You could look at the success of the Fighting Irish in 2010 and link it directly to the success of their running backs. The Irish were a perfect 7-0 when they out-rushed their opponent. Notre Dame averaged 148.2 rushing yards a game in wins as opposed to 104 in losses. As a team the Irish rushed for 1,646 yards (1,517 by running backs) in 2010 with opponents logging 1,870 yards.
More than half of those 1,517 (814) yards were logged by athletes that are no longer on the roster—Armando Allen (514 yards) and Robert Hughes (300 yards).
On the upside, the Irish return junior Cierre Wood who led the team in yards (603), carries (119) and touchdowns with three. Dayne Crist had four touchdowns on the ground, but for the purpose of this article focus is only on running backs. Wood's 5.1 yards per carry is notable as it is only the second time in the last 14 seasons that an Irish back with over 100 carries averaged over five yards per carry. Julius Jones averaged 5.5 per carry in 2003.
Jonas Gray, a senior, will be instrumental in the running game. Gray logged 100 yards on 20 carries last season.
At 5'10" 230 pounds, Gray is a powerful back. He was a U.S Army All-American as well as a Parade All-American, but some may say that Gray has a lack of experience. Although Gray has only one career start, he has made 22 appearances, this makes him no stranger to the field. The untested tag is off. Gray has the experience to fit right into the system.
Cameron Roberson, last season's scout team offensive player of the year, was sidelined for what looks to be the 2011 season with a knee injury suffered in spring camp.
When Justice Hayes jumped ship from Notre Dame to stay close to home with the University of Michigan, this opened the door for another running back. While many thought that Hayes' decision would hurt the Irish, it is my personal belief, after watching Hayes in person, that he would have become a slot receiver in South Bend anyway.
The decision by Savon Huggins to attend Rutgers was more of a blow. Although, when Huggins skipped the game at Yankee Stadium, I believed that the writing was on the wall.
The decisions of Hayes and Huggins made it possible to land Cam McDaniel, a 5'10" 195-pound second team all-state back out of Coppell, Texas. McDaniel carried the ball 301 times for 1,906 yards and 32 scores as a senior.
With the injury to Roberson, McDaniel could make a name for himself early as could George Atkinson III, if the Irish decide that they want to bolster the depth at running back by using Atkinson at that position. Atkinson rushed for 1,669 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010. He is also a wide receiver and defensive back. The decision will be on the coaching staff as where to utilize that talented young man.
Walk-on Patrick Coughlin, a senior, makes up the rest of the running back committee.
Once everything is in place, Cierre Wood should emerge as the primary back. I think that it is crucial that the primary back gets anywhere from 210 to 225 carries this season. This is important for landing a stellar running back for the 2012 class.
It is evident that Coach Brian Kelly knows how to mix it up. In Notre Dame's Sun Bowl victory over Miami, the Irish rushed for 196 yards, and expanded their playbook from the regular season. Hopefully the lack of depth doesn't mean that Kelly has to make adjustments on the fly. If that is the case look for the limited play-book to be back in effect at running back.
Cierre Wood has the opportunity to make things happen this season. As we learned last year, as the rushing game goes, so go the Irish.
Jim Sheridan is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org