As the first game steadily approaches, Notre Dame fans are anticipating a great season for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish.
This list will take a look at 14 players who will help lead the Irish to victory. These guys aren't necessarily the best 14 on the team. Some are vital to success because of the lack of experience behind them; others are studs who need to perform as expected in order for the Irish to rise to the expectations bestowed upon them.
Let's take a look at some names you will hear all season long.
Theo Riddick is one of Notre Dame's best playmakers on offense, and he will also be showcased in the return game, which is in dire need of improvement.
Last season, Riddick was featured in the slot, as Brian Kelly tried to get him the ball in numerous ways. Coach Kelly even drew up plays throwing him screens over the middle (more like illegal picks disguised as screens). While fellow wide receivers T.J. Jones and Michael Floyd will also have a huge impact on the season, Riddick will be one of the team's go-to guys.
Hopefully, Riddick can stay healthy; if he does, he will rack up yardage all season long.
I know, David Ruffer is a kicker, but he is an extremely valuable player, and fans should be glad to have him back.
Ruffer made 19 of 20 field goals last season, and he proved himself as one of the nation's top kickers. Although kickers are often an afterthought, a good kicker is an important piece of any team, and Irish fans know all too well, it isn't easy to find a great kicker.
Michael Floyd is arguably the best wide receiver in the country, and I don't need to convince Irish fans of his importance. Floyd doesn't only stretch the field; he catches the ball over the middle and is the team's most dangerous red-zone threat.
If the Irish need a first down or a quick score, they will look in Floyd's direction.
He is off to the NFL next year as an early pick, so watch the highlights while you can.
At right guard and left tackle, Trevor Robinson and Zack Martin will be key to how effective the line is this season.
While all the linemen are important, Robinson and Martin are the only ones that have freshmen behind them on the depth chart.
Because of the lack of experience behind the two, their health is of the utmost importance.
After Cierre Wood took over for an injured Armando Allen last season, Wood picked up his game.
He had some dismal attempts to pick up pass rushes early in the season, but Wood eventually seemed to be learning all facets of the game, and he slowly emerged as an every-down runner.
But he still hasn't had a chance to show off everything he can do.
Wood is one of the most prolific runners in Notre Dame's recent history, and he has the ability to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
Wood will be getting a lot of carries this year, and even though tailback Jonas Gray will get the ball handed to him a few times too, Wood will be the featured back and have plenty of opportunities to impress.
There is no question that Dayne Crist will have to improve for the team to make a BCS bowl this season.
Crist has the arm strength of an NFL quarterback, yet last season he would short-hop simple out routes and wasn't very accurate on the deep ball either (a major knee injury and bad footwork were the probable culprits).
After Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury for the second consecutive year, Irish fans are anxious to see if he can come back and lead the Irish to victory. One thing is for sure: Coach Kelly has confidence in him.
But even with backup quarterback Tommy Rees proving he can come in and lead the team, and with Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson also providing able bodies at the position, I don't think Crist will be peering over his shoulder.
He is poised to have a great season in the second year of Kelly's fast-hitting spread offense.
The cornerback duo of Gary Gray and Robert Blanton will give headaches to receivers that try to get free. The only problem is a serious lack of experience behind the two.
Even if both players can stay healthy, the dime and nickel packages will feature Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson, both of whom have very little experience on the field at cornerback (Jackson literally has none).
Gray and Blanton will have to do without double coverage help, because the safeties will likely be looking out for mistakes and making sure no one beats the team deep. If Gray or Blanton goes down, that could mean big problems for the Irish pass defense.
Fleming is one of, if not the, best pass-rusher on the team.
With another year in Bob Diaco's system, Fleming will play loose and natural. Notre Dame faithful can expect big things out of Fleming this year.
Whether that means better coverage, more sacks or constantly disrupting the opposing teams' backfields, Fleming will be a nuisance for any offense and especially for quarterbacks.
Opposite Darius Fleming on the edge is Prince Shembo, who flashed his talents last season and won the job at outside linebacker.
If Shembo can match Fleming's edge-rushing ability, opposing quarterbacks won't have long before they have to let the ball go.
Shembo's presence on the outside for every snap is one of the main reasons that Notre Dame's defense could look even better than it did at the end of last season.
We all know about the depth the Irish now have at defensive end, but at defensive tackle, Louis Nix is listed as the co-starter along with Sean Cynwar.
By all accounts, Nix is ready to become a steady contributor to the rotation at defensive line. Nix has had a complete attitude adjustment from last season: he is trying harder in practice and has shed some pounds from his massive frame.
Nix is ready to step up, and that means great things for the Irish run defense. There will be no easy five-yard gains if Nix is plugging up the center. If for some reason Nix isn't quite ready, Cynwar and nose guard Hafis Williams will do fine filling the void; but if Nix is ready, watch out for a force to be reckoned with.
The captain of the team, Harrison Smith, needs to stay on the roll he was on at the end of last season for the Irish to dominate the field. His mix of power, speed and athleticism make him great in coverage and eyeing the run.
The players behind Smith have little experience; if he gets injured, Jamoris Slaughter will probably fill in while Zeke Motta takes over at strong safety. But that doesn't make Smith any less valuable as a playmaker or team leader.
Now that Smith has found his way at free safety, he will pick up where he left off last year, making quarterbacks wish they never showed up to play the game.
Manti Te'o has laid some brutal hits on opponents since his freshman campaign. But Te'o has more worth than just crowd-pleasing blows; he is also the quarterback of the defense.
Te'o is tasked with calling defensive audibles—he has to pick up on the little things so that the defense doesn't get fooled.
This season Te'o will have a new sidekick in Dan Fox, who might be one of the great surprises for Irish fans. Fox's speed will be a great addition to the linebacker core, but he won't be outplaying Te'o.
Whether or not Te'o decides to stay at Notre Dame next season (in my opinion, he will), he will be the heartbeat of the defense this year. And judging by the end of last season, it's time to sit back and watch a dominant defense in the making.