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NCAA Football Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame: 5 Players Who Must Step Up After Bye Week

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Notre Dame: 5 Players Who Must Step Up After The Bye

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After their 37-34 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will now have a week off to prepare for their arch rival, the USC Trojans.

Their first week off also marks the halfway point in the team’s schedule. At 4-2 and unranked, it seems like a long shot for the Irish to make it back to a BCS Bowl Game; although being Notre Dame, 10-2 might get them a BCS bid if some pieces fall in the right place.

With wins against Arizona State and the Michigan State Spartans, there has been plenty to stay excited about, but losses against the rival Michigan Wolverines and the Oklahoma Sooners have left a sour taste in their mouths. It’s not that there was any shame in losing to two ranked teams -- it was the way that they lost.

Notre Dame’s defense made a habit out of not allowing that big play last year, riding their solid unit all the way to the title game. This year has been a different story as missed tackles, bad pursuit on the ball among other things have allowed big plays that they didn’t last year, leading to the two losses.

It hasn’t only been the defense that has struggled -- the offensive side has failed to find the consistent balance between the running and passing games. If it was the running game having success, the passing game can’t get anything going (Oklahoma game).

So when Notre Dame comes out of their bye week, which players will have to step up in order for the Irish to keep alive the tiny hope they have of playing in the last of the BCS Bowl Games?

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5. Jaylon Smith

Jaylon Smith
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It seems a little unfair to put so much pressure on a true freshman, and Smith hasn’t played that badly. Arizona State was a small glimpse of what the future lies for Smith. He showed his unmatched athleticism on a few occasions and if he can build off the last game, he could finish the year as the best player on the defense, period. With big games against USC, the Stanford Cardinal and the BYU Cougars, Smith will need to step up and produce more, especially with Jarrett Grace going down with an injury.

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4. Tommy Rees

Tommy Rees
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It seems unfair to say this of a player coming off his best game of the season, but one game can’t and should not erase the struggles that Rees endured the previous two weeks. Even in the game yesterday, Rees struggled to hit receivers, not getting his team set on time, and has spent too much time playing chicken with defenses, forcing some unnecessary usage of timeouts and delay of game penalties. Rees will never be an elite quarterback, but if he can just cut some of the careless plays (I know, it's almost like telling the sun not to set), Notre Dame could easily win out their schedule.

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3. DaVaris Daniels

DaVaris Daniels
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Daniels is without a doubt the most talented receiver on the team and maybe the entire offensive unit. Daniels looks like one of the best deep threats in the nation at times , and can’t even get open at other times against players who he should have no problem creating separation from. The Irish does not need a vertical-only threat receiver as Rees doesn’t have the arm to continually go down the field. What the Irish need is for Daniels to find a medium and round out his game as a receiver.

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2. Stephon Tuitt

Stephon Tuitt
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Tuitt is quite possibly the most talented player on the Notre Dame football team, but at times -- a lot of times this year -- he has been mostly invisible. He has been far from the wrecking ball that created a team-leading 12-sacks a season ago. He looked like he was beginning to wake up in the Arizona State game, but he has shown flashes all season. It is consistency that is missing from what most are calling a first-round talent.

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1. Dan Fox/Carlo Calabrese

Middle Linebackers
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

While they have struggled in pass defense, the play from Fox and Calabrese has been strong, especially Calabrese. The reason they are no. 1 on this list is simple: with Grace now out for the season, both Fox and Calabrese will see a lot more playing time. The Irish were relying on the rotation of Fox/Calabrese/Grace to hide the fact that they don’t have much depth outside of those three. Both Fox and Calabrese will have to pick up their game tenfold, as the Irish plainly don’t have anyone behind them.