While the New Year isn't even three weeks old, it's never too early to look ahead to college football's 2013 season.
One of the rather popular launching points of football, and in this case Notre Dame football, discourse is the shaping and suggested ordering of the two-deep depth chart.
The Irish's two-deep gained a bit of clarity earlier this week when running back Cierre Wood announced his decision to forego his potential fifth season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
Tight end Tyler Eifert also bypassed a potential fifth season to begin his professional football career, and it doesn't appear that any other members of Brian Kelly's squad with eligibility remaining will make an early jump to the NFL.
Now, formal fifth-year invitations have yet to be extended, but I will assume that eligible candidates in positions of need will be donning the blue and gold next season.
Without further ado, I present Notre Dame's 2013 two-deep depth chart.
For the first time in the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame, the Irish will enter a season without the dramatics and frustration of a quarterback "controversy."
Everett Golson, the Irish's 2012 starting quarterback, won the staring job last fall during preseason camp, usurping former starter Tommy Rees.
While many Irish fans, and a number of readers here at Bleacher Report, would like to see former five-star prospect Gunner Kiel slinging the ball under the golden dome next fall, it's an unlikely scenario.
Yes, Brian Kelly will have an open competition at the quarterback position just as he will every season, but there's no reason to believe that Golson will be uprooted by Kiel.
- Everett Golson
- Gunner Kiel
Notre Dame will be without running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood in 2013, as both will be roaming NFL sidelines in the fall.
Without that tandem, the Irish are still left with an abundance of talent, though that talent is short on experience.
George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle, William Mahone and Cam McDaniel will fight for carries during spring practices. That bunch will be joined by current 2013 commits Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, pending those two signing their national letters of intent.
Whoever earns the starting label next season shouldn't feel too high and mighty, for Brian Kelly prefers to use a rotation of two to three backs, as he did with Riddick, Wood and Atkinson in 2012.
- George Atkinson
- William Mahone
Notre Dame's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game may as well have been an audition for a starting job next season for DaVaris Daniels.
The son of former NFL stud Phillip Daniels, the younger Daniels proved his worth against the Crimson Tide, hauling in six receptions for 115 yards.
He'll be counted upon next season to be a threat in the passing game now that Tyler Eifert has moved on to the professional ranks.
- DaVaris Daniels
- Daniel Smith
Time really does fly, doesn't it?
Next season will mark T.J. Jones' fourth consecutive as a starting wide receiver for the Irish.
Through three years at Notre Dame, the son of the late Notre Dame legend Andre Jones, has compiled 111 receptions for 1,321 yards and 10 touchdowns. And with a lack of proven playmakers entering the 2013 season, Jones will be asked to take on an expanded role.
- T.J. Jones
- Chris Brown
Roby Toma has been Notre Dame's starting slot receiver for the past two seasons, but his time in South Bend has come to a close.
Filling his shoes will likely be Davonte' Neal, who served as the Irish's starting punt returner during the 2012 season.
Depth at the slot position still has yet to be worked out, though current 2013 commit Torii Hunter, Jr. will likely fill in behind Neal once he recovers from a broken femur suffered in U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices.
When Hunter, Jr. fully recovers, he will challenge Neal for the starting job.
- Davonte' Neal
- Torii Hunter, Jr.
Notre Dame can't simply replace outgoing tight end Tyler Eifert, who is the most productive player at the position in school history.
What the Irish can do is fill his shoes through a committee approach—Ben Koyack, Alex Welch, Troy Niklas and Mike Heuerman will round out the depth chart next season.
Brian Kelly will, once again, prefer to use a variety of two-tight end sets, meaning that the rotation at the position may go as many as four-deep.
- Troy Niklas
- Ben Koyack
Christian Lombard will return in 2013 for his second season as Notre Dame's starting right tackle.
Lombard had a seamless transition from a reserve player to a full-time starter in 2012, and will be one of three returning starters along the Irish offensive line next season.
Tate Nichols would likely be Lombard's backup, though a knee injury may hold him back next season.
- Christian Lombard
- Tate Nichols
With Mike Golic, Jr. having completed all five seasons of his eligibility at Notre Dame, the right guard position has an opening.
Nick Martin, brother of Irish starting left tackle Zack Martin, will likely fill Golic's shoes.
The 6'4", 290-pound product out of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis will need to spend some time in the weight room during the summer with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo to add some bulk to his frame before stepping into a starting role.
- Nick Martin
- Bruce Heggie
Center is, without a doubt, the murkiest position entering spring practices.
Former starter Braxston Cave, and his backup, Mike Golic, Jr., have seen their respective eligibilities expire, meaning that a new group will be auditioned at center in the spring.
During the 2012 season, Matt Hegarty was listed as the third-string center, though a mild stroke held him out for a significant chunk of time. However, according to reports, Hegarty will be cleared to play by the time preseason camp rolls around, so it's fair to assume he'll be the Irish's starting center.
- Matt Hegarty
- Bruce Heggie
Chris Watt will be back for his third-consecutive season as the Irish's starting left guard in 2013.
The 6'3", 310-pound mauler, along with left tackle Zack Martin, will form a rather potent left side of the Irish offensive line.
When Watt is called to the sideline, he'll be spelled by Connor Hanratty, the son of former Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty.
- Chris Watt
- Connor Hanratty
Perhaps one of the most unappreciated players on the Irish roster in recent seasons has been left tackle Zack Martin.
