Then it was Wood and Theo Riddick, plus George Atkinson in the championship run of 2012. McDaniel, the clear-cut No. 4, earned plaudits from the coaching staff and admiration of Irish fans with his late-game, hard-charging style in wins over Navy and Miami.
Once again, that doesn't matter.
"I'm versatile enough to thrive in any situation," said McDaniel. "In my opinion, I feel like we have the ability to have one of the best running games in the nation this year. With (Everett) Golson back as a dual threat and the talent we have in the backfield, I'm just excited for what we've got going on and the game plan we've got. It feels like it's going to be a great opportunity for all of us."
The Irish backfield of 2014 is technically less crowded than any during McDaniel's tenure. Carlisle will be more of a slot threat than full-time running back and former running back Will Mahone -- at least for the spring -- is listed only as a WR (Carlisle is Slot/RB).
The next 13 practices will likely confirm head coach Brian Kelly's assumption that three won't be too much of a crowd next fall.
"At running back, everybody talks about a No. 1 guy," said Kelly of Folston's technical listing atop the depth chart. "You're going to have two or three guys that play for you. You're never going to have really just one guy. You're always going to have a couple of guys."
It's the type of competition in which McDaniel has always thrived.
"I want to be the best one out there. Those guys (Folston and Bryant) are two highly competitive individuals as well," McDaniel said. "Iron sharpens in terms of going out there to respond."
McDaniel earned nearly 60 more carries than his most recent competitor last season. His 705 yards led the team while Atkinson and Folston tied him for a (remarkably low) team-best of three rushing scores.
But the backfield, a purported strength entering the season, produced 500 fewer rushing yards than did its 2012 predecessors -- with half as many touchdowns.
Don't bet on that for the season to come.
"Winning a national championship. That's the end goal for this team and the talent we have, I feel we're very capable of doing that," said McDaniel. "That's our team goal. If anybody says anything otherwise, they shouldn't be here."
If the Irish are to accomplish or approach their lofty goal, McDaniel and his backfield mates are certain to play a crucial role.