Freshmen Who Notre Dame Fans Are Desperate to See Get More Playing Time
The sky has started falling in South Bend, where Notre Dame dropped its second game of the season—and delivered its fifth-straight underwhelming performance—in a 14-point home loss to Oklahoma.
One year after making the BCS National Championship game, the Irish thought they would be able to repeat last year's defensive output and, if not enjoy the same success, at least be a Top 20 team.
Hope is not lost for a finish of that sort, and the season could still be turned around. The talent is definitely there for this team to excel.
But if things continue this direction, it might be time to start working the young guys into more meaningful spots. If this season can't produce a BCS berth, giving reps to some blue-chip freshmen might help produce one in the future.
It's not time to wave the white flag on 2013, but if things continue to look this bad, the next few years would have to be considered.
QB Malik Zaire
Let's start with the obvious.
Tommy Rees isn't the worst quarterback in college football, but given all the history and context surrounding him, he's probably the one who triggers the least amount of excitement in his fanbase.
Back when this season appeared to have BCS potential, fans could get on board—at least partially—with starting him under center. But now that the roof has started to cave, it's time to assess other options.
Andrew Hendrix got some burn against Oklahoma, and Irish fans wouldn't mind seeing him start over Rees. But the man they really want to see is Zaire, the prized recruit who could, in some ways, be described as a rich man's Everett Golson.
He has the highest ceiling of any quarterback on Notre Dame's roster, and with Golson's career still shrouded in mild doubt, he's the one most Irish fans want to see.
Why not let him earn some stripes?
S Max Redfield
Notre Dame's secondary is not what it was last year.
Elijiah Shumate, who saw the field in 13 games as a nickel player last year, slid into the role of starting safety in 2013—but the experiment has not gone well.
Shumate has struggled with his full-time role, playing a part in Notre Dame's secondary struggles. In three of five games this season, the Irish have allowed a rating of 132 or better from opposing QBs.
Redfield was the No. 30 player on 247Sports' composite and, while raw, has the physical tools needed to become an All-American-type safety. So far this season, he has recorded just four tackles and made most of his contributions on special teams.
All he needs is some real reps under his belt, and there's a chance he could near his considerable potential.
That's what this crummy season could provide.
RBs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston
Notre Dame knew it would feel the loss of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood in the backfield, but it figured there were enough pieces behind them to minimize the hurt.
It was wrong.
George Atkinson III has proven, pretty vividly, that he is not an every-down, workhorse kind of back. Cam McDaniel has shown some flashes behind him, and he's great at reading blocks, but he too is better suited for a situational role.
Brian Kelly has his reasons for playing those two over Bryant and Folston—both of whom were top-10 running backs in the Class of 2013. If either of the young guys had shown enough in practice, they would be getting more time with the first team.
But at this point, with the running game hardly moving, what's the harm in giving them a shot? Maybe one is a gamer, the kind of guy who shows better in real, live, contested game action than he does in garbage time or practice.
Why not find out what you have?
CB Cole Luke
Cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and Keivarae Russell were revelations last year, turning what was thought to be a trouble area into a strength throughout the season.
But they've taken a massive step backward in 2013.
Cole Luke has seen the field quite a bit this year (and fared pretty well), but it might be time to up that usage—to move him from a featured player to part of the full-time cast.
He was the No. 77 player and No. 9 cornerback in 247Sports rankings last year, so the talent is definitely there.