Though the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish still have a few days remaining until their BCS National Championship Game appearance against Alabama, it's impossible to not look forward to the team's future.
The team's heart and soul, linebacker Manti Te'o, will be taking his talents to Sundays this fall, as will another potential first-round pick in tight end Tyler Eifert. Other than those two top-shelf NFL prospects, team stalwarts like Kapron Lewis-Moore, Theo Riddick and Braxton Cave will also be leaving.
As it currently stands, Brian Kelly's squad has the depth to replace some of those players. Still, with a recruiting class that many already consider one of the best in the nation, it may be that some freshmen play prominent roles early.
Who are the players Notre Dame fans need to get to know? Here's a complete breakdown of a few of the team's top prospects for 2013 and beyond.
Jaylon Smith (OLB)
Though recruit rankings vary wildly across the world wide web, Smith is one of the few recruits everyone agrees has stardom in his future. The 5-star linebacker spent his high school days dominating at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne (Ind.) and committed to the Irish before this season's big run.
He is considered the fifth-best recruit in the nation and the top-ranked outside linebacker, and he tops the state of Indiana player rankings, according to 247 Sports. Though his level of competition at Bishop Luers certainly leaves something to be desired, there's no denying Smith's physical gifts.
Listed at 6'3" and 218 pounds, Smith doesn't have ideal bulk, but he makes up for it with otherworldly athleticism. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, per 247 Sports, and has an elite burst off the ball in pass-rushing situations.
Further, Smith already seems like a college-ready linebacker with his read-and-react skills. It's one thing to be able to burst through the line of scrimmage at the high-school level. Plenty of recruits are able to do that. It's Smith's ability to diagnose a play and his football IQ that truly sets him apart as an elite prospect.
Smith will need to add some weight to his frame between now and the fall, but all signs point to him being an instant impact player in South Bend.
Greg Bryant (RB)
With Riddick's eligibility expiring and Cierre Wood leaning toward entering the NFL draft this April, Notre Dame will likely be without its two top running backs in 2013. Ostensibly, USC transfer Amir Carlisle will take one of the open spots on the depth chart, but it's anyone's guess who gets the secondary workload.
If Bryant's production at American Heritage-Boca-Delray High (say that five times fast) is any indication, he could instantly step into the lineup as a freshman. A 4-star recruit, Bryant is one of the most complete running backs in his class.
After initially committing to Oklahoma, Bryant changed his mind and reopened the process prior to his senior season. The youngster bided his time and Notre Dame's ascent back into national prominence undoubtedly influenced his decision to commit back in December.
Well, the Sooners' loss is definitely the Irish's gain. According to 247 Sports' rankings, Bryant is the 10th-best running back in the Class of 2013, 21st-ranked player in the state of Florida and No. 131 overall recruit in the nation.
Measured at 5'11" and 197 pounds, Bryant may have the prototypical build for a running back. He combines a churning power with nimble athleticism and a secondary burst that oftentimes sneaks up on defenders. With a little more refining of his skill set, one would be hard-pressed to find a more complete freshman running back in the nation next season.
Torii Hunter Jr. (WR)
A September commitment to the Irish, Hunter Jr. may be the most famous of all their Class of 2013 recruits. Of course, that's due to his father, Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, but the former All-Star's son made quite a name for himself in 2012 as well.
Hunter Jr. made headlines with an ascendant senior season that saw him grab 71 passes for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns at Prosper (TX) High School. That led to Hunter Jr. leaping up recruiting rankings, where the 4-star receiver finished as the No. 23 player at his position and No. 208 prospect in the nation overall, per 247 Sports.
Like the previous two prospects, Hunter Jr.'s overarching calling card is his completeness. While he doesn't possess a Calvin Johnson-like body (he's listed at 6'1" and 172 pounds), he has enough athleticism to make up for his wiry frame and he is a top-notch route-runner.
Unfortunately, Hunter won't get to see the fruits of his labor anytime soon. He suffered a broken left femur while practicing for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and is expected to miss at least six months, according to ESPN's Damon Sayles.
That almost certainly means Hunter will arrive at Notre Dame with plans of redshirting his first season. There's no reason to risk any further injury or rush a comeback for a player with Hunter's ceiling.
Once he actually sets foot on the field, though, opposing defenses could be in for a rude awakening.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!