Notre Dame Football: 5 Players Who Will Decide Fighting Irish's Season

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIAugust 20, 2012

Notre Dame Football: 5 Players Who Will Decide Fighting Irish's Season

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    Notre Dame football has struggled over the last few years.

    Highly-touted players haven't performed up to standard and the fans have let the team know about it.

    This year, the Fighting Irish have high expectations again as they are ranked No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

    But, for the Irish to get into the BCS and perform up to expectations, certain players must have big seasons.

    Here's a look at five players who will help decide the fate of the Irish's season.

Everett Golson

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    Everett Golson seems to have a firm grasp on the starting quarterback job, especially considering the fate of Tommy Rees is still up in the air.

    Golson was a three-star quarterback out of South Carolina and has been impressive in both the spring game and fall practice.

    Consider that without Rees, the Irish have little experience at the quarterback position, so whoever is in there will be green.

    Golson seems to give the Irish the best chance to win. But, can you really put the full expectations of Irish fans on him?

Manti Te'o

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    Manti Te'o is one of the nation's best linebackers.

    For Notre Dame to succeed this year, he's going to have to have one of the best seasons for a linebacker in school history.

    Te'o is the leader of the defense and will be the catalyst for their success. Last year, he recorded 120 tackles and five sacks.

    Should he get even one or two players to play up to his level, the Irish will have a very dangerous defense.

Tyler Eifert

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    Playmakers are going to be tough to come by this year for the Irish.

    Tight end Tyler Eifert may be their best option with Michael Floyd having left for the NFL.

    Last year, he caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns. This year, he's going to have to be the go-to guy and get over 1,000-receiving yards.

    Other guys will have to step up, but the fact that there will be an inexperienced quarterback under center makes Eifert even more valuable.

Cierre Wood

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    With Golson having no experience under center, Cierre Wood will be a big key in the backfield.

    Wood rushed for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns, during a time in which he lost some carries to Jonas Gray.

    But he's the No. 1 guy again and is going to have to shoulder even more of a load this year.

    If Wood can get the running game going, then Golson will be able to settle into the quarterback position.

Stephon Tuitt

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    The Irish were dealt a blow this offseason when defensive end Aaron Lynch decided to transfer.

    Stepping into that role will be Stephon Tuitt, who had 29 tackles and two sacks.

    If the defensive line is going to have any success this year, Tuitt is going to have to step into that role with a vengeance.

    Should he do so, the Irish should have no problem besting their 25-sack total from last year.