Notre Dame’s meteoric climb back to the top of the college football totem pole was cut short by a disappointing showing against Alabama in the 2013 BCS Championship Game.
Still, there is no denying that the Fighting Irish are finally back as one of the nation’s most prominent programs.
Brian Kelly will attempt to pick up the pieces and replace the six players he lost during the NFL draft in April. In order to do that, he’s going to need several key players to step up into new roles next season.
Take a look at some of those important players for the 2013 Irish.
Everett Golson, QB
This almost goes without saying. No quarterback was lost this offseason, but it's the one that the Irish had last year who is going to need to improve in 2013.
Everett Golson is the catalyst for everything Kelly wants to accomplish on offense this season. If he can make strides, he will help the others around him settle seamlessly into their new roles.
Golson showed many signs of maturity throughout the 2012 campaign as well as more confidence from his coaching staff. He must build on that this season to become a true dual-threat quarterback who can make defenses pay for dropping into man coverage.
George Atkinson III, RB
The Irish lost top running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood to the NFL during the offseason. Junior running back George Atkinson III has been pegged as their replacement, according to Rivals.com (via Twitter):
Irish Illustrated @PeteSampson_
George Atkinson III appears primed to fill the void left at running back for #NotreDame: http://t.co/mTMLpKZyim4/1/2013, 9:48:13 PM
Atkinson has made the most out of his opportunities this offseason, too. Kelly said he’s having a “very, very good spring,” His biggest flaw was perhaps his lack of contribution in the passing game, something Riddick brought to the table. However, improving in that area is one of the reasons for Kelly’s admiration of his performance this spring.
A season ago, Atkinson averaged over seven yards per carry and broke two plays of 50 yards or greater, tied for second on the team with Wood. If the speedy back becomes a well-rounded threat, he will give the Irish a dynamic option at the position this season.
Jarrett Grace, MLB
Manti Te’o leaves monster-sized shoes to fill after being selected by the San Diego Chargers during the second round of the NFL draft. He was the team’s emotional and physical leader on a defensive unit that dominated nearly everyone they faced last season.
Jarrett Grace, a junior who played sparingly a season ago, is the only non-senior linebacker starter on the team, according to Rivals.com’s projected 2013 depth chart.
He’ll have a lot of help, though, as the Irish return several key players to their defense next season. Still, things will go more smoothly during the transition if Grace can become a solid presence at "Mike" linebacker for the Irish.