This season the Fighting Irish have enjoyed having a three-headed monster in the backfield with Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III each more than capable of going the distance and/or having a big ground game.
The ‘Triplets’ – if you will – have been the reason why Notre Dame ranks among the nation’s top 30 in rushing, averaging 202.5 yards per game.
How well the trio plays against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 7 will be a big factor in determining Notre Dame’s fate.
When that game ends, though, expect talk to heat up about whether Wood will head for the greener pastures of the NFL prematurely.
Irish coach Brian Kelly already knows he’ll lose leading rusher Riddick’s services as he graduates, but Wood’s decision on whether to return to Notre Dame for another season could greatly impact just how good the Irish are a year from now.
If Wood opts to return, it would mean the Irish will return three of their top four rushers, if you include quarterback Everett Golson, who will be entering just his second season of eligibility. Also coming back will be two of Notre Dame’s top four receivers (assuming tight end Tyler Eifert heads to the NFL, which all indications are he will). As a result, the Irish potentially could have a good chunk of their skill players returning.
Recently Kelly didn’t shed any light on which way Wood might be leaning only saying, “Cierre Wood is going to wait for his evaluation before he makes his decision.”
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last month, Wood’s mother, Valerie, said her son is leaning towards jumping to the NFL after this season.
As Kelly said, Wood, who has a 15-month old daughter, will file the paperwork to the NFL in an attempt to get a good idea of how the league’s scouts view him.
Recently the Irish have had a number of players put their NFL dreams on hold. Eifert, linebacker Manti Te’o and receiver Michael Floyd all decided to return to Notre Dame despite having high draft value.
Currently Wood is projected as one of the top 15 running backs to be taken in the draft. Given that fact, jumping to the pro ranks may be considered somewhat of a risky move.
Regardless, Wood has definitely improved his NFL stock this season. After sitting out a two-game suspension due to a violation of team rules, Wood enters the title game as Notre Dame’s second-leading rusher, gaining 740 yards on the year (averaging 6.7 yards per carry) and scoring four times.
If Wood leaves, look for Atkinson III to be one of the team’s featured backs in 2013 with the strong possibility of five-star high school running back Greg Bryant, who turned down scholarship offers from Alabama and USCamong many others, getting a chance to make an immediate impact as a true freshman.
Doug Griffiths is a columnist/writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @ISLgriffiths.