While Notre Dame’s roster is still in a position to allow the Fighting Irish to contend for a national title in 2013, the leadership provided by a key group of seniors must be replaced. 12-0 regular seasons don’t just happen. They are a product of a team that is not only talented and well-coached, but also together.
Manti Te’o’s illustrious career is over. Tyler Eifert and his array of school records are off to the NFL. Three-year starting center Braxston Cave has moved on. Zeke Motta is no longer the last line of defense in the secondary.
A team is only as strong as its leaders. Who will be the new leaders of the 2013 Fighting Irish? Let’s look at five possible candidates.
With Manti Te’o no longer playing beside him, Fox, a fifth-year senior, will have a larger role in 2013. Fox will likely be part of a three-man rotation at inside linebacker, along with Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace.
Much of the pre-snap signals that Te’o was responsible for will shift to Fox. That may change when Grace, the presumptive starter at MIKE linebacker, becomes more comfortable in that role. Unlike Te'o, there’s no single player who best fits as a defensive captain this season. However, Fox could assume part of that responsibility.
The quarterback doesn’t have to be the vocal leader of an offense, but he needs to have the belief of his team. It took until Notre Dame's late October win at Oklahoma for Golson to reach that point last season. This fall, there should be little doubt about how far the Irish can go with Golson in charge.
Golson’s isn't a fiery personality. However, he needs to avoid his occasional “woe is me” moments. An example of that came when he was pulled from a game early last season. Expect the Golson of last November to be the standard going forward.
As the veteran of the secondary, Jackson will have to assume the leadership role vacated by Zeke Motta. Despite KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley having strong seasons in 2012, both are still young players. The open free safety position could be won by true freshman Max Redfield.
Jackson was a crucial part of last season’s run to the BCS Championship Game, holding down the No. 1 cornerback role after the departures of Gary Gray and Robert Blanton and the season-ending injury to Lo Wood. Now, it’s time for Jackson to take command of a youthful but promising secondary.
Like Everett Golson, Jones’ is more of a quiet personality. However, leading by example is how the senior can take control of an offense that loses its top two rushers and top receiving target.
Jones was one of the few bright spots in the loss to Alabama, and came up with clutch touchdown receptions in comeback wins over Stanford and Pittsburgh. The Irish have seven receivers that are either freshmen or sophomores. Jones has a great opportunity to leave his mark on the program for years to come.
Nix is a human recruiting pitch. The once quiet Floridian, who committed to Notre Dame while it was without a coach, has now become a media darling and a prime example of how the university can mold boys into men. Does Eddie Vanderdoes sign with Notre Dame if it weren't for his relationship with Nix? I'm not convinced he does.
Kapron Lewis-Moore’s departure leaves a leadership void in the defensive line. As a senior, that role should naturally transition to Nix. A rare breed of size and athleticism, Nix will have to have another dominant season in the middle of the defensive front if the Irish hope to again be a national title contender.