Coming up Irish

Junior nose guard Louis Nix

For Irish fans looking beyond the ultimate goal of a BCS Championship victory over Alabama, there's this: Notre Dame's offensive and defensive lines -- the team's definitive strengths in 2012 -- will have all available hands on deck for 2013 as well.

The senior left tackle in question is the best player on an offensive line that produced the most rushing yards and best yards-per-carry average at the program in more than a decade, while also allowing the fewest sacks in that span.

The junior nose guard is the formidable anchor of a defense that ranks among the top five in program history.

Both have decided another year in South Bend outweighs the draw of an NFL paycheck.

"Zack Martin has announced to me that he will come back for his last season of competition," said head coach Brian Kelly of the 2012 co-captain. "He will not wait for the NFL to give him a draft status.  As you know, he is our most outstanding offensive lineman, and to have him back, along with Chris Watt and Christian Lombard give us three very veteran offensive linemen returning for next year."

Martin is the program's only three-time winner of the Guardian of the Year Award presented to the team's top offensive linemen. He won the award in his first season of competition in 2010, and again in 2011 and this fall.

And still he might have been the second-most potential returnee from the 2012 squad.

"Also not waiting for the NFL draft evaluation is Louis Nix.  Louis will be coming back for his third season next year.  We're excited about getting Louis back," said Kelly of arguably the team's second-best football player this fall.

Kelly added that senior running back Cierre Wood will submit his name for draft evaluation before making a decision on his status for 2013.

One in, Two Out

No college football team wins all 12 of its regular season games without a modicum of good fortune. For the Irish, that manifested in the overall health of the squad, one that lost just two starters to injury, one midway through August camp.

Now another pair of Irish have been sidelined for bowl season by surgery, both from its backup offensive line group.

"We had a couple guys that had surgery to repair some issues," said Kelly. "One, Ronnie Stanley, offensive lineman had surgery on his elbow to repair a ligament, so he'll be lost for the bowl game.  That was a condition that he had going into the season.

"Matt Hegarty had a (undisclosed) procedure as well, which will put him out of any practice or bowl opportunities.  But we're very optimistic that he'll be back with us come spring. They will not be available for us in the National Championship game."

The true freshman Stanley appeared in two games, the opener vs. Navy and three weeks later against Michigan as a backup to the aforementioned Martin at left tackle. His injury likely affords him a chance at a medical redshirt and opportunity to apply for a 5th-season of eligibility for 2016.

Hegarty worked as the team's No. 3 center for most of 2012, appearing against Navy and Miami from scrimmage and on special teams over the first nine games overall. A converted tackle and member of the 2011 recruiting class, Hegarty used his redshirt season in 2011 as a true freshman on the Scout Team. The former four-star recruit can apply for a 5th-season in 2015. He and true freshman Mark Harrell -- another converted tackle/tight end -- join junior Bruce Heggie as the only current center competitors in tow for spring 2013, though that will likely change with another player -- perhaps redshirt-freshman guard Conor Hanratty -- receiving evaluation at the position.

Double D

Expected to return for contact this week is redshirt-freshman wide receiver DaVaris Daniels. The 6'2" target broke his collarbone in the November 10 win at Boston College but it appears he'll be full go for the title tilt vs. the Tide.

"We're in the fifth week (of recovery) now, so he was involved in all of our drill work," said Kelly of Daniels' previous work with the team. "He was non-contact last week; he'll be in a contact situation next week. So he looks really good. He's going to be able to be a key contributor for us."

Daniels had 11 receptions for 144 yards in just over five halves of football (Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, and part of the contest at BC) prior to his injury. To date he ranks fourth on the team in receptions (250), third in receiving yards (364), and fourth in pass targets from Irish quarterbacks (39).

Daniels leads all qualifying Irish players in yards-per-reception with 15.0 -- the most by any Irish player since Golden Tate and Michael Floyd in 2009.

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