. Georgia Tech — One more pick based on experience and an expected jump. A unit that was part of the problem on a woeful offense was overhauled and de- livered promising returns in six spring practices. Four starters came back, and Georgia Tech brought in two grad- uate transfers who were multi-year SEC starters in ex-Vanderbilt left tackle Devin Cochran and former Tennessee guard Ryan Johnson. Center Kenny Cooper was injured and missed most of 2019, but came back for his fifth year. Guard Jack DeFoor was an honorable mention all-conference pick. Best Defensive Lines 1. Clemson — This unit might not match the star power across the board as the 2018 iteration that produced three first-round picks, but it is still stocked with All-American running back Travis Etienne postponed the NFL for one more year at Clemson. PHOTO COURTESY CLEMSON ATHLETICS

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