Notre Dame Football: Wild Cards Who Could Have Big Success This Year
The big names, such as Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert, have been infused into the subconscious of Notre Dame nation during the past two seasons.
Yet its the infatuation with the unknown and mysterious that captivates all college football fans during the days leading up to every new season. Notre Dame's 2012 roster has a few elements of the unknown, as the depth chart has been stacked with elite talent.
The young players who have yet to take the field for the Irish may have the most significant impact on Notre Dame's fortunes this season.
Following is a list of the wild cards on the Irish roster who are primed for a successful season.
Ishaq Williams, OLB
Ishaq Williams, a cornerstone of the vaunted 2011 recruiting class, remained largely in the shadows as a freshman a season ago.
A weak-side defensive end at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, Williams struggled mightily in the transition to outside linebacker in Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 alignment. Williams also fought a bout of homesickness following the Irish's loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
However, Williams is approaching 2012 with a dedication to Notre Dame and to becoming the stalwart linebacker that the recruiting services tabbed him to be.
The 6'5", 255-pound Williams currently finds himself in a dogfight with incumbent starter Prince Shembo and may just usurp Shembo from his starting spot, should Williams reach the potential that has lingered over him since setting foot on campus last year.
Davonte' Neal, WR/KR
A huge portion of the buzz surrounding Notre Dame's freshman class originated from slot receiver Davonte Neal.
The 5'9", 171-pound receiver experienced a whirlwind recruitment, as he dragged his recruitment past National Signing Day and ultimately chose Notre Dame over in-state school Arizona.
Neal's commitment was a huge recruiting victory for the Irish, as Brian Kelly's squad has been starved for an electric playmaker such as Neal. That playmaking ability has earned Neal starting punt return duties—he is becoming the savior of an abysmal punt return unit from a season ago.
Neal won't only make plays as a punt returner, though. Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin will line Neal up all over the field, particularly as a hybrid running back/slot receiver. Neal's speed and agility make him a jack-of-all-trades, if you will.
George Atkinson III, RB
George Atkinson's ability as a kick returner goes without question, as the sophomore returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a freshman in 2011.
It's what Atkinson is capable of doing as a running back that makes him a wild card entering the 2012 season. The Livermore, Cal. native, only carried the ball nine times for 27 yards last season, making his potential at running back a closely watched storyline this season.
Atkinson has an opportunity to begin the season in style, as he's listed as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart behind Theo Riddick for Saturday's contest against the Navy Midshipmen.
Expect Atkinson to carry the ball 10 to 15 times on Saturday morning.
Sheldon Day, DE
This pick may come as a surprise, but Sheldon Day will become a household name before season's end.
Day, a true freshman defensive end from Indianapolis' Warren Central High School, was a redshirt candidate prior to Aaron Lynch's transfer from the school, but he now finds himself second on the depth chart at defensive end behind fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore,
A defensive tackle at Warren Central, Day made the switch to end during spring practices to provide depth behind Lewis-Moore.
The 6'2", 286-pound defensive end is already ahead of the learning curve that his fellow freshmen face, as he's been through a full session of spring practices and has spent a summer in the weight room.
DaVaris Daniels, WR
DaVaris Daniels has a significant choice to make entering this season: Shake the label of enigma or blossom into the star receiver that Irish fans largely expect him to be.
The son of former NFL player Phil Daniels, DaVaris has a chance to emerge as Notre Dame's top target at receiver in the wake of Michael Floyd's graduation.
Daniels' speed is the highlight of his game, as he recorded a time of 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard-dash as a prep phenom at Vernon Hills (IL) High School. The challenge for Daniels is absorbing the mental aspect of the game, in order for his physical talent and football smarts to mesh.
Once that happens, Daniels may just become Notre Dame's next big name receiver.