Notre Dame achieved the improbable last season when it went from unranked in the preseason to the BCS National Championship Game.
After Notre Dame's heartbreaking loss in the championship game, the incoming 2013 class of freshmen—dubbed the Irish Mob 13—begins this fall under a cloud of unfinished business.
With several of last season's starters moving on to the NFL, there is plenty of opportunity to ascend the depth chart for the inbound freshmen.
Early enrollees, like James Onwualu and Steve Elmer, have already earned a backup position on the latest depth chart out of South Bend, but as the season progresses they are sure to challenge the incumbent players for the starting spots.
Let's take a look at four backups who will earn starting spots by the end of 2013.
*All star rankings referenced from Rivals.com
With only two of the Irish's six leading receivers returning this fall, the race for a starting spot is wide open.
Early enrollee James Onwualu has already earned a spot on the depth chart just behind TJ Jones, and DaVonte Neal's departure leaves the Irish thin at slot receiver, creating a perfect in for Onwualu.
His senior highlight reel shows he has great hands and eludes tackles with ease once he's made the catch. He also has explosive speed, running the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds.
He has already distinguished himself to head coach Brian Kelly, who told Irish Illustrated, "James Onwualu has been outstanding. He's such a conditioned athlete."
Elmer's imposing physical presence is already that of a starting offensive lineman. Standing at a towering 6'6" and tipping the scales at 305 pounds, Elmer is in peak physical condition to hold the line this fall. His high school reel also shows he has a high football IQ as well, making him a prime candidate to ascend the depth chart this fall.
Currently Elmer resides behind senior Christian Lombard at right offensive tackle on the 2013 depth chart, but with his aforementioned presence and skill, it will be no surprise to see him making plays this September and beyond.
Elmer's early enrollment will only assist his chances to be a starter this fall, as it will give him valuable time to acclimate to playing at the next level and prove himself to coach Kelly.
With the departure of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood to the NFL and the slew of injuries that have plagued USC transfer Amir Carlisle, freshman running back Greg Bryant may find himself starting from day one.
The 5-star ranked running back out of Plantation, Florida has already turned heads with his talent. His 5'11" frame supports 196 pounds of pure muscle, making him ideal to power through defenders and fight for difficult yards in heavy coverage. His reel shows he is also an elusive runner, light enough on his feet to maneuver his way through impossible coverage.
He will not be alone in his pursuit of a starting position. Fellow 4-star running back Tarean Folston will also arrive in South Bend this summer.
"I know both those guys are going to be competing for the starting job too, just like I was when I was a freshman. I have no doubt about that," junior RB Cam McDaniel told Bob Wieneke of the South Bend Tribune.
Aside from McDaniel, Bryant will also have to contend with incumbent starting running back George Atikinson III. But with Brian Kelly's run-heavy offense, Bryant should not have a problem distinguishing himself early this fall.
Expect to see Smith on the field this fall.
He will arrive in South Bend this summer with no shortage of accolades. Rivals.com ranked Smith the No. 1 linebacker prospect in the country, No. 3 prospect overall. He was also the recipient of the high school Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker in the country.
Smith projects as an outside linebacker for the Fighting Irish and will challenge Danny Spond for his starting spot this fall.
Head coach Brian Kelly has already addressed the issue, telling Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: ‘‘If Danny Spond is [among] the best 11, he’s playing, If Jaylon Smith is [among] the best 11, he’s playing.’’
Smith, for his part, is confident he will win the spot. He is already being touted as the next Manti Te'o and, frankly, with his athleticism and skill, I have the utmost confidence he will have the starting spot early in the season.