Notre Dame Football: Biggest Breakthrough Candidates for the Irish

Tim KeeneyContributor IAugust 21, 2012

Aug. 4, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back George Atkinson III (4) attempts to catch a pass during practice at the LaBar Practice Complex. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Notre Dame needs to be better.

The Irish's 2011 season was far from a disappointment. They scored 29.2 points per game, good enough for 41st in the nation. The defense was even better, as they gave up just 20.7 per contest (19th best). 

The production and talent was there, but a rough start and a rough finish to the season dropped the Irish to a mediocre 8-5. Three of those losses were by less than five points, meaning the season could have been a completely different story.

In 2012, the Irish need to be just a little better. 

It starts with these guys, who appear primed to take their games to the next level. 


George Atkinson III, RB

The sophomore who carried the ball just nine times for 27 yards last season is still No. 3 on the depth chart behind Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, but rest assured the Irish will find a way to use him.

He's too blazing fast to ignore. 

Atkinson, a current track star at Notre Dame, is without a doubt one of the fastest players in the country, which is all the more impressive considering he is a solid 6'1", 210 pounds. He's going to get carries, he's going to get receptions and he's going to return kicks. 

This speed demon may not be a starter, per se, but he's going to get plenty of chances to showcase his home-run hitting ability. 


Ben Councell, LB

As perhaps one of the better stories of the season, Councell has made the transition from torn PCL to likely opening week starter in less than a year. 

The athleticism of the North Carolina native has never been a question mark. He's long at 6'4", but he also possesses tremendous speed and quickness, allowing him to make plays all over the field, including the backfield. 

The time off, however, allowed the talented sophomore to put on some weight. He reported to camp this spring at a bulky 240 pounds.

In his first real action, don't be surprised if Councell puts together all of his tools to become an underrated leader of this defense. 


Everett Golson, QB

The quarterback picture may never be complete in South Bend, but that's simply because there are too many candidates. 

True freshman 5-star Gunner Kiel clearly has gaudy talent, Tommy Rees has the experience and at times even looked like a real life Division I QB last season and Andrew Hendrix is probably more intriguing than both of them.

But the man who should win the job is sophomore Everett Golson, who has yet to take a collegiate snap. The 6'1", 185-pound dual-threat QB has been impressive this summer and has all the tools to take the college football world by storm.