Notre Dame 2012 Top 25 countdown: No. 2

On a defense led by the Heisman Trophy runner-up, Nix was arguably every bit as valuable.

No. 2: Louis Nix, NG

Making the case: It was only two springs ago when Nix was told by the staff that he could see 15-20 snaps a game. He said that wasn't good enough, not after he shed nearly 40 pounds following a redshirt season that saw him arrive on campus at 360-plus pounds. Then Sean Cwynar got hurt, and Nix's workload increased dramatically. Following some transfer murmurs in the spring of 2012 -- when he was also stripped of his No. 1 spot in favor of Kona Schwenke -- Nix snapped out of his funk and proved to be one of the most valuable players of Notre Dame's defense in 2012, putting himself in position to get drafted this spring had he chose to. Instead, he chose to spend at least one more year in South Bend following a campaign that saw him notch 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, five passes defended, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. He was a run-stuffing force in the middle, often drawing double-teams. One needs to look no further than the Nov. 3 close call against Pitt to see Nix's value. Nix played in that contest after spending two nights that week in the infirmary with the flu -- and only after Schwenke got banged up. Ray Graham rushed for 172 yards against the depleted Irish defense and helped the Panthers nearly pull off the upset. Nix was also the Irish's best defensive player in the Discover BCS National Championship loss to Alabama, and another year of similar production will have him very high on NFL scouts' radars.

Preseason ranking: 6

The countdown

No. 3 Stephon Tuitt, DE

No. 4 Tyler Eifert, TE

No. 5 Zack Martin, LT

No. 6 Theo Riddick, RB

No. 7 Braxston Cave, C

No. 8 Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE

No. 9 Zeke Motta, S

No. 10 Prince Shembo, LB

No. 11 Danny Spond, LB

No. 12 T.J. Jones, WR

No. 13 Everett Golson, QB

No. 14 Cierre Wood, RB

No. 15 Bennett Jackson, CB

No. 16 Tommy Rees, QB

No. 17 DaVaris Daniels, WR

No. 18 Chris Watt, LG

No. 19 George Atkinson III, RB

No. 20 Dan Fox, LB

No. 21 Matthias Farley, S

No. 22 KeiVarae Russell, CB

No. 23 Robby Toma, WR

No. 24 Kyle Brindza, K

No. 25 Chris Brown, WR