No quarterback answer. No starting cornerbacks. A departed first-round talent at defensive end. Multiple defected recruits. A schedule perceived as the most daunting in years.
If ever there were a preseason in which the hype around Notre Dame was tamed, 2012 was it. Naturally, it has also led to the Irish's best start in a decade, and it has the chance to get even better.
The quarterback roulette shows no signs of stopping, not with Everett Golson's inconsistency and Tommy Rees' ability to step in unfazed without a moment's notice. But the defense has been arguably the best in the country, surrendering just 8.6 points per game through six contests. It has not allowed a touchdown in four games, and it still has not given up a rushing touchdown this season.
Notre Dame has turned the ball over just seven times, this after giving it away 10 times through its first two games last season. The Irish have forced 15 turnovers by their opponents, a year after notching just 14 takeaways for the entire season.
The Irish have beaten three top-25 teams, and two tall tasks remain at Oklahoma and at USC. Wins against BYU, Pitt, Wake Forest and BC are not asking much, making anything short of 10 wins (and a sure-fire BCS-bowl bid with it) a disappointment at this point.
But a team that has already exceeded first-half expectations has its eyes on a bigger prize, and the fact we're still talking about the biggest prize here on Oct. 16 speaks volumes about how far this team has come in a short period of time.
Offensive MVP: Tight end Tyler Eifert. The Irish have had trouble getting their best weapon the ball, and yet he still is their top receiver after six games, with 246 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 15 catches. He came up big against Stanford, and even when he's not making catches, he is drawing the defense's attention and allowing others the chance to step up.
Defensive MVP: inebacker Manti Te'o. The senior linebacker is in the Heisman conversation after a first half that couldn't go any better on the field. Overcoming the deaths of both his grandmother and his girlfriend, the captain has been the heart and soul of the Irish defense, recording a team-best 59 tackles and two fumble recoveries while adding two tackles for loss, three interceptions and three hurries.