The Fighting Irish were heading into the summer with national title aspirations, but those came to a screeching halt with the suspension of Everett Golson for the fall semester.
When news dropped on ESPN.com that Golson was suspended for the 2013 fall term for “poor academic judgment” the Notre Dame national title odds dropped to 40/1, via Bovada, and quarterback immediately became Brian Kelly’s biggest concern heading the fall.
Replacing All-American Manti Te’o was the major focus for the program, but now it has shifted to quarterback.
There are a pile of bodies with experience, but none match the skill of Golson.
Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees will be the primary contenders for the starting job, with true freshman Malik Zaire pushing as an outside challenger. Hendrix and Rees bring experience while Zaire brings the most talent to the table.
Brian Kelly has not shied away from starting a young star—Golson was a redshirt freshman last fall—so Zaire will start the summer on a level playing field. Still, experience should win out.
The easy choice for starter is Tommy Rees.
Rees was the starter for the Irish during the 2011 season and guided the program to an eight-win season. There were some hiccups to start the year with losses coming against South Florida and Michigan, but he performed well as a freshman.
He had the edge heading into last fall, but he failed to secure the job. He is a steady pocket passer who has a live arm. He knows the offense, but he has been a sporadic passer in the past, throwing to the opposing team too often.
If Rees can protect the football he is the safe answer, but Hendrix isn’t far behind.
Hendrix has been a career backup since arriving in South Bend. He is a dual threat like Golson, but he has accuracy issues.
Having a dual-threat quarterback running the offense adds a dimension to the Irish offense, but Hendrix’s inability to keep the ball safe makes him a darkhorse for the starting job.
Hendrix will likely finish his career as the backup to Rees.
Behind the upperclassmen sits Malik Zaire. Zaire was an early enrollee and has gotten an early look at the offense. Spending all spring and summer in the program is a plus, but there are nuances of the offense that will take time to pick up.
Zaire would be limited to start the year, but his athleticism would give the offense an extra dimension. Is it worth starting a freshman?
At this point the answer is no. Unless a drastic shift happens this offseason, Zaire will not be the starter.
The battle to replace Golson has a pile of questions with no clear answers.
All three bring a lot of positives, but the negatives have Kelly staying late at the office. This program was looking for another invite to the BCS National Championship Game, but now the chances look bleak.
Find a starter and things could change. Until then it’s a toss-up.