No matter which SEC champion the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish face in the BCS title game, QB Everett Golson will be the ultimate X-factor in determining the team's fate on college football's grandest stage.
The Irish defense has shown up in just about every game this season—and when it hasn't, Golson has been there to make the necessary plays to keep Notre Dame's record unblemished.
After coming off the bench to catch fire against the Pittsburgh Panthers in a dramatic 29-26 triple OT home victory, Golson has come into his own over the past few weeks as the unquestioned man under center.
Frequently relieved in favor of Tommy Rees throughout the year, Golson now has a firm grip as the starting Irish quarterback despite being just a sophomore. He has recently shown more confidence and poise. Golson is trusting his reads more and being more aggressive, which has resulted in a substantial increase in yards per attempt.
What makes Golson so special is his outstanding athleticism that can not only gash opponents on the ground, but also keep broken plays alive and result in big gains in the passing game.
NFL Network reporter Albert Breer took to Twitter to express his thoughts about Golson's play, specifically in the Irish's 22-13 win over arch-rival and preseason No. 1 USC:
Everett Golson has certainly opened my eyes ... By far the best I've seen him play.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 25, 2012
Also noteworthy is how well Golson takes care of the football—something that will be extremely important against either Alabama or Georgia. He has thrown just two interceptions in the past two months, which has been a big part of why he has remained in the lineup lately.
Head coach Brian Kelly has completely handed the reins to Golson, and rightly so.
Having stability at the game's most important position will be vital, since the Crimson Tide have steely signal-caller AJ McCarron and the Bulldogs have NFL-caliber QB Aaron Murray.
Kelly has made a two-quarterback system work before in Cincinnati, where he had the luxury of pocket-based Tony Pike and dynamic scrambler Zach Collaros at his disposal. But it's clear who the man for the Notre Dame job is. It's Golson.
Seeing as how Bama is the SEC favorite, it is worth noting that the Tide's only loss of 2012 came in Tuscaloosa, where Texas A&M dual-threat quarterback Johnny Manziel devastated them both running and throwing.
Whether Golson can do similar damage remains to be seen. But even if Georgia upsets the Tide, that's why he's the X-factor.
Either defense will have to account for Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and even George Atkinson III coming out of the Irish backfield, and anything Golson can contribute on the ground.
His passing—or lack thereof—will decide the BCS national championship. It wouldn't be wise to bet against him, not just because of the luck of the Irish, but because Golson and this Notre Dame team are actually legitimate. Underestimated all season, the Irish are likely to be underdogs despite holding the top ranking.
Golson certainly seems ready, as was documented in an AP report published by Newsday: "As far as I'm concerned, my head is down, my foot's on the gas, I'm never going to look up and lose focus...My thing is just keep your head down and keep pushing it."
He will be driving the physical, punishing Notre Dame offense in Sun Life Stadium on January 7 against some tough-as-nails SEC defense.
Expect Golson to put the pedal to the floor and perhaps pull off the improbable one final time.