Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Football: How 2014 Roster Compares to Undefeated 2012 Team

Keith ArnoldNotre Dame Lead WriterMay 2, 2014

Notre Dame Football: How 2014 Roster Compares to Undefeated 2012 Team

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    It may seem crazy now, but things didn't look all that good heading into the 2012 season. Coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons, Notre Dame had just given away the Champs Sports Bowl to Florida State with a second-half collapse.

    After saying goodbye to three offensive coaches in the offseason, Kelly rebooted the offense under safeties coach Chuck Martin's direction. But with a first-year quarterback at the helm and needing to replace first-round draft picks Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith, questions swirled around Brian Kelly and his football program. 

    But an undefeated regular season erased a lot of those questions. Faced with a schedule that on paper was the toughest in the country, the Irish's run to the BCS title game in Brian Kelly's third season was the high point for Notre Dame football since the Lou Holtz era.

    Can the 2014 team make the same type of dream run? With new coordinators on both sides of the football and the departure of four players who could be drafted in the first two rounds, the challenges are significant. 

    Let's take a look at both teams, as we compare the 2014 team to the 2012 squad that went 12-1.

Quarterback

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    2012 Quarterbacks
    1. Everett Golson, Sophomore*
    2. Tommy Rees, Junior
    3. Andrew Hendrix, Junior*

     

    2014 Quarterbacks
    1. Everett Golson, Senior*
    2. Malik Zaire, Sophomore*
    3. DeShone Kizer, Freshman

    *Fifth year of eligibility remaining

     

    ADVANTAGE: 2014 

    While Tommy Rees bailed out Golson multiple times and played a pivotal role in helping get Notre Dame to the BCS title game, a wiser and more physically mature version of the Irish quarterback now leads this team. 

    Sure, the season off probably did some harm, but Golson has a knowledge base far superior than the one he had when he was thrust into the starting lineup. Add to that the athleticism of Malik Zaire and the quarterback position is in better shape to do the things that Brian Kelly wants with his offense.

Running Backs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2012 Running Backs
    1. Theo Riddick, Senior
    2. Cierre Wood, Senior
    3. George Atkinson, Sophomore
    4. Cam McDaniel, Sophomore

     

    2014 Running Backs
    1. Tarean Folston, Sophomore
    2. Greg Bryant, Sophomore*
    3. Cam McDaniel, Senior

    *Fifth year of eligibility remaining

     

    ADVANTAGE: 2012

    For as much promise as the 2014 depth chart has, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood powered the Irish offense to a BCS Championship appearance. The senior duo helped the Irish average 200 yards per game throughout the regular season and became the identity of the Irish attack. 

    The production from the group looks better as the years go by. Riddick was the only back to average less than 5.0 yards per carry, leading the team with 916 yards on 4.8 yards per carry. Cierre Wood followed up an 1,100 yard season with 742 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Atkinson led the team with a 7.1 yard average, while Cam McDaniel chipped in 5.4 per touch in a reserve role. 

    There's reason to believe that the 2014 backfield can be more explosive. Folston has shown an early ability to make big plays. Bryant looks to be a home run back. And McDaniel could fill the role of trusted veteran, taking the key carries Riddick did down the stretch if the young backs aren't ready.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2012 Receiving Corps
    1. TJ Jones, Junior
    2. DaVaris Daniels, Sophomore*
    3. Robby Toma, Senior
    4. John Goodman, Senior

    1. Tyler Eifert, Senior
    2. Troy Niklas, Sophomore
    3. Ben Koyack, Sophomore

     

    2014 Receiving Corps
    1. DaVaris Daniels, Senior*
    2. Corey Robinson, Sophomore
    3. Will Fuller, Sophomore
    4. Chris Brown, Junior
    5. Amir Carlisle, Senior*
    6. CJ Prosise, Junior*

    1. Ben Koyack, Senior
    2. Durham Smythe, Sophomore*
    3. Mike Heuerman, Sophomore*

    *Fifth year of eligibility remaining


     

    ADVANTAGE: 2014

    This might be a shocker, but even though the production hasn't been proven yet, top to bottom this season's unit is a better group of pass-catchers than in 2012. While nobody in the current depth chart is a national-awards contender, Tyler Eifert's singular excellence doesn't contend with the depth Notre Dame currently has. 

    Looking back at the 2012 team, it's a surprise that the Irish got by with two capable wide receivers. And while Troy Niklas might be a second-round draft pick come next weekend, he was a converted outside linebacker learning on the job in 2012. 

    The depth the Irish have at tight end is a worry, but playing more spread will limit the need for two-tight end sets. Still, a lot of this judgment is based on a good season of production.

