Notre Dame Football: 3 Things Standing in Irish's Way of a National Championship
For a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game to become a reality, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame must iron out a few kinks that have arisen with the dawn of a new season.
As is the cyclical nature of college football, each program around the nation must respond and react to roster turnover and the implementation of new starters in positions left vacant by early departures and graduation.
The efficacy of head coach Brian Kelly and his staff to address the issues and areas of concern facing the program at present will be a determining factor in whether or not the Irish punch their ticket to the 2014 title game in Pasadena, Calif.
That effort should and will begin on the offensive side of the ball.
Lack of Experience at the Running Back Position
In his first three seasons on the job, Kelly possessed the luxury of relying on experienced backs—Robert Hughes, Armando Allen, Jonas Gray, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick among them.
And because of the wealth of talent that has existed at the position every season since 2010, Kelly used that quality depth through the utilization of two-back systems (Hughes and Allen, Wood and Gray, Wood and Riddick).
The situation has a vastly different view this season, as George Atkinson will enter fall camp as the only running back on the roster who has been a member of what many refer to as the "rotation" at the position.
Will redshirt freshman William Mahone become Atkinson's partner in crime? Or will one of the heralded incoming freshmen—Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston—enter the fold?
Regardless of what transpires, the lack of experience at the position holds the potential to be an inhibitor.
Lack of Experience at the Receiver Position
Like with the running backs, this season's group of receivers is short on experience but loaded with raw potential.
What should be most worrisome to Irish fans is the slot receiver position, which has been left bare by the graduation of Robby Toma and transfer of Davonte' Neal.
Kelly and the offensive coaching staff responded quickly to the situation, moving redshirt freshman C.J. Prosise from safety to receiver, which was a switch that had been in the works since the Irish's preparation in December for the BCS National Championship Game.
Another tactic used by the coaching staff to combat the issue was to move Daniel Smith from the X-receiver position (outside receiver) to the slot. The South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School product has been nagged by injuries for the majority of his career at Notre Dame, so Smith's durability will be something to keep an eye on.
The good news is that two starters—DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones—return and will be counted upon to be leaders for a group that is short on experience and leadership.
A New Starting Center
Since Kelly's first season on campus, he and the Irish haven't been forced to worry about the center position, as former starter Braxston Cave had the job secured.
Cave's eligibility has since expired, leaving the starting center position up for grabs.
Matthew Hegarty has appeared primed to fill the void, though Nick Martin—younger brother of the Irish's starting left tackle, Zack Martin—has given Hegarty some serious competition for the spot.
Per the depth chart provided by the folks over at IrishIllustrated.com, which was last updated April 8, Martin is currently listed as the starting center.
How quickly either Martin or Hegarty adapts to being a starter will be a key aspect in the fluidity of Notre Dame's offensive line.
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