Offensive BackfieldJunior Cam Roberson has yet to play due to a redshirt season in 2010 and torn ACL last year. Sophomore QB Everett Golson will likely make his debut in 2012. Freshmen include QB Gunner Kiel, RB Will Mahone, and RB/Slot Keivarae Russell.
QB Tommy Rees: In terms of raw statistics, Rees shined vs. Purdue (24-40, 254 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT), Air Force (23-32, 261 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, and Maryland (30-38, 296 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) last season, but for my money the triggerman's best game under center was in his freshman season in a 33-16 Sun Bowl victory over Miami. Rees tossed two touchdown passes, had another dropped and completed 15 of 29 passes for 201 yards and no interceptions against the nation's No. 3 rated pass defense.
You can have the big numbers vs. 2011 tomato cans, I'll take Rees' solid, error-free, winning effort vs. a team full of athletes that excelled vs. the ball in the air all season prior to facing the Irish.
QB Andrew Hendrix: His debut game vs. Air Force last October is the cleanest effort of his brief career to date, a contest during which Hendrix completed each of his four passes (33 yards) and did damage with his legs, carrying six times for 111 yards with a 78-yard sprint included. But Notre Dame would have won that game with any other player on its roster taking 10 backup snaps as well.
Staked to a 21-0 deficit, Hendrix gave the Irish life in the second half vs. Stanford last fall with 12 carries for 20 yards, and a rushing TD, plus 11 completions in 24 attempts for 191 yards and a touchdown (plus a costly) pick). Hendrix was overmatched in the relief role but his guts and athleticism gave the team brief life in what seemed like a lost cause in Palo Alto.
RB Cierre Wood: Wood's best statistical effort occurred vs. Purdue last October (20 carries, 191 yards, TD) and he was the unsung hero at Pittsburgh one week earlier, churning out clutch third-down conversions and 94 hard-earned yards while the passing game sputtered. But save for one fumble at Michigan in Week Two last year, Wood was the best player on the football field, rushing 25 times for 134 yards and a touchdown, ripping off five carries of between 10 and 24 yards in the process.
Wood's had two handfuls of outstanding games in his season-and-a-half as the team's lead back, but none better than what should have been an MVP winning effort last season during a must-win rivalry game in Ann Arbor.
RB/slot Theo Riddick: Riddick's best football was played in a four-game stretch prior to mid-season 2010 when he amassed 33 receptions, more than 340 yards, and three receiving touchdowns as the team's slot receiver. His best single-game performance, without question, was his Week Three breakout effort at Michigan State that year when he totaled 10 catches for 128 yards and a score, the highlight a leaping one-handed stab in the photo above.
Riddick's two-touchdown, six reception effort last season at Michigan is a close second as his final score, an uncovered 29-yard sprint, gave the Irish a lead with just 30 seconds remaining. The best Riddick has played as a backfield option was as a true freshman vs. Navy in 2009, rushing five times for 35 yards, all in the same series. He inexplicably was not used thereafter as former Irish head coach Charlie Weis' team dropped a 23-21 decision to the visiting Midshipmen.
RB/slot Amir Carlisle: Played in five games as a true freshman for USC last fall, the best effort saved for a matchup at Colorado. Carlisle earned 12 touches from scrimmage totaling 90 rushing and 31 receiving yards with a 26-yard scamper and 19-yard touchdown catch included.
RB George Atkinson: With only mop-up duty included from scrimmage, and in both instances during blowouts of service academies, Atkinson's best days in an Irish uniform include kick return scores. And it was the jolt the freshman gave his team and Notre Dame Stadium on a 96-yard return score vs. USC last October that stands as his best to date. Atkinson also tackled Irish killer Robert Woods one-on-one on a kick-off return later in the contest, something the entire secondary and punt return defense failed to do consistently that evening.
Next in the series, the team's wide receivers and tight ends.