Offensive Line

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    2012 Offensive Line
    LT Zack Martin, Senior*
    LG Chris Watt, Senior*
    C Braxston Cave, Grad Student
    RG Mike Golic, Grad Student
    RT Christian Lombard, Junior*

     

    2014 Offensive Line
    LT Ronnie Stanley, Junior*
    LG Steve Elmer, Sophomore
    C Nick Martin, Senior*
    RG Christian Lombard, Grad Student
    RT Mike McGlinchey, Sophomore*

    *Fifth year of eligibility remaining

     

    ADVANTAGE: 2012 

    Protecting a first-year quarterback, Harry Hiestand's offensive line was tremendous. While the group was undersized by a man, the veteran group powered an Irish offense that was versatile and capable of beating opponents by both running and passing the football. 

    The 2014 offensive line is more physically capable than the group that played for a national title. Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey are bookend tackles, each possessing prototype NFL size. Steve Elmer is a tackle playing guard, and Lombard is doing the same thing, playing inside for the second year after spending 2012 at right tackle. 

    The youth along the 2014 offensive line is a big question mark, and there's jelling that needs to be done quickly for this group to play up to its predecessors. But both of these units are very good, with the edge going to the veterans from 2012.

Defensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2012 Defensive Line
    DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, Grad Student
    NT Louis Nix, Junior*
    DE Stephon Tuitt, Sophomore

     

    2014 Defensive Line
    DE Romeo Okwara, Junior
    DT Jarron Jones, Junior*
    DT Sheldon Day, Junior
    DE Ishaq Williams, Senior

    *Fifth year of eligibility remaining

     

    ADVANTAGE: 2012 

    This is a bit of a blowout. The 2012 Irish defensive line was the best trio Notre Dame has put on the field in decades. Stephon Tuitt's breakout season had him vying for Justin Tuck's single-season sack record, and that was playing as a 3-4 defensive end.

    Louis Nix played a dominant season at nose tackle. And Kapron Lewis-Moore's veteran leadership—not to mention his six sacks—supplied the base of one of college football's most dominant front sevens. 

    The current defensive line is still finding its identity. Sheldon Day has shifted inside to defensive tackle. Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara spent last season at linebacker, but they now start at defensive end. And while Jarron Jones showed promise down the stretch filling in for an injured Nix, he hasn't proven he's capable of playing every down.

Linebackers

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    2012 Linebackers
    OLB Danny Spond, Senior
    ILB Manti Te'o, Senior
    ILB Dan Fox/Carlo Calabrese, Seniors*
    OLB Prince Shembo, Junior

     

    2014 Linebackers
    OLB Jaylon Smith, Sophomore
    ILB Joe Schmidt, Senior*
    OLB John Turner, Junior*

    *Fifth year of eligibility remaining

     

    ADVANTAGE: 2012

    Again, this isn't much of a contest. Te'o was the most highly decorated player in college football in 2012, winning just about every major award minus the Heisman Trophy. The duo of Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese racked up 112 tackles, one less than Te'o's season total.

    Danny Spond was the "Dog" linebacker Brian Kelly had looked for in his previous two seasons, playing a critical role in space for the Irish defense. And Prince Shembo added 7.5 sacks from his rush linebacker position, a key element to Diaco's attack. 

    Looking at the projected starters for next year is still a bit of a mystery. There's no doubt Smith has the athletic ability and upside to be a higher NFL draft pick than Te'o, though matching his production is another matter. And while Joe Schmidt and John Turner were two of the breakout performers of spring, counting on both to play major minutes is one of the big gambles on the roster.

Secondary

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2012 Secondary
    CB Bennett Jackson, Junior
    S Zeke Motta, Senior
    S Matthias Farley, Sophomore*
    CB KeiVarae Russell, Freshman

     

    2014 Secondary
    CB KeiVarae Russell, Junior
    S Max Redfield, Sophomore
    S Austin Collinsworth, Grad Student
    CB Cody Riggs, Grad Student
    CB Cole Luke, Sophomore

    *Fifth year of eligibility remaining

     

    ADVANTAGE: 2014 

    While Notre Dame's secondary played well in 2012, it was a group held together by duct tape and the strength of a dominant front seven. Both Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell were first-year starters. Zeke Motta anchored the group, but once Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season, newcomer Matthias Farley was playing for the first time as well. 

    The 2014 group brings back a lot of experience, with Russell and Florida transfer Cody Riggs the most veteran players on the defense. While Max Redfield didn't play much as a freshman, Kelly is betting big on him to provide athleticism and consistency on the back line. Austin Collinsworth supplies another veteran who knows the scheme and played well down the stretch in 2013.

    Brian VanGorder's scheme relies on a secondary that can hold up in man coverage. This is a group with the talent to do so.

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