College football traditionalists, rejoice: Notre Dame football is back.
The Fighting Irish have won their first six games of the season, and with a schedule that has included victories over Stanford, Michigan and Michigan State, they are locks to be in the top five in the first BCS standings to be released Sunday.
Despite their success, the Fighting Irish have an issue at the most important position on the field: quarterback. That problem may be rectifiable, however, through the personnel they have on their roster by adjusting their depth chart.
The Fighting Irish have gone through the first half of their season with redshirt freshman Everett Golson as their starting quarterback, with the exception of Notre Dame’s 41-3 victory over Miami (Fla.), in which Golson was benched for the first series for disciplinary reasons.
Golson, however, has struggled. He has completed just 58.5 percent of his passes for the season, averaging only 161.3 passing yards per game.
Golson was at the peak of his struggles against Stanford, where he struggled to find any rhythm throughout the game, completed only half of his passes and fumbled the ball four times, including once in his own end zone for a Stanford touchdown.
Golson did lead one touchdown drive, but when he was knocked out of the game with a head injury in the fourth quarter, the Fighting Irish trailed 13-10.
From there, junior Tommy Rees proved why he, not Golson, should be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. After Notre Dame tied the game with a 22-yard field goal, Rees led the Fighting Irish to a 20-13 victory over Stanford with his performance in overtime.
After taking a first-down sack, Rees bounced right back to complete a nine-yard pass to DaVaris Daniels. He hit Theo Riddick on a 16-yard back-shoulder completion to convert 3rd-and-8.
On the next play, Rees hit T.J. Jones on a seven-yard strike for a touchdown, which held up as the game-winning score when Notre Dame’s defense made a goal-line stand.
This was far from the first time Rees has come in to lead the Fighting Irish to victory. In fact, he has done it three times in six games this season.
Early in the season, with his team struggling to put away Purdue in the fourth quarter, Rees came in with 2:12 left to play and led a game-winning field-goal drive.
Two weeks later, after Golson had nearly as many interceptions (two) as completions (three) in his first eight passes against Michigan, Rees entered the game and had a very strong performance. He completed 8-of-11 passing attempts for 115 yards, leading the Fighting Irish to a 13-6 victory.
Rees has now completed 67 percent of his passes on the season, averaging 8.72 passing yards per attempt (7.17 for Golson).
While Rees had his share of struggles over his first two seasons, he also had many great performances.
So far this season, Rees has come through and led the Fighting Irish to victory every time he has been called upon. Had it not been for an injury, Golson’s struggles may have doomed the Fighting Irish to their first defeat of the season.
A counterargument can certainly be made in Golson’s favor. Golson is a better athlete and has a bigger arm, giving him much bigger upside. Rees, however, has more game experience and polish, and he is a more refined and accurate passer.
This isn’t the first time Rees has been benched in favor of a quarterback with higher upside. After breaking out in the second half of the 2010 season after taking over the starting quarterback job from an injured Dayne Crist, Rees was benched once again to start his sophomore season.
Crist was expected to be a star at Notre Dame, but that never materialized, and head coach Brian Kelly quickly realized that starting Crist was a mistake.
Kelly has yet to consider his decision this year to be a mistake, continuing to keep his faith in Golson. Like Joe Montana was for Notre Dame’s 1977 national championship team, Rees may not be the most physically impressive quarterback on the depth chart, but when he gets in the game, he is the best man they have for the job.
That’s not to say Rees is even close to being Joe Montana, and come 2013, it may be neither Golson nor Rees starting at quarterback for the Fighting Irish.
Freshman Gunner Kiel came to Notre Dame ranked as the No. 1 quarterback by Scout.com in the high school class of 2012, and he is considered to be the future at the position in South Bend.
For this season, however, the Fighting Irish are in a position to make a serious title run, or at least to play in a BCS bowl, and they need to have an experienced quarterback with both the physical skills and mental toughness to lead the team to victories.
That quarterback is Rees.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist and B/R's New England Patriots gameday correspondent. He's also an avid college football viewer. For live college football analysis every Saturday, follow him @Dan_Hope.