As the NCAA's second-best team during the 2012 season, Notre Dame enters the 2013 campaign with more expectations to both continue its storied tradition and improve on last season's runner-up finish in the BCS Championship to Alabama.
It all starts on Saturday in South Bend.
The annual Blue-Gold Spring Game will commence on Saturday afternoon, just in time for you to catch back up on players who will shape Brian Kelly's 2013. We all know about quarterback Everett Golson, but what about the guys battling for a starting job?
Right now, there are jobs to be had.
The departures of key players on both sides of the ball leaves Kelly and his staff with decisions to make on one of the final days of organized practice before the fall. From replacing All-American linebacker Manti Te'o to determining which running back is going to get the lion's share of the work, this is a crucial proving ground for some recruits.
With that in mind, here's a look at three position battles you should keep an eye on during the game on Saturday and how each might shape out before the start of the 2013 season.
What: Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Game
When: Saturday, April 20 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: South Bend, Ind.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Departed Player(s): Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick
Candidates: George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Will Mahone, Amir Carlisle (not playing on Saturday)
Wood and Riddick are both headed to prove themselves in the NFL, leaving maybe the most important position on offense behind Golson up for grabs heading into the Irish's Independent schedule.
Right now, it's GA3's job to lose.
Atkinson, who averaged over seven yards per carry and broke the 100-yard threshold with a monster game against Miami in 2012, looks to be the lead dog. He knows the system, performed well in garbage time and has the stamp of approval from the coaching staff.
However, he's not without company for carries.
Notre Dame will not use a running back exclusively in 2013. That means even if GA3 grabs the job, there's a good chance he will only be grabbing 50-60 percent of the lead-dog duties. Behind him, Cam McDaniel, Will Mahone and Amir Carlisle—the last of whom isn't playing while recovering from a broken collarbone, h/t ESPN)—look to factor in as well.
Don't forget about Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston—two top recruits headed to South Bend that will likely be in attendance on Saturday—guys that could push for time right away in a six-headed monster of an attack.
It's unlikely Notre Dame will muddy this position up to the point of not knowing who's on top of the depth chart, but Atkinson needs to have a good day on Saturday against the opposing defense to cement his place as the unquestioned starter. If not, others can, and will, emerge.
Departed Player: Manti Te'o
Candidates: Jarrett Grace, Dan Fox (not playing on Saturday), Carlo Calabrese
Looking to replace Manti Te'o in the middle of the defense, the Irish are counting on youngster Jarrett Grace more than ever before. While there are those that feel he could be a three-year starter at Notre Dame, Kelly has not given him the job outright.
As noted by B/R's own Michael Felder, plugging this hole could by Notre Dame's biggest priority this offseason.
All three of the candidates are likely to see time, as Fox and Calabrese are both fifth-year seniors and have plenty of on-the-field experience in both practices and game situations.
That being said, Grace is clearly a cut above his elders in this regard, and having a guy in place that could contribute right away as a starter and stick around for the next two years would be more beneficial than leaving the old guys out there.
Then again, the best players play at top programs.
We'll see if Grace is the best of a group that will likely all see the field at various points this season, or if this will be a carousel without end as the Irish aren't able to replace Te'o with a consistent starter.
Departed Player: Zeke Motta
Candidates: Austin Collinsworth, Nicky Baratti (not playing on Saturday), Elijah Shumate
Austin Collinsworth hasn't had much luck in spring games so far, tearing his labrum in the 2012 Blue-Gold Spring Game after winning the team's special teams player of the year award in 2011 and being poised to take on more responsibility in 2012.
It wasn't meant to be, but Collinsworth—son of former NFL wideout Cris—is poised yet again to earn more time.
As noted by LaMond Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times, Collinsworth has worked hard to come all the way back from the shoulder injury and getting back on the field will be nothing to take lightly as the Irish try to replace Zeke Motta in the secondary.
The game could go a long way for Collinsworth knocking out sophomore Nicky Baratti and keeping Elijah Shumate in more of a versatility role, although the latter is moving back to his original position with the Irish.
All-in-all, it should be an exciting day on campus for fans and players alike. It's a new era of football at Notre Dame—one that includes expectations that have the foundation to be met with battles like these in the spring.
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