The cornerstone of each of the nation's annually elite college football programs is a solid foundation of experience in all three phases of the game.
For the first time since fall 2006, the Irish will likely be labeled as an "elite" team by the vast majority of preseason college football publications, most notably Phil Steele, Athlon and Lindy's.
That distinction has been earned, as the Irish have accumulated quality depth across the board during the Brian Kelly era.
While Notre Dame will be without the services of tight end Tyler Eifert, safety Zeke Motta and center Braxston Cave in 2013, plenty of key pieces remain for a run at another appearance in the BCS National Championship Game.
Perhaps the most crucial piece of any offense with a right-handed quarterback is a quality left tackle.
Notre Dame possesses such a player in Zack Martin, a 6'4", 304-pound Indianapolis native, who will return for this third consecutive season as the Irish's starting left tackle.
Martin has been the blind-side protector of quarterbacks Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees and Everett Golson thus far in his career at Notre Dame, and, in this writer's humble opinion, has been a shockingly under-appreciated piece of the Irish's success during the Brian Kelly era.
While fans may not have noticed his efforts during his three years as a starter, professional scouts have, as Martin considered entering his name in April's NFL draft, but ultimately decided to return to Notre Dame for his final season of eligibility.
Part of that decision was a desire to play alongside his younger brother, Nick Martin, who is a candidate to earn the starting job at right guard.
As I've stated multiple times throughout the past few months, any elite 3-4 defensive schemes begin up front with a quality nose guard.
Louis Nix fills that role in dominating fashion for the Irish, as he is able to dictate what opposing rushing attacks wish to do by plugging the A-gaps (the spaces on each side of the center). Nix is able to do so by beating the opposing center at the point of attack, and moving down into the running lane.
Nix's value doesn't end there, though.
Because opposing offenses wish to eliminate him altogether, Nix draws more double-teams than perhaps any other player in the country, which presents opportunities for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to draw up a variety of exotic blitz packages.
And like Zack Martin, Nix also flirted with the NFL before deciding to return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
With the school's most decorated tight end, Tyler Eifert, no longer donning the blue and gold, Notre Dame will be forced to find a new threat in the vertical passing game.
While there isn't a definitive answer, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels appears primed for a breakout season in 2013, and that isn't just a bunch of hot air and semantics.
Daniels finished last season as the Irish's third-leading receiver, with 31 receptions for 490 yards.
Yet it was his performance in Notre Dame's loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game that should be the most telling part of his potential ascendance in 2013. The Vernon Hills, Ill., native hauled in six receptions for 115 yards against the Crimson Tide.
Now, Daniels won't be a reincarnation of Michael Floyd or Tyler Eifert, but he possesses all of the tools and raw athletic ability to be a true threat for the Irish next season.
Aside from possessing a dominant nose guard, the second-most critical piece of a 3-4 defensive scheme is a quality pass rusher.
Notre Dame possesses a handful of pass-rushers, though Prince Shembo should be considered the most feared presence off the edge for the Irish.
The 6'2", 250-pound Shembo fulfills the role of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end who is capable of playing standing up or in a three-technique with a hand in the dirt. Well-known examples of these hybrid defenders are the Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews and the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware.
Shembo's primary responsibility is to beat the opposing offensive tackle off the line of scrimmage in an attempt to get to the quarterback or running back in the backfield.
His speed and tenacity flying off the edge resulted in his 7.5 total sacks during the 2012 season, which placed him second on the team to Stephon Tuitt's 11.
Don't be surprised if Shembo eclipses his 2012 total next season.
Any time a team returns its sacks leader, fans should be ecstatic.
I'm talking to you, Notre Dame fans. You should all be jubilant about the return of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who will, without question, be a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft should he choose to leave Notre Dame early.
Whether he remains for his senior season is a conversation for another board, though.
The Monroe, Ga., native should be a consensus preseason first-team All-America selection, as well as a favorite for the Bednarik Award, which is annually awarded to the nation's best defender (South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney should be considered the favorite at the moment).
As far as the X's and O's go, Tuitt is a matchup nightmare at 6'6" and 303 pounds.
His lateral quickness and burst off the edge typically give Tuitt the upper hand against opposing offensive linemen, as evidenced by his team-leading 11 sacks during the 2012 season.