#3 -- Running BackSenior Cam McDaniel, sophomore Tarean Folston, redshirt-freshman Greg Bryant. Senior slot receiver Amir Carlisle, eligible through the 2015 season, is available as an emergency No. 4 running back.
Standout: To Be DeterminedFolston came on strong late last season, totaling 401 yards and two scores on 77 carries over the final six contests (he had just six rushing attempts in his six previous outings). The sophomore appeared to end spring ball a shade ahead of his competitors, but the trio will doubtless be listed as tri-No. 1's on the opening depth chart.
Bryant brings the most intrigue as a hard-charging, compact runner with open-field abilities. McDaniel, for all the talk about Folston's emergence in the season's second half, out gained the freshmen in four of the final six.
Next In Line: McDanielThe senior proved dependable last season with at least 10 carries in eight different contests while piling up between 60 and (a career-best) 117 yards in six of them.
His grinding style provided the Irish offense with a short-yardage "closer" but McDaniel likewise showed flashes in the open field, notably juking at scrimmage one of the best returning defenders on Notre Dame's schedule and in the nation, USC safety Su'a Cravens.
McDaniel's likely to lead the team in rushing yards again, but he might in September as the young pair settles in.
Additional Depth: As noted above, slot receiver Amir Carlisle could move back in a pinch. Carlisle emerged from a running back quintet early last season but lost ground, not to mention confidence, in what was a four-running back competition by mid-September. I felt Carlisle would be one of the team's best offensive players last season -- this year he's set to be a contributing slot receiver (either 1A or 1B to C.J. Prosise) and likely the team's chief kick returner.
Expect 10-15 carries after motioning to the backfield from his slot position, but more would signal a significant injury to one member of the trio.
X-Factor: Bryant. He has the potential to be one of the top rookie contributors in America -- and he might have to approach that status for Notre Dame to approach New Year's Bowl status (an indication of a top 12-14 finish under the new system).
Camp QuestionsCan any of the three emerge as a clear-cut No. 1, especially in the modern era where two-back systems are the norm? Who'll show best in pass protection, a spot in which Carlisle shined last season? Each 'back has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, will the standard screen game thus return to Notre Dame's offense? The team's RBs managed just nine rushing touchdowns last season, one of the three lowest totals in program history -- can the trio (nearly) triple that total in 2014?
Best Case ScenarioBryant and Folston emerge as runners 1A and 1B with McDaniel augmenting their efforts at 8-10 carries per contest…Each runner paces the team on a given September Saturday, keeping the trio fresh for a three-game October test that includes Stanford, North Carolina, and Florida State, followed by five consecutive games in November…The unit's history of ball security (just five fumbles lost in 2012-13 combined) continues and pass protection shows no noticeable drop-off regardless of the backfield's inhabitant.
Worst Case ScenarioBryant doesn't come close to fulfilling the expectations placed upon him by media (and teammates) last spring…Folston remains an intermittent contributor with only McDaniel earning the staff's trust in key situations…Carlisle is needed to aid the effort…pass protection is erratic and the trio doesn't consistently produce in the passing game.
All of this seems unlikely -- this backfield will be one of the nation's most improved in 2014.
Out on a LimbMcDaniel will lead the team in rushing in September but will be passed by both Folston and Bryant by season's end. Quarterback Everett Golson will score more touchdowns than one member of the trio and the quartet combined will produce more rushing yards than any season of the Brian Kelly era to date -- but not top the coach's highest single-season touchdown total of 25 rushing scores in 2011.