Figuring out '14

How does Notre Dame's 2014 roster look at present? Who's in line for a fifth season? How many 2014 pledges should the Irish welcome to the fold and what positions are still crucial to the class? We take an early look…

Not including potential fifth-year seniors -- and there are 10 of them -- Notre Dame's 2014 roster has 59 of its 85 allotted spots filled. (The number includes QB Everett Golson.)

Add to those 59 a current total of 17 committed high school players and the Irish can accept pledges from nine more members of the class of 2014. Of course, returning fifth-year seniors, transfers out of the program, and potential NFL Draft entrants (Stephon Tuitt) make that number fluid.

Below is a look at the roster for 2014 with pertinent notes throughout the classes.

(9) 2014 Seniors (eligible through 2014)

With due respect to a currently suspended junior triggerman pictured above, the return of Stephon Tuitt ranks as the most important off-season issue for head coach Brian Kelly's Irish. With Tuitt, Notre Dame is a top 15 team and has the potential to return among the nation's elite defensively. Without him, the latter is implausible at best.

Including Tuitt, seven of the nine seniors-to-be will earn, or be in heavy contention for, a starting job next spring with an eighth, Joe Schmidt, in myriad key backup roles at worst.

RB -- George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel
WR -- Josh Atkinson
TE -- Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack
K/P -- Kyle Brindza
ILB -- Joe Schmidt
DE/DT -- Stephon Tuitt
OLB/DE -- Ishaq Williams
OL -- None
QB -- None
CB -- None
S -- None

Expected Attrition from the group? Yes

(14) Redshirt-Juniors (eligible through 2015)

Golson's expected return should give Kelly his most dynamic offense since the head coach left the Queen City in 2009.

The class as a whole has not been fortunate on the injury front: Hegarty (heart surgery), Carlisle (broken ankle, collarbone), Farley (broken hand, 2012), Daniels (ankle and collarbone injuries in 2012), Martin (broken snapping hand at present), Councell (out for season, ACL), Grace (broken leg, out for second half of 2013), Springmann (ACL, out for 2013), Hardy (ACL, out for 2011), and Hounshell (three shoulder operations, two seasons missed as a result).

From the group, Brown and Rabasa have the most ground to make up to compete as part of Notre Dame's two-deep varsity in 2014.

RB -- Amir Carlisle
WR -- DaVaris Daniels
OL -- Conor Hanratty (G), Nick Martin (Center), Matt Hegarty (Center)
QB -- Everett Golson
ILB -- Jarrett Grace
DE/DT -- Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell
OLB -- Ben Councell, Anthony Rabasa
S -- Matthias Farley, Eilar Hardy
CB -- Jalen Brown
K/P -- None
TE -- None

Expected Attrition from this group? Yes

(5) 2014 Juniors (eligible through 2015)

A smallish class of 16 on Signing Day 2012 now stands at 13. After a training camp injury to Nicky Baratti, the true juniors from that group (exhausted both seasons of eligibility to date) is down to a quintet of competitors, each of whom will play a major role next season and has in 2013 as well.

WR -- Chris Brown
DE/DT -- Sheldon Day
OLB -- Romeo Okwara
S -- Elijah Shumate
CB -- Keivarae Russell
RB -- None
TE -- None
OL -- None
QB -- None
K/P -- None
ILB -- None

Expected Attrition from this group? No

(8) 2014 RS-Sophomores (eligible through 2016)

Save for Stanley and Baratti, the collection of talent below has, for the most part, been slow to come to the fore. Stanley is holding his own as a first-year starter and will likely end his career as a rare four-year starter on the offensive front.

Prosise has shown promise in limited playing time after moving from the defensive side of scrimmage last spring. Baratti's absence in the secondary for all of 2013 is notable: the Irish safeties have struggled through 10 games this fall.

RB -- Will Mahone
WR -- C.J. Prosise
OL -- Ronnie Stanley and Mark Harrell
LS -- Scott Daly
S -- Nicky Baratti, John Turner
DE/DT -- Jarron Jones
OLB -- None
QB -- None
TE -- None
ILB -- None
CB -- None

Expected Attrition from this group? Yes

(10) 2014 Sophomores (eligible through 2016)

The current crop of competing freshmen rival Kelly's 2011 haul in terms of immediate impact. Of the 10 below, five have earned at least three starts (the trio of receivers, Elmer, and Smith) while Folston has been a game MVP despite limited opportunity throughout the season.

Rochell, Luke, and Butler play major backup roles from scrimmage and Redfield has started from day one on the speciality units though his inability to break into the two-deep at safety is a mild surprise considering the group's level of play.

