Brian Kelly has played 19 true freshmen in his first two seasons, nine of which could be considered players of impact, with six earning starts on either side of scrimmage.
None of the above was an offensive lineman, and most college football coaches will agree: the exception to ever-increasing immediate impact from incoming freshmen is along the offensive line.
Notre Dame hasn't seen a freshman offensive lineman join the varsity since 2008 (Trevor Robinson), a result of both his talent and markedly poor (and sparse) offensive line recruiting dating back at least six seasons prior to his arrival.
The quartet brings a combined 16 recruiting stars and 1,141 pounds of power, but it would benefit both the program and the talented competitors if each could follow in the footsteps of current starters Braxston Cave, Zack Martin, Chris Watt, and every remaining offensive lineman on the 2012 squad, by sitting out their true freshmen seasons in an effort to gain strength, become better conditioned, and improve upon (or learn) the necessary techniques and nuances of their craft to compete at the BCS level.
2013 Offensive Linemen EligibilityNone of the players listed below played as true freshmen, nor did current 5th-year seniors Braxston Cave or Mike Golic, who will exhaust their eligibility this fall.
Potential 5th-Year Seniors in 2013: Zack Martin (OT), Chris Watt (OG) – Watt enters his second season as a starter next fall; Martin has started every game of the Kelly era. Both can apply for a 5th-year after 2012, with Watt nearly guaranteed to do so and Martin a 50/50 proposition pending his NFL status at season's end.
Seniors in 2013: Christian Lombard (G/T), Tate Nichols (OT), Bruce Heggie (G/C) – The trio is eligible through the 2014 season should they apply, and be granted, a 5th-year. Lombard and Nichols are presumed leaders out of the gate for starting spots on the offensive line's right side for 2012.
Juniors in 2013: Brad Carrico (OG), Matt Hegarty (C/G/T), Nick Martin (G/T), Jordan Prestwood (OT), Conor Hanratty (OG). The entire 2011 recruiting haul is eligible through the 2015 season as none saw action during in 2011.
Sophomores in 2013: Mark Harrell (C), Ronnie Stanley (OT). Barring a rash of injuries, both players are expected to be withheld from action and thus be eligible through the 2016 season. Should either play (Stanley would be more likely considering Harrell will learn a new position, center, next fall), he'd be eligible through 2015.
(From the classes above, only Prestwood, Nichols, and potentially Stanley appear slated for certain offensive tackle duties – and of course, current LT starter Zack Martin.)
Incoming for in 2013All offensive linemen are considered "Power" profile players by Kelly and his staff, and therefore not pigeon-holed into one position prior to setting foot on campus.
Steve Elmer: Scout.com's 10th-ranked offensive tackle prospect committed to Notre Dame in September 2011 following the team's victory over Michigan State in South Bend. 6'6" 297 pounds as a high school junior.
Hunter Bivins: Ranked as the nation's 16th best offensive tackle by Scout.com. Already 6'7" 287 pounds, Bivins noted Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin mentioned left tackle as his likely destination.
Colin McGovern: Scout.com's #9 ranked OT, McGovern, (6'6" 292 pounds) could enroll early per his high school head coach, Dave Ernst. McGovern appears to be the most likely of the quartet to see action at guard in addition to tackle, at least early in his career. Previous Early Enrollees among Irish offensive linemen include Chris Stewart (2006), Trevor Robinson (2008), and Brad Carrico (2011).
Mike McGlinchey: 6'7" 265-pounder four-star (#22 overall offensive tackle) has the frame to comfortably grow into a 300-pounder by spring ball, 2014.
Note: Should Zack Martin forgo his fifth season of eligibility, the 2013 incoming quartet will likely encounter the following competitors at each position:
Tackles: Jordan Prestwood, Tate Nichols; likely Ronnie Stanley
Guards: Chris Watt, Conor Hanratty, Brad Carrico
Centers: Matt Hegarty, Bruce Heggie; likely Mark Harrell
Guards/Tackles: Christian Lombard, Nick Martin