The 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish are going to attempt to become the first team under Brian Kelly to win more than eight games.
That’s not an easy task, especially with teams like Michigan, Michigan State, USC, Miami and Oklahoma on the slate.
However, the Irish do have a few players who could make a big impact and have little expectations right now.
Let’s take a look at these young men who the Irish fans are hoping step up in a big way this upcoming season.
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Russell was recruited as a potential triple-threat guy (offense, defense and special teams), but he has come up huge as a cornerback and has a real chance to make an impact on Saturdays this season.
The 5’11”, 180-pound youngster has the instincts and athleticism to play the position, but will have to refine his techniques to truly become a great player.
Expect the Seattle native to make at least one big play if Brian Kelly doesn’t stick a red shirt on the talented player (and it will be hard for him to do so with the shocking lack of depth at the CB position).
How Many Wins Will the Irish Have in 2012?
Ben Councell, OLB
The sophomore linebacker is looking bigger and better than ever. According to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune, Councell has gained 20 pounds since last season and has got a shot at becoming a starting OLB for the Irish.
The reporter notes that Councell has notably improved in pass coverage and will likely see some time behind Danny Spond if the junior starter is healthy. Should Spond be hospitalized for reoccurring migraines, the North Carolina native is in line to take his job.
Zeke Motta, S
While Motta is a senior who has seen a ton of game action for Notre Dame, he still could be a major X-factor in 2012.
Motta was used to splitting time with Jamoris Slaughter across from Harrison Smith, but Smith was a first-round selection in this year’s NFL draft.
Now it’s Motta, Slaughter and a slew of unknowns.
While Slaughter stepped up last season, Motta was sometimes a liability in coverage and didn’t make any impressive plays sans a fumble recovery for a score against FSU in a bowl game.
If he can start forcing turnovers and proving tough to throw against, Motta will be a bright spot on a defense that wasn’t expecting star play from the position.