Notre Dame is heading into 2013 looking to make another national title run, and to get there they have to rebuild the backfield that landed them in the title game last season.
Heading into the new year, the Irish must replace the tailback tandem that helped usher in a BCS title berth. Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are now gone, and Notre Dame will turn to a host of backs to build the same type of offensive attack for 2013.
Last year’s embarrassing 41-14 loss to Alabama in the title game didn’t end well, but it will provide motivation for this team heading into the new year as they search to find replacements in the backfield.
The Irish offense took a major blow after last year when Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick left South Bend, but this team is not short on talent at running back.
George Atkinson III and Amir Carlisle are both extremely talented runners that are set to pickup where Riddick and Wood left off.
Atkinson III carries track star speed, and Carlisle is a USC transfer that is climbing into the rotation.
Cam McDaniel and Will Mahone are other challengers in the fold for the starting job this spring.
Right now this is a two-horse race for the starting job. Atkinson III and Carlisle are the leading backs to earn the starting job, and both have the skills to make it happen.
Atkinson III finished last year with 51 carries for 361 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 22 kickoff returns for 441 yards (via CFBStats.com). Carlisle was ready to play last year, but a nagging ankle injury kept him off the field in 2012.
There has been concern about Atkinson III becoming a feature back, and Carlisle has had issues with injuries, but together they would create another dangerous tandem for the Irish.
A broken collar bone has ended Carlisle’s spring (h/t Fox News) in South Bend which will help Atkinson III gain some ground, but by fall this should be a two-star tandem that is manned by both Carlisle and Atkinson III.
Despite the concerns for Atkinson III handling the starting role, he is the de facto starter now heading into the summer.
Another key to this discussion are incoming freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
Neither player has strapped on the golden dome just yet, but if they would have made it in as early enrollees they would be pushing for the starting job as well.
Both Bryant and Folston were highly recruited at their positions and were among the best players at the running back position during the 2013 recruiting cycle. The Irish signed them to come in and compete, and they will have the opportunity this fall.
While one of the two will surely make the playing rotation, either Bryant or Folston will take a redshirt because of the depth that is ahead of them.
At this point it is George Atkinson III’s job to lose. He is the only returning back with substantial experience, and he has been a burner for the Irish in the past.
His vision and one-cut ability need improvement, but he has what it takes to help the Irish offense on an every down basis.
With the recent injury to Amir Carlisle, there isn’t much competition in spring to challenge Atkinson III for starting snaps. This summer and fall the race will continue to heat up, but expect Atkinson III to be called when the roster is announced over the PA system on August 31.