Five freshmen are going to start for the Notre Dame football team in 2012, and while that might be a surprise to some, Brian Kelly knows he has to put the most dynamic players on the field. In five cases, those players are freshmen.
Not all of these guys will be walking onto campus for the first time in 2012 though. A few of these players managed to preserve their four years of eligibility by not playing a single down in 2011 (making them redshirt freshmen in 2012). Still, a couple are true freshmen.
So, who will end up atop the two-deep come fall?
A talented wide receiver who may be the heir to Michael Floyd and his first-rate career is one.
Two true freshmen who will impact special teams immediately will start as well (not including coverage team starters).
An outside linebacker who is involved in an arduous position battle, and a quarterback who is fighting for a chance to shine will be on the field for the first outing against Navy, too.
Davonte Neal is one of two true freshmen that fans can expect to start in 2012.
He will likely be stuck behind Robby Toma as a slot receiver (where he will see a ton of action this season as well), but Neal will do damage to opposing punt coverage units as the Fighting Irish's starting punt returner.
Theo Riddick and John Goodman will get an opportunity to return punts in 2012, too, but when Brian Kelly sees Neal's straight-line speed and cutting ability in person, Kelly is going to get Neal on the field any way he can.
As a punishment for last year's incident against Purdue when a scuffle left Jordan Cowart with a broken hand, Brian Kelly will open up the competition at long snapper. True freshman Scott Daly is going to win the job and never look back.
It isn't often that a long snapper receives a full scholarship, but both Cowart and Daly are on full rides.
And Cowart, a senior, likely won't be coming back next year.
Scholarships are a hot commodity in the college football world, and Kelly knows two scholarship long snappers on the same roster doesn't make much sense. Cowart will remain as a backup this season, as the 6'4", 230-pound Daly takes over for the next four years.
Ben Councell, who didn't play a snap during his first season, is in a fierce position battle with junior Danny Spond for the dog linebacker spot.
Spond is talented, there is no doubt about that. Both players are going to see the field in 2012, but with little separating them in the coach's eyes right now, the younger, taller Councell will win out over the more experienced junior.
It is really going to come down to whoever is better in the open field. Whoever can tackle better one-on-one, and whoever is more skilled at covering running backs and tight ends will get the job. My prediction is that Councell is that guy.
While the two players will share equal time at outside linebacker, Councell will be the one listed as the starter this season.
Do the Fighting Irish need a playmaker at wideout this season?
Well, yes they do.
Davaris Daniels fits that role very nicely.
The 6'2", 190-pound receiver out of Illinois is just what the doctor ordered.
He's tall, he's fast, he can jump out of the gym, he attacks the ball at its highest point, and has great hands.
Daniels' pedigree isn't bad either. His father, Philip, played defensive end in the NFL for 15 years.
With the loss of Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert will pick up much of the slack. But Daniels will finish the season as one of the starting quarterback's favorite targets. Now, who could that quarterback be?
Brian Kelly's post-spring game comments notwithstanding, it wasn't hard to see who was the best quarterback on the field in this year's Blue-Gold game (at least according to fans, albeit that doesn't matter much).
It was Everett Golson.
While there have been murmurs of his inaccuracy throughout spring camp, Golson has shown himself to be an able-bodied passer with a gun for an arm and a scope to help him aim. He is impressive when the pocket or play breaks down too.
After getting experience watching and learning from Tommy Rees, Dayne Crist, and Andrew Hendrix last season, the fan favorite is ready to take the field for the Irish in 2012.
Kelly may not have been completely pleased by Golson's spring game performance, but his upside will be too much to pass up on this year.