The 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish are coming off an 8-5 2011 season and lost its best playmaker, wide receiver Michael Floyd, to the 2012 NFL Draft. Worst news for the Irish is one of their best defensive players, Aaron Lynch, will be transferring.
Add on top of that a quarterback controversy and one of the toughest schedules in the nation heading into 2012 against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Stanford and USC.
Notre Dame always has a laundry list of items going into each season but time and time again there are impact players that step up each season to make the Fighting Irish a force to be reckoned with.
Here are your five impact players for the Fighting Irish this season.
Cierre Wood, Running Back
This 6'0'' 210 pound junior running back has great vision and can run between the tackles and bounce it to the outside just as well. He can also make defenders miss wherever he is on the field. He finished the 2011 season with 1,120 yards with nine touchdowns and a 5.1 yards per carry average. In contrast, Wood's pass-receiving skills have also improved each season as he managed to tally 27 receptions for 192 receiving yards in 2011.
Wood is the total package for this Fighting Irish team and he has the ability to score every time he touches the ball. In 2012 Wood also has a chance to break the Notre Dame rushing record of 1,437 yards set back in 1979 by Vagas Ferguson.
Tyler Eifert, Tight End
Eifert is a big target at 6'6'' and 240 pounds that just missed out on winning the 2011 Mackey Award (best tight end). In 2011 he happened to break the single season tight end Notre Dame record for most receptions (63) and most receiving yards (803). He also passed up the 2012 NFL Draft to return to Notre Dame and make a push for a BCS Bowl game.
Eifert has great hands and is a solid route runner and excellent blocker. He plays the game with incredible emotion and passion and will be an even better leader for the Notre Dame team in 2012.
Manti Te'o, Linebacker
This 6'2'' and 255 pound senior defensive nightmare has led the Fighting Irish in tackles the last two seasons. He had 128 tackles and five sacks in 2011. His list of credentials includes 2009 Freshman All-American and second team All-American in 2010 and 2011.
He could have gone in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft but coach Brian Kelly convinced him to return for his senior season. Manti has great size, is a good tackler and can easily shed blockers to get to the ball carrier. He is the overall leader of the defense and this team. Enough said.
Ishaq Williams, Linebacker
Williams, now a sophomore, was one of Notre Dame football's finest recruits coming out of high school, and will be replacing the departed Aaron Lynch at the other linebacker spot. Williams will be a great pass-rusher in the Fighting Irish 3-4 defensive scheme. He also has a great ability to run down running backs and has the most upside at 6'5'' and 255 pounds.
Williams has great size, speed and will be a force rushing the passer. With Williams rushing on the outside and Te'o taking care of the middle, this duo will be a tremendous force for the defense.
Stephon Tuitt, Defensive End
Tuitt, a sophomore, who stands at 6'6'' and 295 pounds will also gain a lot more time now without Aaron Lynch. Tuitt has a great size and extraordinary strength that will allow him to eat up space and bat down passes right at the line because of his height.
Tuitt has a ton of upside, and moves really well for being as big as he is. He will be a key cog to the defensive line to wreak havoc on the opposing offense.
Furthermore, even though Notre Dame Fighting Irish had very key departures on both offense and defense, look for Notre Dame's new impact players to put touchdown Jesus back on the map and their 3-4 defense to de-cleat the opposition.
There will be blood, sweat and tears when each of these impact players makes their presence felt in the first game of the season September 1, 2012 against Navy.