Notre Dame kicked off its season with a fantastic performance against Navy, and several players who had excellent games in Week 1 will be key to the Fighting Irish’s success during their 2012 campaign.
The team’s schedule will become increasingly more difficult now, and a home game against Purdue is dominating Brian Kelly’s attention. After the Boilermakers, an away game against Michigan State and a difficult matchup with Michigan will round out September.
The Irish’s best players must continue to lead by example and play excellent football going forward.
Here are the members of Notre Dame football who will have the biggest impact on the team’s results this year.
Manti Te’o, Senior, Linebacker
The man in the middle drives Notre Dame’s defense, and he opened up the season with one of his finest games for the Irish.
Te’o was as fast, strong and disciplined as his teammates expected him to be, but he also recorded an interception and a fumble recovery. As ESPN notes, he had never done either in his collegiate career.
The middle linebacker is one of the best players in the country at his position, and his intensity and talent make him the defense’s most effective weapon. Te’o was a second-team All-American last season, and he will need to be just as dominant this year.
If Te’o continues his stellar level of play, the Notre Dame defense will cause opposing offenses to severely struggle.
Tyler Eifert, Senior, Tight End
Notre Dame’s situation at quarterback is uncertain, but whoever takes snaps for the Irish this year will rely on Eifert when dropping back to pass.
Wide receiver is another position on offense that is surrounded with questions, but the coaching staff has complete faith in the big tight end, who was an honorable mention on last season’s All-American teams.
Eifert caught Everett Golson’s only touchdown pass against Navy and at 6’6” and 251 pounds, he is an ideal red-zone target. After watching Eifert in Week 1, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks said, “After trekking to Ireland to get an up-close view of Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert, I'm convinced that he will be the next tight end to take the NFL by storm.”
The Notre Dame fans will not be looking that far ahead and will want to enjoy their time with Eifert while it lasts. But Books is spot on with his analysis, and the Irish tight end has the size and athleticism to be an explosive pass-catcher at any level.
Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, and George Atkinson III, Running Backs
Cierre Wood is the incumbent starter in the backfield and the senior gained 1,102 yards on 217 carries last season. However, he is suspended for one more week, allowing two of his teammates into the spotlight.
Riddick has been a versatile player for the Irish during his career, but the senior settled into a full-time role at running back for the game against Navy and picked up 107 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
Atkinson is a speedy sophomore who provided the offense with explosiveness, and he picked up two touchdowns and 99 yards on just nine carries.
When Wood is back, the Irish will have plenty of talent at tail back, and Kelly would be smart to get the ball in the hands of all three players as often as possible.