Notre Dame begins its quest to improve on back-to-back seasons with a record of 8-5 on Saturday against Navy. The game will take place in Ireland, making it a unique atmosphere for the season opener for both teams.
The Fighting Irish have a tricky schedule on tap for this season, so it's important they use a clash with the Midshipmen as a building block for the bigger games to come. With that in mind, let's take a look at three players to look out for this weekend.
Starting running back Cierre Wood is unavailable for the game due to a suspension, so head coach Brian Kelly will turn to Riddick to carry the load. The senior has played multiple roles in the offense over the last three years, but this is probably his most important one yet.
With sophomore quarterback Everett Golson getting the first start of his collegiate career, there will be an added emphasis on the running game as a way to take pressure off him. Riddick better be ready for a heavy workload.
More importantly, he must avoid turning the ball over. It's the one area where the Irish struggled mightily last season, and they can't afford to have the same mistakes happen in 2012.
Who will make the biggest impact?
Inexperienced quarterbacks at every level of football love throwing to their tight ends. They provide a big target and often serve as the safety-valve option if the main target on the play is covered. That means Eifert's performance will be crucial.
The senior tight end caught 63 passes for over 800 yards and five touchdowns last season. But with Michael Floyd gone and Riddick shifting to a larger rushing role, Eifert becomes the main option for Golson on Saturday.
Luckily, he's exactly the type of consistent, reliable player Notre Dame needs in that role. He will ensure the chains keep moving and the Irish put points on the board.
Instead of heading to the NFL, Te'o decided to return to Notre Dame for his senior season. His choice obviously provides a huge boost to the Irish defense, which the linebacker has led in tackles for each of the past two years.
As Notre Dame fans know from all the past games, Navy loves to run the ball. It racked up nearly 700 rushes last season compared to just 135 passing attempts in the triple-option attack. Te'o will be key in slowing it down.
The Irish have to make sure to avoid letting Navy go on multiple long, time-wasting drives. If Te'o and Co. can do that, Notre Dame should cruise to a victory in its opening game.