In 2010, first-year head coach Brian Kelly never picked one, nor did the initial Tyrone Willingham staff in 2002 (at least not until after the season) with both Irish editions choosing game day captains in lieu of the traditionally named leaders.
Kelly will choose team captains for the 2012 team. In this case, its safe to use the plural with candidates aplenty for the upcoming campaign.
"We have two leadership entities in our program," said Kelly. "We have a unity council that is a group of peer representatives. Our front row here (pointing to the seats) is all of our seniors. Any one of them could be in a leadership position.
"As it relates to game-day captains versus electing captains, I would say that I'm more inclined in my third year here to elect captains because I know them so much better and they know me. I haven't made that decision final, but to answer your questions, both of those things I'm thinking about every day."
Kelly chose game day captains for 2010 following in the footsteps of Willingham who did the same for his first Irish squad, the aforementioned '02 group. Unlike Willingham, Kelly never named captains following the season, choosing instead to designate returning leaders Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd for 2011. Floyd was stripped of his captaincy less than two months later, the result of a DUI arrest in March.
Smith thus stood alone, the fifth solo captain at the program in its last 45 seasons.
At least two are expected in 2012 with a record-tying five not out of the question. Top candidates include:
1.) Manti Te'o: The biggest upset of the season wouldn't be an undefeated run by the Irish or opening blowout loss vs. Navy, but if Te'o doesn't get the nod for captaincy. Said Kelly of Te'o, a player who spurned NFL riches to lead the 2012 Irish on the field and in the locker room: "I think he's just more comfortable in his ability to step out front. He doesn't feel like he's preaching to somebody. He just feels comfortable, ‘Hey, this is the way we do it. I've been here three years, we've done it the same way every day.'"
2.) Tyler Eifert: A leader by example at his position since All-America Kyle Rudolph was lost to injury midway through 2010, Eifert's captaincy designation is partly due to his standing on the squad -- and college football -- as a top talent. Eifert noted of his oft-referenced work ethic: "That's just the way I know how to do things, to come in and work hard. It's really not whether you're the best or the worst player, it's just a standard that I've set for myself. I'm sure the guys respect that. As a leader, that's another way to gain the guys' respect. That's the way I do it."
3.) Jamoris Slaughter: Slaughter noted of his role early and camp and over the summer months, "I'm coaching every day. Taking the young guys to the film room, after practice, and between meetings. A lot of guys are inexperienced so a couple of tips here and there will help them out a lot. It comes natural, to kind of coach and help out someone who needs help. I can still focus on my own game."
Asked if Slaughter was "captain material" during the spring, Kelly offered, "Oh yeah."
4.) Braxston Cave: The Mishawaka, Penn product was a class of 2007 leader when he and his future teammates pledged or considered Notre Dame as a final destination, and now entering his third season as the pivot piece on the Irish offensive line, Cave is a long-respected leader by example as well as the voice and senior member of the team's offense.
5.) Zack Martin, Cierre Wood, Kapron Lewis-Moore: Martin is the team's best offensive lineman, two years running (and likely this season as well). Wood's nomination would be a mild surprise, but as a colleague noted, so too was Ricky Watters' in 1990. Lewis-Moore was singled out for his leadership role as early as 2010 by then-incoming defensive line coach Mike Elston.
Kelly noted Saturday that his team's maturation and leadership was the best of his three seasons in South Bend, at least at this early stage. The next step for the head coach will be determining team captains -- not an easy task with a handful of worthy candidates.