Notre Dame Football: 2012 Starting Lineup Projection
Boy, the college football season sure does fly by, doesn't it? It's already the time of year to begin contemplating the shape and appearance of next season's starting lineup.
With the administration at Notre Dame having yet to make a decision on which seniors will receive an invitation for a fifth year, not all positions are of the crystal clear variety.
For now, though, we'll provide an accurate description of who will be filling each starting position on both sides of the ball, including backups.
Starter: Tommy Rees
Backup: Andrew Hendrix
It shouldn't come as a shock to Irish fans to hear Brian Kelly announce Tommy Rees as his starting quarterback next August.
While Rees clearly isn't the quarterback of the future, he does possess the most game experience of any quarterback on the roster. Despite that fact, expect to see Andrew Hendrix split snaps with Rees, and, possibly, be named the starter at some point.
Starter: Cierre Wood
Backup: George Atkinson
Cierre Wood, Notre Dame's 1,000-yard back in 2011, will return to his starting duties at running back in 2012.
A second consecutive 1,000-yard season from Wood is certainly in the realm of possibility, especially with three of five starters on the offensive line expected to return.
Look for George Atkinson III to receive extensive action next season, given his ability to both run and catch the football with ease.
Also, incoming freshman William Mahone is expected to provide the "thunder" that soon-to-be departed running back Jonas Gray provided in 2011.
Starter: Deontay Greenberry
Backup: John Goodman (pending a fifth-year decision)
Because Brian Kelly won't have the luxury of penciling in Michael Floyd in his primary receiver spot, the third-year head coach will be forced to make a tough decision.
The result of that decision may very likely end up with Deontay Greenberry being named a starting wide receiver. Greenberry wouldn't be the first freshman to start at receiver under Kelly, as TJ Jones did the same in 2010.
Greenberry has a shot at starting because of his size (6'3", 190) and ability to win the battle for the jump ball.
Starter: TJ Jones
Backup: Daniel Smith
In two years as a starter, TJ Jones has yet to make the kind of impact that was expected of him when he stepped on campus in January of 2010.
Jones' third season as a starter may finally be the season where the junior-to-be makes some noise.
Naming a backup for any receiver position is difficult at this point, but local product Daniel Smith would be a reasonable name to throw out there.
Starter: Robby Toma
Backup: DaVaris Daniels
After being deemed too small to make a significant contribution at the college level, Robby Toma has proved those critics wrong.
He has gone above and beyond the call of duty, filling in admirably for Theo Riddick while he was injured.
Expect to see DaVaris Daniels, who redshirted this season, to serve as Toma's backup.
Starter: Tyler Eifert
Backup: Ben Koyack, Alex Welch
The tight end position in 2012 can be best described as "murky" at the current moment.
Incumbent starter Tyler Eifert, a junior, is currently in the decision making process of whether or not to leave Notre Dame early for the NFL. My gut feeling is that he'll stay, giving him another season to improve his draft stock.
Luckily for the Irish, the talent beneath Eifert is ready to explode, with Ben Koyack and Alex Welch possessing enough skill to be starters at nearly any other school in the country.
Starter: Zack Martin
Backup: Nick Martin
For Notre Dame, it's a family affair at the left tackle position. Zack Martin, older brother of his backup, Nick, is the incumbent starter. Following the Champs Sports Bowl, the elder Martin will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Younger brother Nick redshirted this season, giving him four full seasons of eligibility going forward.
Starter: Christian Lombard
Backup: Jordan Prestwood
Current starting right tackle Taylor Dever will have exhausted his eligibility following the conclusion of the Champs Sports Bowl, setting up for an open competition at the spot during fall camp.
The most likely candidate to fill Dever's shoes is Christian Lombard. The 6'5", 301-pound Lombard redshirted the 2010 season, giving him three seasons of eligibility beginning next season.
It wouldn't come as a surprise to see former Florida State commit Jordan Prestwood serve as Lombard's backup, after sitting out the 2011 season because of the NCAA's transfer rules.
Starter: Chris Watt
Backup: Tate Nichols
Left guard won't be an area of concern in 2012, as incumbent starter Chris Watt will be in his second season as a starter on the Irish offensive line.
Tate Nicholes, a 2010 commit, may serve as Watt's backup. The 6'8", 320-pound Kentucky native is the largest offensive lineman on the roster.
Starter: Conor Hanratty
Backup: Brad Carrico
Trevor Robinson will be missed at right guard, but his backup this season, Conor Hanratty, is more than ready to take the reigns.
Conor, the son of former Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty, will be a sophomore in 2012.
Current freshman Brad Carrico will serve as Hanratty's backup, after redshirting the current season.
Starter: Braxston Cave (pending a fifth-year decision)
Backup: Mike Golic, Jr. (pending a fifth-year decision)
Center has become a very unclear situation, as both starter Braxston Cave and backup Mike Golic, Jr. are in the midst of Notre Dame's tricky fifth-year policy.
