At this time a year ago, Notre Dame's 2012 schedule was expected to be one of the most difficult schedules that the Irish had ever faced. That was due in large part to the number of quality quarterbacks that the Irish were supposed to face last season—a list that included Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Stephen Morris, Riley Nelson and Denard Robinson.
As it turned out, Barkley missed the game against the Irish, Jones was inconsistent all season, and Nelson and Robinson were both benched during the season.
The 2013 schedule looks much more manageable in terms of the quarterbacks that they are expected to face, but perhaps the breaks the Irish caught last fall will not be there in 2013.
From No. 12 to No. 1, let's look at the rankings of the 12 quarterbacks who will challenge the Irish defense next season—a defense that finished the regular season as the best in the country in terms of points allowed.
Troy Calhoun’s Falcons must deal with their second new quarterback in as many years, as Connor Dietz departs after just one season as the starter in Colorado Springs.
Pearson appeared in 10 games last season, though, rushing for 49 yards and throwing for 128 in limited duty.
Pearson is under six-feet tall and played mostly as a wide receiver and Wildcat quarterback in high school. Speed isn’t much of a concern, but mastering the triple-option may be. After a poor close to the 2012 season, don’t be surprised if Calhoun looks for different ways to take advantage of Pearson’s skill set instead of a strictly triple-option attack.
A game at LaVell Edwards Stadium is as picturesque of a setting as there is in college football, but the BYU offense was often painful to watch in 2012.
Riley Nelson struggled early on after a strong 2011 season, with Hill seeing significant playing time in a three-game stretch against Boise State, Hawaii and Utah State before an LCL injury cost him the remainder of the season.
He should be able to participate in spring practice, albeit in a non-contact role. Hill finished his freshman season with 425 yards in the air and 336 in the ground, most of them coming in the 49-0 rout of Hawaii.
Like many Cougars, Hill spent time on a Mormon mission, so he’ll be a 22-year-old sophomore this fall.
Notre Dame and Temple will open the 2013 season on Aug. 31 at Notre Dame Stadium, with Coyer, a fifth-year senior, expected to lead the Owls in coach Matt Rhule’s debut.
It will be the third offensive system in four seasons for Coyer, who took over as the starter in the middle of the 2011 season. He finished his first full season as a starter with just 946 yards passing and eight touchdowns before being benched for the final two games.
Despite the benching, Coyer remains the favorite to regain the starting role, as Rhule recruited Coyer during his time as an Owls assistant. Clinton Granger, who started the final two games of 2012, is also in the mix, but Coyer’s experience in big games should help make him Rhule’s ultimate choice to face the Irish to begin 2013.
There will be a competition in the Steel City to replace three-year starter and oft-criticized quarterback Tino Sunseri.
Chad Voytik, who redshirted in 2012, will battle junior Trey Anderson and well-traveled transfer Tom Savage for the vacant role. The call here is for Voytik—a Tennessee native who stuck with his commitment to the Panthers even after Todd Graham left for Arizona State—to win the job.
Despite being a bit undersized at 6’0”, Voytik is fast enough to get outside of the pocket, where his stature is less of a detriment. He’ll have leading receiver Devin Street back, along with dynamic sophomore running back Rushel Shell.
Another benefit for Pittsburgh is that Notre Dame doesn’t come to Heinz Field until Nov. 9, giving Voytik plenty of time to mature before facing the Irish.
We knew that Michigan State would miss Kirk Cousins last season, but we didn’t think they’d miss him that much. The Spartans plummeted from 11-3 to 7-6. This was not all due to the drop in quarterback play, however, Maxwell left a lot to be desired, especially in the team's 20-3 loss to Notre Dame in East Lansing.
Maxwell finished his junior year with just 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and now, he must make do without having Le’Veon Bell to hand the ball off to. He failed to complete 50 percent of his passes in each of the team’s final four games, which is an alarming statistic for a conservative offense.
