The Irish have plenty of talented running backs, but not one who has proven himself as an every-down ball-carrier.
Who emerges as the starter is one of the few question marks facing this team, and it also comes at what may be the team's most pivotal position—since the Irish are already dealing with the absence of quarterback Everett Golson.
As the Irish ran off an undefeated regular season last year, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick provided most of the carries. In fact, the two combined for 304 carries, 1,659 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last year.
In all, there are just a combined total of 74 carries returning to this team from 2012. Most of those came from George Atkinson, and he is certainly in line to take the starting duties this year.
However, Cam McDaniel and Amir Carlisle will certainly get chances to prove their worth. To do this, however, they will have to hold off newcomers Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and redshirt freshman William Mahone.
So, heading into the start of the 2013 season, here is how I rank the Irish's three best hopes to carry the load in 2013.
No. 3: Greg Bryant
Greg Bryant enters Notre Dame as a highly touted recruit with star potential. By the sounds of it, he isn't having much of a problem adjusting.
[I'm] probably more pleased with that group than any. We’ve got guys who can help us win right now. Greg Bryant can help us win.
Bryant is compact and explosive, and he runs low. There is no doubt that he has all the tools to be an every-down back at the college level.
Still, he will have to battle his inexperience, steep learning curve and talented teammates to earn playing time.
No. 2: Amir Carlisle
Amir Carlisle has talent—he just has to stay healthy. Carlisle arrived to Notre Dame in 2012 after transferring from USC, but Irish fans are still waiting to see what he can do.
In his one season at USC, Carlisle rushed for 118 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. Then came the transfer and the injury problems.
When he is able to play, Carlisle is an explosive back with good hands. He can easily slide into the slot to run routes in addition to taking his carries out of the backfield. This will fit in nicely with Notre Dame's offense. Now we just have to see if he can stay healthy long enough to prove himself.
No. 1: George Atkinson
George Atkinson has star potential. He has good size and world-class speed. This played out in his 7.1 yards per carry last year and five touchdowns.
Atkinson has the bulk to take being an every-down back. While he appeared as a wiry freshman, he is now a solid 220 pounds. However, with Atkinson there is more than his size that leads to questions over his ability to be an every-down back.
His pads are high when he runs. Not only is this ill suited for running between the tackles, but it also puts him at greater risk of injury.
I expect Atkinson to get his chance at being the lead back for the Irish, but it remains to be seen if he can handle it.