2 -- Make-up time for Mahone: Redshirt-freshman running back (#32) Will Mahone is rarely referenced with his backfield trio of competitors. His effort Saturday can only help his standing entering the summer -- look for Mahone to show well and likely garner the most action, especially after the first quarter. He'll get plenty of looks vs. quality defenders in the second.
3 -- Prime Time for Prosise: His spring game numbers won't' matter -- and they'll likely be fairly impressive -- but redshirt-freshman (#20) C.J. Prosise will be a key player in the passing attack next fall. Fans should be pleased with what they see from the former outside linebacker and safety in his game day audition as a pass-catcher.
4 -- The Shoe Will Drop: At some point Saturday, sophomore safety (#22) Elijah Shumate is going to lay the wood to a ball carrier. The team's most athletically gifted safety is "light years away" according to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, but his main trio of competitors are relative rookies as well. Saturday afternoon should be a showcase for Shumate in a game played with vanilla schemes, and where raw talent can be on display.
5 -- The Sidelines: Dan Fox, Bennett Jackson, Nicky Baratti -- Starter, Starter, potential starter/key reserve. None of the trio will play Saturday, each was out this spring recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Also out for precautionary reasons is running back Amir Carlisle (broken clavicle in March but back in pads this week), January enrollee Corey Robinson (hyperextended elbow), and junior defensive end Chase Hounshell, lost for the season due to a third shoulder surgery. Four of the six will play a major role next fall while Robinson is likely to crack the game day rotation due to his otherworldly ball skills.
6 -- "The Next Big Thing": So said Manti Te'o last August about his backup (#59) Jarrett Grace. Grace will be one of three inside 'backers along with the aforementioned Fox and Carlo Calabrese to see the field on first and second down next fall. Fans will fall in love with Grace's all-out effort and range by snap No. 5 tomorrow.
7 -- Big Ben: Or "Benjamin" as Diaco referred to him yesterday. What preceded that formal notation was of relevant note, the Irish defensive coordinator offering (#30) Ben Councell's name as the player of the spring (Most improved from beginning to end). Fans only previous look at Councell was in mop-up duty vs. Wake Forest last season -- he delivered a huge hit in the left flat. The junior (redshirt-sophomore) put himself in position this spring to earn potential rotation time with incumbent Danny Spond next fall as the field-side linebacker.
8 -- MVP McDaniel: The spring game MVP is of zero (not little, zero) relevance, but in 2013, he'll likely be a player that will earn a key role in his position's rotation next fall -- running back (#33) Cam McDaniel. The late-game star of blowouts vs. Navy and Miami last fall can flat-out play football, and it'll show Saturday afternoon.
9 -- "That Cat Back There": Running backs coach Tony Alford's description of (#5) Golson was telling -- he's the driving force of Kelly's fourth-edition Irish offense. It was admittedly small sample size (two full practices), but the difference between Golson the redshirt-freshman of 2012 and Golson the offensive focal point 2013 is both stark and exciting. At some point Saturday, Golson will unleash a throw on the run offering fans and foes a portent to September 2013 -- he's a full-fledged playmaker exiting his third spring in South Bend.
10 -- Battling Through: (#7) Stephon Tuitt, (#82) Alex Welch, (#28) Austin Collinsworth, (#23) Lo Wood -- just a sampling of players who fought through injury this spring and made it through able to compete Saturday, however briefly. The latter trio missed the 2012 season and will enter August in major battles for starting/regular rotation roles. The All-American Tuitt was slowed this spring by hernia surgery, but he's expected to start tomorrow.
11 -- Double D: The sky's the limit for junior receiver (#10) DaVaris Daniels in 2013. Unfortunately he's not yet the consistent commodity Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin crave in a starting receiver. Still, he'll likely make one of the game's best catches Saturday, and make it look easy in the process.
12 -- Four for Four: Few (any?) past Notre Dame players earned starts in four spring games, but that's the unique case of 2010 early enrollee (#7) T.J. Jones. Jones scored a touchdown in his initial contest of April 2010, started from Day One that fall and for the bulk of each season since. He's evolved as the most consistent skill position player among the 2013 Irish.
13 -- Fearsome Foursome: The Irish offense will regularly employ three tight ends on game days next fall; a fourth will get his first taste of action in the House that Rockne Built Saturday. January enrollee (#9) Mike Heuerman has a bright future at Tight End U, he'll offer a glimpse tomorrow earning heavy reps behind (#85) Troy Niklas (#18) Ben Koyack and the aforementioned Welch. (Koyack appeared vastly improved this spring.)
14 -- Basketball on Grass: If a 6'6" 225-pounder wearing #81 streaks down the seam at some point Saturday its not the world's most gifted walk-on -- 5th-year senior to be Joey Brooks has dropped basketball to walk-on the Irish football team. Brooks isn't likely to make a game day impact next season, but his foray into football is no joke: he looks the part and honestly appears more graceful on grass than he ever displayed on the hardwood. Brooks has the natural talent to play for a lower-level program.