Like Chris Watt, Martin will be entering his third-consecutive season as a starter along the offensive line.
But most importantly, Martin provides a voice of leadership not only to the offensive line, but to the entire team, as he was selected as one of four captains by head coach Brian Kelly last season.
Because Martin decided to return to school for his final season, he'll continue to teach and prepare his backup and heir apparent, Ronnie Stanley, for a second-consecutive season.
- Zack Martin
- Ronnie Stanley
Opposing offensive tackles on Notre Dame's 2013 schedule should be wary of the fact that Stephon Tuitt will be back prowling along the Irish defensive front.
Tuitt, a 6'6", 303-pound monster, is likely to be tabbed as a first-team preseason All-American prior to the start of the 2013 season.
Chase Hounshell, whose season was ended before it began by a shoulder injury, will be back as Tuitt's backup by the time preseason camp rolls around.
- Stephon Tuitt
- Chase Hounshell
Cordially referred to as "Irish Chocolate," Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix has announced that he will return for his senior season in South Bend.
The mammoth, 6'3", 326-pound nose guard is a bruiser in the heart of the Irish defensive line, and is able to dictate what opposing rushing attacks are able to do at the point of attack.
And while the Hawaiian influence on the Irish roster will ebb with Roby Toma and Manti Te'o departing, backup nose guard Kona Schwenke will keep the island spirit alive.
- Louis Nix
- Kona Schwenke
Indianapolis native Sheldon Day will slide into a starting role at defensive end with the departure of incumbent starter Kapron Lewis-Moore.
The 6'2", 286-pound Day played significant minutes this season as Lewis-Moore's backup.
Day, who will be a sophomore next season, will be leading what may, perhaps, be the youngest position on the field, with redshirt freshman Jarron Jones and current 2013 commit Isaac Rochell—pending the signing of the national letter of intent—providing depth.
- Sheldon Day
- Jarron Jones
One of the more rangy athletes on the Irish roster, Danny Spond will return for his senior season at Notre Dame.
Spond missed the Irish's first two games of the 2012 season due to post-concussion symptoms, and at one point, thought that his football-playing career may have been over.
However, after consulting with doctors, it was determined that Spond could, in fact, return to the field.
Ben Councell, one of the more underrated defenders on the Irish roster, will battle Spond for the starting job during preseason camp.
- Danny Spond
- Ben Councell
Because former Notre Dame commit Alex Anzalone flipped his commitment to Florida, the Irish will rely upon Jarrett Grace to start at Manti Te'o's old inside linebacker position.
Depth will also be a concern, as Kendall Moore is listed as the only true backup at this linebacker position.
- Jarrett Grace
- Kendall Moore
Dan Fox is likely to be back for a fifth season, and will be a veteran leader of an otherwise young linebacking corps.
The Rocky River, Ohio, native finished the 2012 season ranked fourth on the team in tackles with 63, which will likely be an increased figure next season.
Should he be rewarded an invitation for a fifth season, Carlo Calabrese would figure to be Fox's backup, though that won't be decided for a few weeks.
If Calabrese doesn't return, Joe Schmidt would battle current 2013 commit Michael Deeb—pending the signing of his national letter of intent— for the backup spot.
- Dan Fox
- Carlo Calabrese/Joe Schmidt/Michael Deeb
The carrier of the team sledgehammer, otherwise known as Prince Shembo, will be back next season, full-cage face mask and all.
He will be the leader of the deepest position of the team, which will also feature Ishaq Williams and 2013 commit Jaylon Smith.
Shembo, who finished the 2012 season ranked second on the team in sacks with 7.5, will likely earn his due as one of the nation's most-feared pass rushers.
That distinction may also lead to NFL teams' interest in Shembo as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker in a base 3-4 scheme at the next level.
- Prince Shembo
- Ishaq Williams
At this time last year, KeiVarae Russell was an uncommitted prospect being recruited as a running back.
One year later, the Mariner, Wash., native has played one season at Notre Dame as a starting cornerback.
It was a whirlwind series of events, but it led to the Irish having a solid starting defensive back for the next three seasons.
Josh Atkinson and Elijah Shumate will provide depth.
- KeiVarae Russell
- Josh Atkinson
Having arrived at Notre Dame as a receiver, Bennett Jackson was converted to cornerback as a sophomore, and earned his way into a starting role this season.
Jackson finished second on the team in interceptions with four during the 2012 season.
Jalen Brown, who will be a redshirt sophomore next season, will be Jackson's primary backup.
- Bennett Jackson
- Jalen Brown
Some may say this is a far-fetched scenario, but current 2013 commit Max Redfield possesses enough talent to fill Zeke Motta's shoes at free safety next season.
The 6'2", 195-pound Mission Viejo, Calif., native, should he sign his national letter of intent, would be an elite addition to the Irish secondary.
If Redfield does elevate himself to a starting role, Nicky Baratti would likely be his backup.
- Max Redfield (pending the signing of his national letter of intent)
- Nicky Baratti
Perhaps the most improved player of the Irish defense is strong safety Matthias Farley.
Like Bennett Jackson, Farley arrived at Notre Dame as a wide receiver, but was moved to safety but was moved to safety prior to the 2012 season.
When Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, Farley was forced into his starting role and never looked back.
Depth will be a point of concern at strong safety entering the 2013 season, though Elijah Shumate could slide over from cornerback to his natural position.
- Matthias Farley
- Elijah Shumate