After spending most of this list talking about the defense, it’s time to talk about some offensive players. As important as the defense is and will be this season, Notre Dame still needs to score points this year. To do that, number four on our list, junior running back Cierre Wood, needs to be a huge factor this season.
Look back at the history of Notre Dame football, or really any other football program. The best teams always are able to run the football effectively. Even Charlie Weis with his pass-happy, quarterback-driven offense only had success when he had Darius Walker running the ball in 2005 and 2006. No coincidence those were the two years the Irish went to BCS bowls. In fact, ND carries a 27-game winning streak into the season when they outrush their opponent. That just goes to show you how important the running game is to the success of the Fighting Irish.
That’s where Cierre Wood comes in. He’s clearly the starter at running back this season and with a thin depth chart that also lacks experience, Wood must be a leader at the position. He’s got all the tools to be a great back. A five star recruit ot of high school, he could have gone anywhere but chose to play for the Irish. After not seeing the field in 2009, he burst onto the scene last year with a seven-carry, 58-yard performance in the season opener against Purdue. The next five games saw him struggle, but the second half of the season saw him turn it on, especially when Armando Allen went down with an injury. In the four-game winning streak to end the season, Wood did not rush for less than 71 yards in any of the contests. He finished the year as the leading rusher and gave hope that he’ll be the next in the long line of great Irish runners.
Wood must be an effective rusher this year. A 1000-yard season is not out of the possibility, and it would seem that if he could reach that plateau, Notre Dame’s chances for reaching a BCS bowl game would be greatly enhanced. With questions and quarterback and receiver, a strong running game will allow the Fighting Irish to have an identity and ease the pressure on the other positions. If the defenses have to concentrate so much on the running attack, the entire offense will open up and we may finally see the offense we expected to see from a Brian Kelly coached team.
Wood’s importance also shows up because of the depth, or lack thereof behind him. Only senior Jonas Gray has any experience after Wood. Sophomore Cameron Roberson was expected to have a role this year, but that was thrown into doubt with his knee injury suffered this spring. Roberson may be back for some of the season, but how effective can he be? The only other two players will be true freshmen, George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel. One or both may play this year, but neither are expected to be game-breakers right away. So it is incumbant upon Wood to deliver this year, and most importantly stay healthy.
2011 promises to be a big year for the Irish, but to achieve the goals they have before this season, Cierre Wood must be a huge part of the solution.