15 -- Josh and Jalen: Neither (#24) Atkinson nor (#21) Brown is going to start on the perimeter next fall, but one of the junior pair must rise up to be a reliable No. 4 cornerback -- a two-deep competitor -- behind Jackson, Wood, and Keivarae Russell. Atkinson received ample work in a pair of scrimmages I saw last week, showing far better in the second than the first. With rookie talent (read: Cole Luke) at the ready in June, the backup duo can't afford a slip over the next four months.
16 -- Super Sub to Watch: OLB (#45) Romeo Okwara can play to the boundary or to the field (wide). He can rush the passer, drop and cover, and impact a game with his athleticism. And he's no higher than No. 3 in the pecking order at either outside linebacker spot. But through 12 games, Notre Dame will need Okwara, and he'll show flashes of future brilliance Saturday in South Bend.
17 -- Who is He?: #17? That's James Onwualu, the fourth skill position early enrollee discussed in this space, and a player that will likely earn ample reps during the second, third, and fourth quarters tomorrow. Onwualu's size (6'1" 215 pounds), speed, and skill set (he's versatile enough to be a college WR, RB, or DB) coupled with his early assimilation into the program will likely help him earn a spot on special teams next season.
18 -- The Safeties: Junior (#41) Matthias Farley is the certainty. Shumate, Baratti, and Collinsworth are in the mix. Looking to fend off incoming freshman stud Max Redfield is junior (#4) Eilar Hardy. He's yet to play a college game, or take part in a Blue Gold contest. Hardy should be especially hyped to take the field tomorrow. Also likely to see extensive playing time Saturday is redshirt-freshman (#31) John Turner and 2010 early enrollee (#24) Chris Badger, who's only on-field appearance came in the 2010 Blue Gold game before he took a two-year religious mission to Ecuador. Competition will be fierce, as no player listed exhausts his eligibility at the end of 2013…
19 -- Shaq Attack: He can rush the passer. He can drop and cover. He can hold up vs. the run. He can also disappear and seem disinterested. Junior (#11) Ishaq Williams won't unseat incumbent boundary linebacker (#55) Prince Shembo, but his renewed purpose and drive this spring puts the former 5-star in position for playing time in multiple packages. Diaco noted "conservatively" 10-20 snaps more per game. That's a prime time role for a player blessed with athletic gifts but learning to compete at a BCS Championship level.
20 -- The Younger Martin: Braxston Cave enrolled at Notre Dame in Charlie Weis' fourth season at the helm (2008). For the first time in the Kelly era, Cave will not be the program's pivotman, as (#72) Nick Martin assumes the role, holding a spring lead over classmate (#77) Matt Hegarty, the latter just four months removed from heart surgery. Martin's older brother, (#70) Zack, is the program's best lineman since center Jeff Faine in 2002 -- if Nick even approaches Faine's passion for competition (never mind execution) the Irish offensive line will again be a team strength.
21 -- The Future: In good health, sophomore left tackle (#78) Ronnie Stanley and early enrollee right tackle (#79) Steven Elmer will start August Camp as default members of the two-deep depth chart. They'll likely end it that way as well. Neither is ready for game action, Stanley in part to off-season elbow surgery that limited him this spring. But one of the pair is likely to start for the Irish in 2014 when Zack Martin moves on; the other will battle for the right tackle role when (#79) Christian Lombard does the same two years from now. Both Stanley and Elmer have good feet and feel for the position.
22 -- Springmann's Ceiling: Notre Dame's dominant front lost just one competitor (Kapron Lewis-Moore) and his heir apparent (#91) Sheldon Day is definitely ready for prime time. Is junior swingman (#69) Tony Springmann? Diaco noted he was "breathing through a fire hose" last fall, though the first-year competitor showed well in a reserve role. The Irish defensive front is only as strong as its No. 4 (Springmann), No. 5 (Schwenke) and No. 6 (to be determined in August) competitor. A trimmer Springmann (no weight loss at 285, just better distribution) was able to compete longer, harder, this spring than last fall.
23 -- Big Lou: He looked huge in #67 as a freshman that couldn't' get into a proper stance. He looked equally large wearing #9, emerging over the last two seasons as one of the most underrated (2011) and then best (2012) players for Kelly's Irish. Now donning #1, the 340-something-or-other Nix enters his senior season as the most important player on the defense, if not the football team. He'll make one big play tomorrow then head for the sidelines -- and an off-season of better weight distribution to prepare for a BCS run and NFL riches thereafter.
24 -- The Running Clock: God bless it. At some point, teammates risking injury in April simply isn't worth the spectacle and tradition. Collinsworth was lost for the season last year in this game (torn labrum); his MVP presence sorely missed on both coverage units that were far worse in 2012 than with AC in tow for '10 and '11. Kelly and the Irish wisely run the clock continuously in the second half, so get your analysis in early...
25 -- Charles Stafford: Why does a mid-90s backup wide receiver remain relevant 18 springs later? In 1995, Stafford caught five touchdown passes in spring game … in the second half. He collected just four receptions the following season, six in his college career. No numbers matter less than those accrued in the annual Blue Gold game.