Notre Dame Football: Will the Irish Return Enough Talent to Contend in 2013?
Notre Dame's impressive 3-0 start to the 2012 season has given talking heads and pundits everywhere plenty to discuss, including the Irish's chances at reaching the BCS National Championship in Miami, Fla.
While reaching college football's grandest stage remains a possibility for Notre Dame, the 2013 season seems like a more realistic scenario for the Irish to play for a national title.
Of course, Notre Dame's chances of achieving such a feat are largely dependent upon the amount of talent and experience returning, which I'll be discussing here.
It took Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly a little more than two years to solve the conundrum at the quarterback position. The answer has arrived in the form of redshirt freshman Everett Golson.
Through three games as the Irish's starting quarterback, Golson has accumulated 611 passing yards and three touchdown passes. Most importantly, Golson has only committed two turnovers, quite a refreshing statistic after the Irish had racked up 12 turnovers through the first three games of last season.
Whether or not Golson hangs onto his starting job remains to be seen, but all indications are that he has a firm grip on the gig.
And, with more experience, Golson will only transform into a better quarterback, bringing stability to the position entering the 2013 season.
Notre Dame possesses one of the deepest stables of running backs this season, but that depth will take a small blow when the book closes on the 2012 season.
Theo Riddick will have exhausted his collegiate eligibility, marking the end of an incredible four-year run for the New Jersey product. His counterpart, Cierre Wood, will have one season of eligibility after the conclusion of the current season, but many have speculated that Wood will enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
Should both Riddick and Wood take their respective talents to the NFL, the Irish will be left with George Atkinson, William Mahone and Cam McDaniel at running back.
Atkinson and McDaniel are proven playmakers, but Mahone has yet to see the field. It's widely expected that Mahone will serve a redshirt season, barring injuries to those ahead of him on the depth chart.
Notre Dame's monstrous offensive line will lose two of its key cogs at the end of the current season, as center Braxston Cave and right guard Mike Golic, Jr. each will see their respective eligibility clocks reach zero.
However, the left side of the line will remain intact, as left tackle Zack Martin and left guard Chris Watt each have one season of eligibility remaining following the 2012 season.
Right tackle Christian Lombard also returns, but two new faces will be on each side of the 6'5", 309-pound Illinois native.
With three starters returning along the line, there won't be much of a drop-off in 2013.
Notre Dame has come to be known as "Tight End U" in recent seasons, as three former Irish tight ends—Anthony Fasano, John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph—are starting in the NFL.
Tyler Eifert will be the next to join that group, as the 6'6", 251-pound freak athlete is widely expected to be the first tight end selected in April's NFL draft.
The loss of a player such as Eifert would hurt most programs, but Notre Dame has stocked up on high-quality tight ends. Ben Koyack, Alex Welch and Troy Niklas return next season. That trio is expected to be joined by current Irish commit Mike Heuerman, a 4-star tight end out of Naples, Fla.
The prospect of just how deep and talented Notre Dame's group of receivers could be next year is absolutely tantalizing.
The Irish will lose John Goodman and Robby Toma following the season, but will retain a group that will feature TJ Jones, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, Davonte Neal, Daniel Smith and DaVaris Daniels.
Barring any de-commitments, that sterling group of receivers will be joined by James Onwualu, Corey Robinson and William Fuller entering the 2013 season.
The combination of those incoming freshmen with the veterans makes for a receiving corps that has the capability and potential to post some gaudy numbers at this time next year.
The cornerstone of Notre Dame's program is, without question, the defensive line.
The Irish will lose Kapron Lewis-Moore, but current freshman Sheldon Day will make a seamless transition to starter next fall.
Alongside Day will be two of the nation's elite defensive linemen: defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose guard Louis Nix III. Each will challenge for All-America honors in 2013, which may come one season after accomplishing the same feat.
Chase Hounshell, Tony Springmann, Kona Schwenke and incoming freshman Isaac Rochell will form a formidable second unit along the defensive line.
The Irish will lose one of the best players in program history following the 2012 season, as Manti Te'o has left a lasting legacy on the university.
Te'o, a Hawaiian native, will earn a massive paycheck with an NFL team next season. His replacement isn't a certainty, as the battle for Te'o's vacant inside linebacker spot will be comprised of Jarrett Grace and incoming freshman Alex Anzalone.
Alongside the new starter will be veteran players in Danny Spond, Ben Councell, Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese. Sophomore-to-be Romeo Okwara also will be in the mix.
Adding a deep freshman group of linebackers to an already shockingly deep corps perhaps will give Notre Dame the nation's best front seven a season from now.
This season's Irish secondary faces constant speculation about its level of inexperience, and rightfully so. Three starters—Matthias Farley, Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell—arrived at Notre Dame as offensive skill position players.
It's a raw group, but a group that has held its own during the season's first three games.
With a full season of experience under its belt, expect the 2013 version of the Irish secondary to be an excellent complement to a ferocious front seven.
Prior to the 2012 season, fans far and wide chalked up the Irish to be an 8-4 team at best. While that may still happen, the Irish have shown signs of being far ahead of schedule.
The 11th-ranked Irish are off to their first 3-0 start since 2002, bringing national attention and—wait for it—relevance to a program that largely has been in the shadows for the past decade.
With a tremendous amount of experience being gained by the young members of this season's Notre Dame squad, the outlook for 2013 is bright.
The defensive front seven will be an improved unit in 2013, if that's even humanly possible. Complement a ferocious defense with an offense in the second season of the Everett Golson project, and a run at a national championship isn't out of the question.