The 2012-13 college football season marked the return of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They won more than 10 games for the first time since 2006 and the third time since 1993, reaching the National Championship game behind Brian Kelly and Manti Te'o's leadership.
In order to build upon that success, Notre Dame will need it's stars to shine in 2013-14.
Certain players are under pressure after facing adversity and off-field controversy, thus needing to put up on the field. Others had a productive 2012-13 campaign, but will need to take their game to new heights if Notre Dame is to contend for the national championship.
One way or another, the following players must step up for Notre Dame to stand a fighting chance in 2012-13.
George Atkinson III
Position: Running Back
2012 Season Statistics
51 attempts, 361 yards, 5 touchdowns
With both Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood leaving for the NFL, the Fighting Irish will rely heavily upon junior running back George Atkinson III. Fortunately for Notre Dame, Atkinson III just so happens to be the definition of lightning in a bottle.
During the 2012-13 season, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry and one touchdown per 10.2 rushes.
There's no telling whether or not Atkinson III will be able to shoulder the load full-time for Notre Dame, as the 51 carries he took in 2012-13 were scattered. During Notre Dame's final five games, he compiled a total of 14 rushes.
With that being said, the Irish need a big play weapon and Atkinson can be that individual if he develops better hands while working out of the backfield.
Should Atkinson become a bigger threat in the pass game—three career receptions for 14 yards—he would be the X-Factor in South Bend. Fortunately, the addition of freshman Greg Bryant should help to alleviate the pressure.
Just don't think that means Notre Dame needs anything less than a 1,000-yard season from GA3.
Position: Wide Receiver
2012 Season Statistics
31 receptions, 490 yards, 0 touchdowns
Notre Dame's passing attack is going to look very different, after safety blanket and star tight end Tyler Eifert was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Eifert led the team in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns during the 2012-13 season.
Fortunately, DaVaris Daniels finished the season strong and could be the next great Notre Dame receiver.
Daniels finished the season with 31 receptions and 490 yards, good for an average of 15.8 yards per reception. Going up against a vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide defense, Daniels was one of the few brights pots in the Fighting Irish's National Championship game dud.
Daniels finished with six receptions and 115 yards against Alabama, thus setting the stage for a breakout 2013-14 campaign.
Daniels had strong performances scattered throughout, but was forced to miss time with a broken clavicle. The injury was sustained just one week after he caught seven passes for 86 yards against Pittsburgh.
With Eifert gone, the 6'2" receiver will be turned to quite often in 2013. Notre Dame will need him to carry his weight.
63.6% CMP, 4413 yards, 34 touchdowns, 24 interceptions
Everett Golson and Tommy Rees had two of the most unique roles in all of college football last season, as coach Brian Kelly often took the former out to bring the latter in for specific situations. In 2013, we expect to see one player carve out a role as the full-time starter.
According to coach Kelly himself, Rees will be the starter over any other potential candidates.
Golson has been placed on academic suspension, but later said that he would be back with Notre Dame in the spring. Rees, meanwhile, routinely made appearances in 2012, but Golson eventually earned more playing time.
Much could change between now and the beginning of the season, but Rees appears to be the player who will end up replacing the dynamic playmaker under center.
Rees certainly has the ability, posting a career completion percentage of 63.6 percent with 4,413 yards and 34 touchdowns to 24 interceptions. Multiple times during the 2012-13 season, he came in during clutch situations to make key plays.
If Rees wants to maintain any form of NFL potential, he'll need to prove he can carry Notre Dame to a strong season.