One of the nation’s most captivating quarterback battles is still more than a year away.
As Notre Dame preps for the fall without its starting QB from a season ago, the long-term answer at the position remains a mystery. Everett Golson was supposed to be the solution, as his glimpses of greatness from 2012 were to serve as merely an appetizer for things to come.
“Poor academic judgment” derailed those plans earlier this offseason, however, and Golson’s academic misstep led to his departure from the team for the 2013 season.
Speaking with the South Carolina television station WPDE NewsChannel 15 this past weekend, Golson confirmed that he plans to return to Notre Dame in the spring of 2014.
His return could solve the QB puzzle. Or, perhaps the solution is already there, simply waiting for a chance.
Golson’s departure wasn’t Notre Dame’s only quarterback casualty of the offseason. Former blue-chip recruit Gunner Kiel transferred to Cincinnati , assuming his time under center would never come, shortly before the Golson news crossed the wire.
Suddenly, in a matter of weeks, a position of strength, youth and incredible depth was undone. Even with the offseason developments, it won’t be without options a full calendar year from now.
Enter Tommy Rees: quarterback Band-Aid and familiar face suiting up for one last hurrah.
Rees returns for his 13th season with the Irish—OK, it hasn’t been that long, but it feels that way—and his presence is a blessing given the circumstances.
The term “game manager” will be beaten to death while describing Rees and his potential impact, although he could prove to be much more than that despite his limited skill set. Regardless of how effective or ineffective he is, the 2013 season will be his last.
Seriously, this is (finally) it.
Andrew Hendrix, who will likely start the year as the backup, could return for a fifth year of eligibility next season. This season could also be the last we see of him, if we see him at all.
Hendrix is without question a superb athlete, although his time as a starter no longer feels imminent like it once did, even with the openings. His future beyond this season is still up in the air.
So, given the departures and uncertainty following 2013, Golson appears all but locked in as the starter if—and that’s still a substantial "if"—his return goes as planned.
Not so fast, my friend.
A quarterback who has yet to take a snap at the college level (and another who has yet to officially commit) could have something to say about this.
Malik Zaire, a talented southpaw already being touted as Notre Dame’s potential quarterback of the future, could get his chance before 2014. If that’s the case—and even if it’s not—he could be named the starter a year from now.
Although the buzz surrounding Zaire has been building since he enrolled early in 2013, news of his recruitment was surprisingly quiet, at least by Notre Dame standards. Part of this lackluster intrigue stems from his absence on national signing day, since he chose instead to enroll early in January.
The other contributing factor is his size, coming in at only 6’0” on 247Sports.
"Zaire is what you'd call a talent-maximizing prospect. Whatever he can be, that's what he's going to be,” said J.C. Shurburtt, the National Recruiting Director for 247Sports. “He’s certainly not the biggest quarterback in the country, but he’s not tiny, either. He has a good arm—not a great one—and he’s above average with his feet.”
Barring injury, Zaire will start the fall as an observer. This could change in an instant, especially with Brian Kelly’s proneness to go to his quarterback bullpen without much warning.
Golson knows this quite well, as does Rees.
How Rees performs as a starter, however, could actually shape the quarterback race for the following year. And, yes, Rees, in a peculiar way, could see his influence live on well after he’s gone.
Zaire may never see the field this season. If Rees struggles or the team is in need of a spark, however, the freshman’s playing career could begin much sooner.
Who Will be Notre Dame's Starting QB in 2014?
What happens next could provide an early indication of what’s ahead, in one direction or another.
Notre Dame has also landed the verbal commitment of 2014 quarterback DeShone Kizer, a 6’5” pro-style QB with a massive arm who is a break away from the classic Kelly mold.
He could add further youth and intrigue to a position that will reload in 2014, putting Kelly in a favorable but difficult position. It's a situation that does not concern him yet, especially with fall camp just a few weeks away and his options for the upcoming season in place.
Projecting quarterbacks at every level is perplexing, and deciphering a potential depth chart of QBs a year in advance could prove to be inconsequential. After all, just look at the attrition Notre Dame has had at the position in one offseason.
It's miles away, but the scenario is forming.
Golson’s return will undoubtedly be greeted with extreme confidence that he will retain his starting role. He will provide the best arm of all options, and his trip to the BCS National Championship Game could be the deciding factor, at least right now.
But he will have company, and while he waits for his opportunity to return, Zaire could get his chance in 2013. Golson’s return will be fantastic news for Notre Dame regardless of how Zaire performs, but the competition to regain his stranglehold on the starting quarterback role will be anything but a given.
*Adam Kramer is the lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.