If there’s a silver lining for Sparty, it’s that Maxwell was better on the road than at home, and next year’s meeting with the Irish is in South Bend.
Playing quarterback as a true freshman is difficult at any school, but perhaps no more so than at Navy, where freshmen are adjusting to the grind of academy life as well.
Reynolds, a Nashville native, stepped in for an injured Trey Miller in early October and led the Midshipmen to a 7-2 finish, including recapturing the prestigious Commander-in-Chief Trophy.
While the Mids will once again run their triple-option attack next season, Reynolds is at least serviceable as a passer. He threw nine touchdowns to just two interceptions in 2012, and completed a 49-yard pass to set up his game-winning touchdown run in the final minutes to defeat Army.
The three-year quarterback derby at Purdue is finally over with the departures of Robert Marve and Caleb Terbush. The job is now Henry’s, a fifth-year senior who has had to overcome a torn ACL which cost him the 2011 season.
Despite the knee injury, Henry is a threat with his legs, having amassed over 600 yards on the ground in his career. The Florida native is far from the prototypical Division I quarterback, but he has overachieved to get where he is.
Notre Dame fans got a glimpse of Wittek last season when USC was forced to start the redshirt freshman against the top-ranked Fighting Irish. While he made his share of freshman mistakes in the 22-13 Notre Dame victory, Wittek also displayed reasons why the Trojans are so high on his future. That was especially true when he threw a beautiful deep pass to Marqise Lee during a drive that ultimately ended in Notre Dame’s “goal line stand for the ages.”
Wittek should be much improved by the time USC makes its biennial pilgrimage to the Midwest in mid-October, and he will again have Lee at his disposal. He’ll have to improve his effectiveness outside of the pocket to reach the level of predecessor Matt Barkley, but the tools are there for Wittek to lead the Trojans back to the top of the Pac-12.
Notre Dame caught a break by avoiding Hogan in 2012, who did not take over for Josh Nunes until after the two teams staged an overtime thriller in South Bend in mid-October. Hogan led the Cardinal to six straight wins to close out the season, including a monumental upset of No. 2 Oregon at Autzen Stadium.
Hogan brought a new wrinkle to the Cardinal offense, as his mobility allowed the running game to expand into more than just Stepfan Taylor. With Taylor departing, Hogan will be even more involved in the running game in 2013. He’s an effective passer as well, and completed at least 60 percent of his passes in all seven starts last season.
An 8-5 finish was a pleasant surprise for Arizona State in Todd Graham’s first season in the desert. There weren’t any notable victories, but the Sun Devils offense adjusted much better to Graham’s system than Pittsburgh did in his one season there in 2011. Kelly wasn’t the favorite to win the job coming into the fall, but he took command early and never relinquished the starting role.
He finished his sophomore season ranked No. 9 in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 67 percent of his passes and throwing 29 touchdowns. He had six games with at least three touchdown passes and will test what should be an improved—but still young—Notre Dame secondary when the teams do battle in Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 5.
The Irish got their first taste of the “Belldozer” last season in Norman, when Bell scored the first rushing touchdown against Notre Dame all season. With Landry Jones off to the NFL, Bell will go from short-yardage specialist to every-down quarterback.
He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but he is more fundamentally sound than one would expect based on how he was used in his first two seasons in Norman. His 6’6” frame is his biggest asset, and he’ll again present a challenge for the Irish defensive front.
The Sept. 28 game in South Bend will be Bell’s first road start.
The rising junior took over for Denard Robinson at midseason in 2012, guiding the Wolverines to a 3-1 finish in the Big Ten and a near upset of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. He finished the season 75-for-126 for 1,219 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
With good size, a strong arm, and mobility, Gardner has drawn comparisons to another No. 12—former Philadelphia Eagles QB Randall Cunningham. Gardner allows offensive coordinator Al Borges to run more of his preferred system than he could under Robinson.
Despite just five career starts, Gardner is the real deal.