2011 Season: 8-5 (did not play Miami)
The Quarterback: Tommy Rees. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, the rising junior is coming off a very good sophomore season for the Irish. He completed 66-percent of his passes for 2,871 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He is going into his third season as the starter in Brian Kelly's offense, has produced solid numbers, and seems on the verge of a real breakout season. The only possible concern is that his top receiver over the last two seasons, Malcolm Floyd (who helped Rees beat Miami in the Sun Bowl two years ago), is now with the Arizona Cardinals. Rees has the goods, though, and should be one of the top signal-callers Miami plays against in 2012.
Best Offensive Player: Tyler Eifert. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, the rising senior tight end is one of the best in all of college football. He's the total package for a player at his position. He has the size, physical style of play, and effort that make him a skilled blocker. However, it's his pass-catching skills that really separate him. He finished last season with 803 yards and five touchdowns. He can flat out play and with Floyd gone, he will likely see even more targets this fall. He's one of only a couple tight ends in all of college football who has the potential of going over 1,000 yards. A future high NFL Draft pick, Eifert will give Miami and everyone else all it can handle this season.
Top Defensive Player: Manti Te'o. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Te'o is a former five-star recruit who has been very good for the Irish so far. A rising senior, Te'o enters 2012 as one of the premier linebackers in all of college football. He finished last season with 128 tackles, 13.5 for loss, and five sacks. He has ideal size, plus athleticism, and he can make plays in coverage and behind the line of scrimmage. Like Eifert at the tight end position, Te'o is the total package at linebacker and is already being talked about as a potential first round pick next April. He's the real deal and will be tough for opposing offenses to deal with in 2012.
2012 Outlook: The Irish beat everyone it should have in 2011 but lost to the top teams on its schedule -- Michigan, USC, and Stanford. It played Florida State tough in the bowl game before falling in that one as well. The offensive line returns two All-America caliber players in Zack Martin and Braxston Cave. Rees is back for year three. Cierre Wood was a 1,000-yard runner a season ago. A lot of their success on offense will depend on how well they can replace Floyd. Te'o leads a very good front seven, which includes former UM commitment Louis Nix at defensive tackle, that should be one of the most talented in all of college football. The secondary is young but talented. If they replace Floyd well and the young secondary holds up, the Irish could be in line for a special season in 2012.