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Notre Dame Football’s 5 Most Intriguing Players Heading Into 2014

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Fighting Irish 5 Most Intriguing Players Heading into 2014

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

For the University of Notre Dame, the 2014 season will be one filled with tons of intrigue. Head coach Brian Kelly will be entering his fifth season in South Bend, and is two years removed from an appearance in the BCS National Championship game. While Kelly will be welcoming back an old player, he will also be saying goodbye to several key players from his first four years. Part of the intrigue in 2014 will be all of the new faces the Irish will be seeing both on their sideline, and across the sidelines as well.

While Notre Dame will still be considered a football independent, their schedule will start to have an ACC feel to it. The Irish will be a partial member of the ACC, but not be eligible to compete in the ACC Championship game. Notre Dame's schedule as a whole will also be filled with intrigue, as they will matchup against 10 teams with winning records from a season ago, including the defending National Champion Florida State Seminoles. Head Coach Kelly will certainly have his hands full with a new roster and much tougher schedule.

The Fighting Irish will need to replace major holes on the defensive side after losing Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt to the NFL Draft. In his first four years, Kelly also had the luxury of having staples on the offensive line in Zack Martin and Chris Watt, who are also now gone. To also add to the turnover, Notre Dame will also be replacing one of their feature backs and starting quarterback heading into the 2014 season.

Notre Dame is one of the signature teams in College Football, but in 2014, they will also be a team full of changes and intrigue on a national level. Kelly will need to work his magic once again, as he will be replacing several impact players. Here are five of the most intriguing players heading into 2014 for the Fighting Irish.

Nick Schaeflein is a sports writer for Follow him on Twitter @ptchr2424 or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Jaylon Smith

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At the linebacker level, Jaylon Smith will be one of the guys the Irish will look toward at stopping the opposition. He will be a sophomore who could be molded into the heart of the defense with continued improvement and development. Smith is capable of racking up a ton of tackles after turning in 61 last season. Will he be able to reach that next level as a leader and emerging force on D as well?

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4. Cam McDaniel

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While Cam McDaniel did lead the team a year ago in rushing yards, he was not widely considered as the "go-to back." George Atkinson III is draft bound, and Tarean Folston has the ability to make impact plays and take away some carries from McDaniel. The senior McDaniel will have the most experience in the back-field, but will need to prove that he is capable of carrying the bulk of the work each week against tough opponents.

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3. Sheldon Day

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Sheldon Day will be the leader on the d-line who will attempt to fill the void left by Louis Nix. He did, however, suffer an ankle injury last season that limited his production. Day will need to stay healthy and on the field this year to get the Irish defense back on track. There will be many sunny days ahead for Notre Dame if Day can be the run-stuffer down in the trenches.

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2. DaVaris Daniels

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Senior wide-out DaVaris Daniels will be an intriguing player for many reasons. One, on the field he has the abilities to become a dynamic pass-catcher and a difference maker on offense. However, he has to get to the field first, which could be the most intriguing part of Daniels this year. Like Everett Golson a year ago, Daniels has been sidelined by the university for academic reasons. He will likely miss all of spring ball and return in the Fall just before the season starts.

There is some chance that Daniels will not be eligible this year, which would leave the wide receiver position in the hands of several inexperienced players. That is a pattern that Daniels and Kelly would like to avoid running this season.

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1. Everett Golson

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Last season, Everett Golson was not enrolled at the university. The year prior to that, he had led the Irish to the BCS title game. After missing a season due to his own academic issues, the junior returns to help guide Kelly's offense. Major questions and a major spotlight will be around Golson all season long until he can silence his critics. How will he fare after a year away? How will he run an offense with a new-look o-line and an inexperienced wide receiving core? Will he have a running game to assist him when defenses are spying on the quarterback?

In 2014, Golson has everything to gain for a second time around, but also a lot to lose. With everything in a transition mode for the Irish, Golson is front-and-center as the most intriguing piece to the Notre Dame system.