At first glance, losing running back Cierre Wood would seem like a major setback for Notre Dame with just days until the season opener. Luckily for the Fighting Irish, they have enough talented players at the position to fill the short-term void.
According to Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com, the star senior was suspended for two games on Sunday for a violation of team rules, meaning he'll miss the team's clash with rival Navy in Ireland and the home opener against Purdue. He will be eligible to return for a trip to Michigan State in Week 3.
Wood rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season and found the end zone nine times. He also caught 27 passes for nearly 200 yards. He was expected to serve as the key cog in the offensive attack again in 2012, and will once he returns to the field.
In the meantime, the Irish will turn to some less experienced rushing alternatives. Fellow senior Theo Riddick will get the starting nod after serving in more of a receiving role in each of the past two seasons, catching 78 passes and scoring six touchdowns.
He has just 54 carries during his collegiate career, but should make a seamless transition back to the running game. As one of the team's most reliable veterans, he knows the key is protecting the ball after turnovers doomed the Irish last season.
While Riddick should see a majority of the carries, another name to keep an eye on is sophomore George Atkinson III. He's more of a boom-or-bust option with the ability to break a big play any time he touches the ball.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see him take playing time away from Riddick, especially if the Irish offense gets off to a sluggish start without Wood. He represents a good change of pace and will want to stake his claim for the job looking ahead to next year.
Atkinson received just nine carries during his freshman campaign, but still managed to score two touchdowns. He looked dangerous throughout spring practices, earning him the spot behind Riddick and his first real chance to shine.
The combination of Riddick and Atkinson should be enough to ensure the Irish rushing attack doesn't suffer a major drop-off in the first two games. And since the level of competition in those contests is low compared to the rest of the team's schedule, that should be enough.
Although not having Wood available to start the season is certainly a disappointment, it's not time to press the panic button. The Irish offense should survive without him for a couple games.