RB -- Tarean Folston
WR -- Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, James Onwualua
OL -- Steven Elmer
DE/DT -- Isaac Rochell
OLB -- Jaylon Smith
S -- Max Redfield
CB -- Cole Luke and Devin Butler
TE -- None
QB -- None
K/P -- None
ILB -- None

Expected Attrition from this group? No

(13) 2014 Redshirt-Freshman (eligible through 2017)

Representing the future of Notre Dame football, at least four from this group should enter spring ball in competition for a starting role (Bryant, McGlinchey/Bivin and Deeb) -- the latter by default.

Kinlaw could be slotted as either a safety or cornerback, his feet and stature suggest the latter. Randolph (shoulder) and Hunter (broken femur in January 2013) missed the season due to injury while Bryant had a procedure to alleviate tendinitis in his knee and Heuerman had in-season shoulder surgery. Montelus and McGovern missed portions of off-season training and most of August camp recovering from surgery post high school.

In case you lived under a rock in September, Zaire contracted mono -- the most famous and fan-monitored illness in the history of third-string quarterbacks.

RB -- Greg Bryant
WR -- Torii Hunter, Jr.
TE -- Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe
OL -- Mike McGlinchey (T), Colin McGovern (G), John Montelus (G), Hunter Bivin (T)
QB -- Malik Zaire
ILB -- Michael Deeb and Doug Randolph
DE/DT -- Jacob Matuska
CB -- Rashad Kinlaw
OLB -- None
S -- None
K/P -- None

Expected Attrition from this group? No

17 Current 2014 Pledges

Look for the Irish to finish with a 24-player class, with three fifth-year seniors rounding out a (sure-to-change) 85-player scholarship roster exiting National Signing Day 2014.

If seven more pledge as projected, the ideal numbers (irrespective of names) would include two defensive linemen, two inside linebackers, an offensive lineman, a tight end (especially an athletic, versatile player), and a Big Skill athlete capable of playing outside linebacker in multiple defensive fronts.

WR -- Justin Brent, Corey Holmes and Isaiah McKenzie
TE -- Nic Weishar
OL -- Sam Mustipher (Center), Quenton Nelson (G/T), Alex Bars (T), Jimmy Byrne (G/T)
QB -- DeShone Kizer
K/P -- Tyler Newsome
ILB -- Greer Martini, Richard Yeargin
DE/DT -- Jay Hayes, Andrew Trumbetti, Grant Blankenship, Matt Dickerson
OLB -- Jonathan Bonner
CB -- Nick Watkins
S -- None
RB -- None

Expected Attrition from this group? Isn't there always?

(10) Potential 2014 5th-year seniors

Listed in projected order of likelihood that they'll be on the 2014 Notre Dame roster entering spring practice.

-- Christian Lombard (RT) -- #1 Lock to return

-- Austin Collinsworth (S) -- #2 Lock to return

-- Kendall Moore (ILB) -- #3 Career backup should be asked back due to dearth of ILB on roster. Pressed into service of late, it's fair to say Moore is in the midst of an audition for a potential starting role and return this spring.

-- Justin Utupo (DE) -- Considering the lack of defensive line bodies and his standing as a three-year special teams starter, Utupo should be welcomed back if room remains after signing day. He's a more valuable roster member as a senior than he was as a sophomore -- that's the point of fifth-year returnees.

-- Bruce Heggie (G/C/DL) -- Though he'll never play in competitive game situations, Heggie could return pending scholarship numbers post-Signing Day. Notre Dame would invite him back if there's room as Heggie can practice as both an OL and DL, a valuable season-long commodity and something missing for the Irish during the Kelly era (numbers on both lines).

-- Alex Welch (TE) -- Return is pending the total scholarships awarded to 2014 freshmen as well as options for Welch to play elsewhere as a fifth-year senior. His lack of playing time this fall could impact his decision.

-- Louis Nix (NG) -- Unlikely to return. Though not set in stone, it would be a major (program-altering) surprise if Nix decided, degree already in hand, he wanted to "have fun in college" (as he offered to the media, Tuesday) for one more year.

-- Andrew Hendrix (QB) -- Unlikely to return. Look for Hendrix to play a fifth season elsewhere in 2014. Prior to the start of the 2013 season, I was of the logical opinion Hendrix would return as a third-string player for 2014 but it's clear he's not viewed as a viable quarterback option by the staff.

-- Luke Massa (WR/QB) -- Unlikely to return due to preponderance of receivers on the 2014 roster. Massa could however fill the role of fourth/emergency quarterback and locker room presence.

-- Lo Wood (CB) -- Is expected to play elsewhere as a 5th-year senior in 2014

Expected Attrition from this group? Of course Top Stories