The Fighting Irish will try to slow down Stanford's Bryce Love when the Cardinal come to South Bend in late September
When you play talented teams, you will in turn have to battle talented players. Such is the case once again for Notre Dame this coming fall.
There's the stellar Michigan defense to open the year followed by All-American contenders and potential first-round selections through the USC game at the end of November. Here are 10 true difference-makers that ND will attempt to contain this season.
1. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
As excited as Stanford fans were when the Heisman Trophy finalist announced he was coming back to The Farm in 2018, that is how disappointed all Cardinal opponents were about the news. Despite fighting an ankle injury that caused him to miss the Oregon State game, Love rushed for 2,118 yards, which is the 15th-highest single-season total in college football history.
2. Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan
He certainly doesn't get the publicity that many other Michigan stars receive, but the fifth-year senior from Clairton, Pennsylvania, fills the stat sheet. In a season that saw him earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, Winovich (above, right) led the Wolverines with 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles for lost yardage.
3. Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
The attention Chase Winovich doesn't receive primarily goes to Gary. That is not to say the junior from Plainfield, New Jersey, isn't deserving though. The top overall prospect in America coming out of Paramus Catholic High School, Gary is now an all-conference performer that may be one of the top selections in next year's NFL draft.
4. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
Akers was a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman while splitting time with veteran Jacques Patrick. While Patrick returns, Akers is ready to take the next step and emerge as one of the top running backs in the FBS.
5. Tyler Vaughns, WR, USC
No. 1 receiver Deontay Burnett is gone, so it is Vaughns' turn to be the Trojans' main pass catching threat. With 57 receptions for 809 yards last season, he wasn't far off as a redshirt freshman. His first objective will be to develop a rapport with whoever starts at quarterback for USC.
6. Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern
Most of his passing numbers dipped in 2017 and then he tore his ACL in the Music City Bowl. But his recovery is reportedly going well and his size and arm strength make him an intriguing NFL prospect. The Irish don't play the Cats until Nov. 3, so Thorson should be fully back by that time.
7. Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
Francois is another signal-caller returning from an ACL tear. Since his was suffered in last year's season-opener against Alabama, the FSU quarterback should ready to go week one. There are some off-the-field issues that may need mending as well, but no one questions Francois' ability.
8. Kyle Shurmur, QB, Vanderbilt
Of all the quarterbacks on Notre Dame's 2018 schedule, Shurmur had the best 2017 statistics. The 6-foot-4, 227-pounder threw for 2,823 yards and 26 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. With star running back Ralph Webb now fighting for a job with the New England Patriots, the offense will go through Shurmur this season.
9. Malcolm Perry, QB, Navy
Last year Perry was a running back in Navy's option offense, rushing for 1,182 yards and 11 touchdowns. But this year, he will touch the ball on every play as head coach Ken Niumatalolo has shifted the junior to quarterback.
10. Cameron Smith, LB, USC
The Trojans' middle linebacker is always in the middle of the action. He can drop back in coverage, but his primary mission is to tackle whoever has the ball, which is something he's very good at doing. Last fall, Smith led USC with 112 tackles, 11 of which resulted in lost yardage.
-- Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.