Notre Dame Football: 5 Important Players Irish Can't Afford to Lose in 2012

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IJune 11, 2012

Notre Dame Football: 5 Important Players Irish Can't Afford to Lose in 2012

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    Whether by injury, suspension or ineligibility, losing players is an unfortunate aspect of a typical college football season. Being able to avoid losing your team's most important players is an even taller task.

    For Notre Dame, there are number of players the Fighting Irish simply can't afford to lose.

    In the following slides, we'll take a look five individual players whose absences would be major blows to the Fighting Irish.

5. Braxston Cave, C

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    After suffering a season-ending foot injury against Wake Forest last season, Braxston Cave was missed terribly by the Fighting Irish offense.

    Mike Golic, Jr. filled in admirably for Cave, but the leadership role that Cave filled was missing in his absence.

    The offensive line simply didn't possess the same "nasty" attitude without the Mishawaka, Ind. native. The 2012 season will be Cave's fifth season in South Bend, and the Fighting Irish are counting upon his veteran leadership to anchor an offensive line that will feature two new starters.

    The value of a center of Cave's caliber is immeasurable.

4. Stephon Tuitt, DE

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    Stephon Tuitt lived up to his 5-star billing as a freshman last season, becoming a force on the Irish defensive line.

    Tuitt's sophomore season in South Bend will have a different feel, as the Monroe, Ga. native has been forced into an expanded role as a defensive end in Aaron Lynch's absence.

    Because Lynch is no longer with the program, Tuitt will not have the luxury of encountering one-on-one matchups. Opposing offenses have likely wised up to Tuitt's freakish presence, and will present Tuitt with double-teams in the trenches.

    Any player who commands that type of attention would be a devastating loss to any program in America.

3. Cierre Wood, RB

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    Yes, Notre Dame has its most talented running back stable in recent memory, but only one of those backs—Cierre Wood—has proven himself as a consistent threat.

    Last season, Wood accumulated 1,102 rushing yards on 217 carries to go along with nine touchdowns. Those impressive figures were on par with his former rushing mate, Jonas Gray, who has since signed a professional contract with the Miami Dolphins.

    Gray's departure leaves Wood as the lone feature back on the depth chart.

    His absence wouldn't necessarily be a crushing blow to the Fighting Irish, but a blow, nonetheless.

2. Tyler Eifert, TE

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    It's no secret that tight end Tyler Eifert will be Notre Dame's primary target in the passing game this season.

    During the 2011 season, Eifert snagged 63 receptions for 803 yards, as well as five touchdowns. Those numbers made Eifert the team's second-leading receiver, behind only Michael Floyd, who has since moved on to the NFL.

    Should Notre Dame lose the nation's top tight end, the passing game would be in major trouble.

1. Manti Te'o, LB

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    Manti Te'o is, undoubtedly, the heart and soul of the Notre Dame football program.

    Te'o's leadership is second to none, as is his recognition as one of the nation's premier defenders. The Hawaiian has led the Irish in tackles during the past two seasons, and will only add to that astounding total this season.

    Te'o, who considered forgoing his senior season to enter the 2012 NFL Draft, decided to stay at Notre Dame, a decision that gave the Fighting Irish defense a significant boost.

    And if you think you've seen the best from Te'o, you're wrong. 2012 has all the makings to be a record season for Te'o.