Notre Dame Football: 5 Toughest QBs the Irish Will Battle in 2013

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2013

Notre Dame Football: 5 Toughest QBs the Irish Will Battle in 2013

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    Type the words "Notre Dame" and "Quarterback" into Google, and you'll find a catalog of articles about Everett Golson or Tommy Rees. That makes sense—both of them are Notre Dame football players and both of them play the position.

    However, the quarterbacks set to define Notre Dame's season don't all wear a golden dome.

    Twelve other signal-callers—at an absolute minimum—will line up against Notre Dame in 2013, and between injuries, mid-game replacements and a potential bowl game, it's almost guaranteed to be even more than that.

    How Notre Dame fares in 2013 will revolve primarily around how its defense handles those opposing quarterbacks. This is a scary prospect.

    Irrespective of how talented said defense is, some of the names on the schedule will be tough to stop.

    Here are five in particular who might give Notre Dame trouble.

5. Blake Bell, Oklahoma

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    Bell is a unique physical specimen, standing a legit 6'6'' but possessing blue-chip mobility. He's only thrown 20 passes in his two seasons backing up Landry Jones, but has rushed for 372 yards and 24(!) touchdowns during that span.

    Now expected to start, though, Bell will have to prove himself without the security blanket of his "Belldozer" package. Oklahoma is counting on him to succeed not just inside either 20, but between them.

    If he proves up to the task, the Sooners could have yet another explosive offense in 2013.

    Bell looked good in the Oklahoma spring game, completing 14-of-23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. It won't mean much until he proves it in a regular-season game, but those numbers are enough to at least put opposing defenses on alert.

4. Cody Kessler/Max Wittek/Max Browne, USC

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    USC would love for one guy to step up and seize the job under center, but too many quarterbacks is a good problem to have.

    Whoever wins the three-way competition between Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne will be put into an enviable spot. Marqise Lee is the best wide receiver in the country and Nelson Agholor is probably the best No. 2.

    Wittek has the in-game experience after relieving an injured Matt Barkley at the end of last season.

    Kessler had the best spring game, throwing for 242 yards and three touchdowns.

    Browne has the freshest pedigree, finishing with the highest composite ranking among 2013 pro-style quarterbacks.

    We do not know who will start in Week 1, and even if we did, there's no guarantee they'd still be under center come October 19th.

    Nevertheless, any one of these guys would be a top-five QB on Notre Dame's schedule.

3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

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    Kelly was a revelation in 2012, emerging from seemingly nowhere to throw for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns.

    In 2010, two members of this list occupied the top two spots of 247Sports' dual-threat QB rankings.

    Taylor Kelly was ranked No. 54.

    That seems beside the point now, and in the "What have you done for me lately?" world of college football, Kelly is among the best in the nation. His decision-making got him in trouble last season, but that should get better with experience. Physically, he looked like the real deal.

    Mike Norvell is one of the hottest young coordinators in football and should be able to keep the Sun Devils offense—14th in the nation in scoring offense last year—rolling around Kelly in 2013.

2. Kevin Hogan, Stanford

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    Much like his coach, David Shaw, who had the unenviable task of replacing Jim Harbaugh, Kevin Hogan was forced to follow a Stanford legend. At least at the end of the season.

    The results were sunny after Hogan took over the starting job—not enough to make Cardinal fans forget Andrew Luck (nothing ever will), but at least providing them with an ample distraction from his absence.

    He only threw one pass—a nine-yard completion to Levine Toilolo—in the Cardinal's first eight games, but led them down a remarkable stretch thereafter. He completed 70 percent of his passes in three of his six starts and 60-plus in the others.

    All six were Stanford wins, including a 20-14 defeat of Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

    With perhaps the nation's top line blocking in front of him, Hogan should only get better in 2013. That's bad news for all the Cardinal's opponents—especially those, like Notre Dame, who harbor national title aspirations.

1. Devin Gardner, Michigan

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    Denard Robinson was relieved of his quarterbacking duties for a myriad of reasons last year. An elbow injury was nagging him, his passing deficiencies became catastrophic and, after four years spent chasing him around the pocket, Big Ten coaches simply caught up.

    But more than anything else, the guy behind Robinson on the depth chart was really, really good.

    Devin Gardner threw for 1,219 yards on just 126 passes last year, good for a gaudy average of 9.7 yards per attempt. More importantly, he allowed Brady Hoke to open up the playbook, look downfield and dial up passes on every single down.

    The Irish will have their hands full trying to slow Gardner down, especially with left tackle Taylor Lewan protecting his blind side. The pressure they're used to providing might not be available in Ann Arbor.