The Notre Dame community was hit with an earthquake this weekend when it was announced that starting quarterback Everett Golson was no longer enrolled at the university. Just like that, it seemed that everything the team worked so hard for was instantly thrown out the window. Blow everything up and prepare for a year of mediocrity, right?
Not so fast. Before we declare this season lost, we must take a look at the remaining options at quarterback.
Tommy Rees is the only one with any starting experience. Andrew Hendrix has starting potential, and true freshman Malik Zaire is considered the future of the program. In fact, he may have a better skill set than Golson.
Even with that high praise of Zaire, it was expected that head coach Brian Kelly was going to redshirt the young man and allow him more than enough time to learn the ropes. But things are different now that Golson is no longer part of the team and will miss the 2013 season.
Or are they?
Don't expect to see Zaire anytime soon. But this is Kelly we're talking about, a guy who changes quarterbacks like a fugitive changes hiding locations, Kelly could end up giving every quarterback a shot during the season, including Louis Nix on special occasions. But the smart thing to do is not to panic and go with the two experienced players on the roster.
In situations like this, the Irish are blessed to have an experienced quarterback. Rees has been with the team going on four years. He knows the playbook inside and out, has earned the trust of his teammates and has proven at times that he can get the job done. Sure, a full-time starting role isn't ideal, as Rees is more like the closer than the starter. He works better in short spurts.
However, Hendrix may be the answer in all of this. A big-bodied kid at 6'2", 200 pounds, Hendrix has been the forgotten man in South Bend for years. He has only 44 pass attempts in his career and has never received any consideration for a starting job.
That likely changes this fall camp. He has the requisite size and arm strength, and he is mobile enough to make plays with his feet when nothing is there. Also, considering he has been with the team since 2010, he knows the playbook and shouldn't have a problem transitioning into a starting role. He is athletic enough to run the option and can throw the ball with extreme velocity.
A combination of Hendrix and Rees should get the job done, even if it may not be as pretty as imagining Golson maturing into a superstar quarterback and becoming a Heisman candidate. But last season wasn't exactly sexy, and the Irish still were able to reach the national championship game. Which leads to another point.
Why are we even having this conversation?
While quarterback of Notre Dame is one of the most scrutinized positions in college football, it wasn't going to be the reason for this team's success. This team will continue to be built on defense and should remain elite because eight starters on that side of the ball are coming back. There are also a plethora of running backs, including two talented freshmen in Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
Would you start Malik Zaire this season?
Regardless of who the starting QB was going to be this season, the recipe for success was going to remain defense and the improved running game. It was the formula for last season's undefeated run and trip to the promised land.
Golson wasn't much of a difference-maker last season anyway, throwing just 12 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing less than 60 percent of his passes. He also needed Rees to bail him out several times, due to poor decision-making and not making enough plays within the offense. Notre Dame isn't being asked to replace Dan Marino or Peyton Manning. It's replacing a quarterback who has potential to develop into something great, but hasn't quite gotten there yet.
Zaire should still hold on to his redshirt regardless of how bad things may get. Even if Rees and Hendrix aren't good enough to win double-digit games this season and things do start to go south, do you really think a true freshman would do any better being thrown into the lion's den? Sure, Johnny Manziel and others have shocked us before, but those guys don't come around very often and typically don't play a tough Irish schedule.
The idea of having a game-changer at quarterback this season does make Irish fans salivate, but letting Zaire learn the ropes and mature is the best bet for him and the future of this team. The last thing Notre Dame needs is for a promising prospect to have his confidence rattled because he couldn't live up to expectations in his first season fresh out of high school.
The success this season wasn't going to start at quarterback, regardless of whether Golson was on the roster or not. The plan to redshirt Zaire should remain intact.