Cave is almost guaranteed a fifth-year, after suffering a season-ending injury in the initial minutes of his first collegiate game against San Diego State in 2008.
If Golic, Jr. isn't granted a fifth-year (which would be a shock, considering his family's connections to Notre Dame), then Bruce Heggie would serve as Cave's backup.
Starter: Aaron Lynch
Backup: Kona Schwenke
There's no argument as it concerns Aaron Lynch having earned a starting spot at one of the two defensive end spots in 2012.
The freshman phenom lived up to the hype this season, displaying his speed and tenacity in the pass rush department.
Kona Schwenke will prove as a reliable backup to Lynch during many of the in-game rotations.
Starter: Louis Nix
Backup: Sean Cwynar (pending a fifth-year decision)
Louis "Irish Chocolate" Nix will be anchoring the defensive line once again in 2012, after his breakout season in 2011.
The monster nose tackle has lost a significant amount of weight since arriving on campus at around 340 pounds. He's down to around 320 pounds at the current moment.
Sean Cwynar will provide depth and experience as Nix's backup.
Starter: Stephon Tuitt
Backup: Kapron Lewis-Moore
Don't let Stephon Tuitt's starter tag fool you. He could, potentially, be splitting time with Kapron Lewis-Moore if Kapron is granted a fifth year by the university.
Those two would would combine to form one of the best defensive end tag-teams in the nation in 2012.
Starter: Prince Shembo
Backup: Danny Spond, Troy Niklas
In one of the deepest positions on the field, right outside linebacker will be manned by a combination of Prince Shembo, Danny Spond and Troy Niklas.
After seeing action in all 13 games of 2010, Shembo earned the starting nod this season, but split time with Spond.
Expect to see each player earn similar amounts of playing time in 2012.
Starter: Manti Te'o
Backup: Kendall Moore
Luckily for Notre Dame, Manti Te'o decided to return to school for his senior season. Te'o will be, undoubtedly, the nation's premier linebacker in 2012.
Te'o will have an excellent backup in Kendall Moore, who earned scout team player of the year honors in 2010.
Starter: Dan Fox
Backup: Carlo Calabrese
After working together as a tag-team of sorts in 2010, inside linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will be at it again in 2012.
Calabrese has been ineffective against the pass in his career, giving way to added playing time for Fox.
With another year of experience under their belts, more improvement should be expected in 2012.
Starter: Ishaq Williams
Backup: Troy Niklas
2012 will provide the moment we've all been waiting for: the true unveiling of Ishaq Williams.
The Brooklyn native saw some time in mop-up duty this season, but never entered the game when it mattered.
Part of that was his adjustment from playing defensive end in high school to linebacker at Notre Dame.
Starter: Bennett Jackson
Backup: Josh Atkinson
After arriving at Notre Dame as a receiver, Bennett Jackson made a position switch to cornerback during spring practices in 2011.
He saw limited time at the position this past season, but will be forced into a starting role with the departure of Gary Gray.
Jackson will likely be splitting time with Josh Atkinson, brother of Irish running back George Atkinson.
Also expect to see some time from incoming freshmen Ronald Darby and Tee Shepard.
Starter: Lo Wood
Backup: Jalen Brown
Lo Wood will take over as a starter at the other cornerback spot, with Robert Blanton set to graduate in the spring.
Wood had his "welcome to college football" moment after returning an interception for a touchdown against Maryland this season.
Jalen Brown, a 2011 commit, redshirted this season, and will be raw as a backup.
And like I said in the previous slide, incoming freshmen Ronald Darby and Tee Shepard are likely to see some time at cornerback.
Starter: Jamoris Slaughter (pending fifth-year decision)
Backup: Austin Collinsworth
Jamoris Slaughter has been a mainstay in the Irish backfield for the past two seasons, given his ability to transition into a hybrid linebacker role when needed.
He's likely to receive an invitation for a fifth year from the university in the coming weeks.
Austin Collinsworth will likely see his first significant action in the defensive backfield in 2012.
Starter: Zeke Motta
Backup: Dan McCarthy (pending fifth-year decision)
Now that Harrison Smith will no longer be at Notre Dame, Zeke Motta will likely slide over from his natural strong safety position and start at free safety.
Size will be no issue, as both Harrison and Smith are 6'2" and 215 pounds.
Dan McCarthy, whose older brother plays professionally for the Denver Broncos, is likely to receive a fifth-year invitation from the university. He'll serve as a trusty backup to Motta.
Kicker: Kyle Brindza
Punter: Ben Turk
Sophomore-to-be Kyle Brindza will be handling kickoffs, field goals and extra points in 2012, with David Ruffer having exhausted his eligibility.
Incumbent starting punter Ben Turk will be handling punts next season.
The two should be reliable and accurate special teams players for a team that is desperate for some respectable play out of the unit.