If there was ever a season Brian Kelly was going to stick to one quarterback, it would be this one.
Once a decision is made during fall camp, that is the decision that should stick, whether the results are as magical as previous years, or whether things take a turn for the worse, like Charlie Weis still coaching the squad.
Kelly is still hopeful Everett Golson can return to the team at some point, but almost all hope is lost when discussing this season. That leaves Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Malik Zaire as the options to lead this offense. Knowing Kelly, he would love to play all of them at different points in the game and hope he can continue to push the right buttons to rack up the victories.
The truth is that is much easier said than done.
In an article written last week, a solid 43 percent of 2,000-plus voters believed that playing Zaire right away would be the best bet for Notre Dame. Of course, this would mean burning his redshirt and using a full year of eligibility on a quarterback who is considered to be the future. If the coaching staff decides to make such a bold statement, flip-flopping between quarterbacks would seem pointless.
If Zaire does in fact win the starting job, it would mean he provided enough for everybody to believe he has the goods to get the job done. While the experience on the field would prove to be valuable for the young quarterback, you would be foolish to use a year of eligibility for a part-time playing role. You either roll the dice with Zaire for the entire season and let him learn from his mistakes, or you sit him out and let him get completely comfortable with the playbook.
There can't be any in-between in the decision with Zaire. He is either the starter for the Irish or he is the guy holding the clipboard and won't be heard from until the 2014 season. The choice should be made before the season begins, and that door shouldn't open once an official decision is made. The Irish have a potential elite player at the position and handling him with care is crucial to the team's future success.
This now leaves Notre Dame with Hendrix and Rees.
Quick question: Is there much of a difference between the two? Both have been with the program since 2010, know the playbook inside-out and are capable of leading the team to wins. Rees has proven to be better in smaller roles, while Hendrix hasn't even been given a chance at that. Still, his dual-threat playing style and strong arm have always been intriguing.
Both have different skill sets, but neither is a quarterback that jumps off the screen when watching them play. There isn't a difference maker between the two, and you get the feeling that there won't be much of a difference in performance if either is named the starter. Hendrix has potential, but so does Rees. Irish fans may not want to hear it, but he did play a valuable role in last year's success and has shown he can be a decent option when he isn't completing passes to the other team.
Although Hendrix does have upside and could surprise folks in fall camp, he was never able to impress coaches enough to move up the depth chart in his career. It raises the question of whether he could truly go from being a career backup to the starting quarterback of a team with BCS hopes.
Quarterback wasn't the reason Notre Dame finished with an undefeated record, and it wasn't going to play a huge factor in this year's success, either. Unless Zaire catches fire and shows he's ready, there won't be an improvement at the position, and there certainly isn't anybody left for the offense to write home about.
This is a team that will continue to rely heavily on the running game and defense. It doesn't matter who the quarterback is going to be, and that was even the case when Golson was the projected starter this season. Last season's Notre Dame squad threw the ball 388 times but ran 506 times. Regardless of who the starter is, you can expect to see a similar heavily run-first offense.
The Irish are dealing with a true-freshman who may be redshirted and then two other quarterbacks who aren't exactly Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen. It won't make a world of difference no matter which direction the coaching staff decides to go.
For the first time in his coaching career, Kelly needs to make a quarterback decision and stick with it.