Click here for our Q&A regarding the Irish linebackers.
Click here for our Q&A regarding the Irish defensive backs.
Click here for our Q&A regarding the Irish quarterbacks.
Running BacksThe 1-2-3 punch of Cierre Wood-Theo Riddick-George Atkinson enjoyed a few memorable moments, but it was Riddick's versatility, improvement through season's end, and finally, at least at USC, his sheer will that earned the trust and vast majority of playing time for head coach Brian Kelly and running backs coach Tony Alford's talented unit.
Camp Questions: Would Riddick add another home run hitter to the mix? If not, could the explosive Atkinson earn a spot along the presumed starter Wood? How would Wood earn his way back to the field after a late August suspension? Would Riddick be a new weapon in the screen game? Where did Cam McDaniel fit in after moving back from cornerback during camp? Did the Irish have a true between the tackles runner to replace graduated Jonas Gray?
The season's answersFans lamented Wood's lack of consistent carries throughout 2012. Meanwhile, his classmate Riddick seized every opportunity, providing the Irish offense a reliable third-and-short weapon, an extra pair of hands to move the chains via the airways, and enough runs through the defense's second level to keep opponents honest throughout the campaign.
Wood had intermittent flashes of brilliance but clearly to a backseat to the north-south, hard-nosed style of Riddick as the pigskin's chief mode of transport. He enters the bowl game as a potential difference-maker vs. a great rush defense. Atkinson shone early, provided a game-winning score in the season's second half (Brigham Young) and added a key kick return at USC, but his opportunity and impact was far greater in the season's first five weeks than final seven.
McDaniel always answered the bell, though against lesser and/or beaten down foes (Navy and Miami, respectively). He was nonetheless the program's best insurance policy at the position since the days of Lou Holtz and his bevy of 'backs.
Season Takeaway: Program depth is the key to modern college football, as last year's middling slot receiver Riddick developed into a bona fide BCS star by season's end.
BCS Championship QuestionsCan Atkinson, too often hesitant to the line vs. quality defenses, make an impact against Alabama? And if not consistently, even one big gain to turn the tide? Can Riddick make his living vs. a top tier defense? He routinely bounced off USC's sloppy tacklers -- the Crimson Tide bring far different intentions on each snap.
Wood can be a special runner in space. Will he receive the necessary touches -- 12-plus -- to make a difference? Will the Irish be able to run the ball in the second half, ahead or behind, against the most athletic, and likely the best defense they've faced? How will Alabama attempt to cover Riddick in the passing game? And could he and Wood see more time together as dual weapons?