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Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s opponents lose plenty early to the NFL draft

Jonathan Taylor NFL draft

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 01: Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs for a 10 yard gain during the second quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at the Rose Bowl on January 01, 2020 in Pasadena, California. The Oregon Ducks topped the Wisconsin Badgers, 28-27. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame’s 2020 regular season may feature two top-10 opponents for the first time since 2012, but neither will be as intimidating as could have been before this weekend’s deadline for early entrance into the NFL draft. Both Clemson and Wisconsin lost more to the draft than the Irish did, though the Tigers also welcomed an unexpected return of season-changing magnitude.

While Notre Dame lost tight end Cole Kmet, running back Tony Jones and safety Alohi Gilman before they used up their eligibility, the 2020 opponents will have to make do without …

Arkansas: The first Irish foe of September will no longer be able to count on safety Kamren Curl, who finished with 76 tackles and two interceptions this season. The Razorbacks will, however, still hand off the ball to running back Rakeem Boyd. Maybe that should have been expected, but any running back leading his team in rushing for two straight seasons, gaining 1,133 yards in 2019, will consider the NFL simply due to the nature of the position.

Wake Forest: First-team All-ACC defensive end Carlos Basham will return after notching 10 sacks this season, a matchup to look forward to against Notre Dame’s pair of established tackles in Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey. More notably, the Demon Deacons lost quarterback Jamie Newman to a graduate transfer to Georgia.

Wisconsin: The Badgers will likely still begin 2020 in the top-15 of most preseason rankings and could certainly reach the top 10 before heading to Lambeau Field, but that will be more difficult without prolific running back Jonathan Taylor, the most productive back in the country the last three years.

Taylor’s departure was to be expected, but receiver Quintez Cephus’ was less predictable, despite his career’s injury and legal concerns. Those off-field issues will cloud Cephus’ draft projections, no matter his 901 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. For one last blow, Wisconsin will need a new center, as Tyler Biadasz hopes to hear his name on the draft’s second day.

Stanford: In an offseason of much roster turnover, the Cardinal actually fared well amid draft concerns. Towering tight end Colby Parkinson will not need to adjust to a new quarterback at The Farm — quarterback KJ Costello is in the portal. Parkinson will be the only one testing the NFL, though; cornerback Paulson Adebo will worry Ian Book anew after an injury kept him from plaguing Book in November. Adebo is the No. 29 returning defensive back in the country, per Pro Football Focus, but his best can quickly warrant greater notice than that.

Travis Etienne

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 13: Travis Etienne #9 of the Clemson Tigers runs with the ball with Derek Stingley Jr. #24 of the LSU Tigers in pursuit during the first half of the College Football Playoff National Championship game at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The LSU Tigers topped the Clemson Tigers, 42-25. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

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Clemson: Star receiver Tee Higgins (2,103 yards and 25 touchdowns in the last two years) and star linebacker Isaiah Simmons (104 tackles with 16.5 for loss including eight sacks in 2019) will both head to the next level and undoubtedly hear their names early in the draft. Cornerback A.J. Terrell will join them, though his draft stock is not nearly as high as the deep threat and the unanimous first-team All-American, respectively.

None of that was a surprise. Running back Travis Etienne returning is. While Taylor racked up the yards due to the Badgers’ use, Etienne may have been the most effective back of the last three years when the Tigers turned to him.

Louisville: The Cardinals lost all 6-foot-7 and 369 pounds of second-team All-American left tackle Mekhi Becton, who should not fall past the second round.

USC: Let’s steer into repetition … The Trojans lost all 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds of left tackle Austin Jackson, who should not fall past the second round.

Navy, Western Michigan, Pittsburgh, Duke and Georgia Tech did not lose anyone to early entree in the draft, take that for what you will. The NFL draft is April 23-25 in Las Vegas, for any scheduling concerns.

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