While it was quite a circuitous process, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will have a familiar face at quarterback despite the absence of incumbent starter Everett Golson, who was dismissed for the fall semester due to an academic blunder, via ESPN.com.
The Lake Forest, Ill. native saw his role diminished last season due to Golson's ascension of the depth chart, though he acted as a "closer" of sorts late in narrow victories against Purdue, Michigan and Stanford.
But with Rees back in the driver's seat of the Irish offense, reacquainting ourselves with the former starter is useful.
Weight: 215 pounds
The Tommy Rees saga at Notre Dame formally began when former quarterback Dayne Crist suffered a torn left patellar tendon during the first quarter of the Irish's eventual 28-27 loss to Tulsa on Oct. 31, 2010.
A true freshman at the time, Rees relieved Crist and finished the afternoon with a Notre Dame freshman-record 334 passing yards.
Following the loss, the Irish owned an abysmal 4-5 record and learned that they would be without Crist for the remainder of the season, effectively handing the keys of the offense to an unproven freshman.
Despite Rees' youth and lack of experience, he guided the Irish to four consecutive victories, including a 33-17 win against Miami in the Sun Bowl that brought Kelly and Co. to a final record of 8-5. But with Crist slated to make a full recovery in time for spring ball, a quarterback competition was undoubtedly in the works.
Having remained neck and neck through spring ball, Crist and Rees entered fall camp as fierce competitors for the starting job, though Kelly eventually awarded Crist the job one week prior to Notre Dame's opening game of the 2011 season against South Florida. Via Hayden Moore of Irish Sports Daily:
"Both of those young men, I mean Dayne and Tommy Rees, had a great battle for that starting position, but Dayne will be our starter. I expect him to be our starter for 13 weeks.”
However, it was quickly learned that Kelly may not always be a man of his word after he benched Crist in favor of Rees following a first half which ended with the Bulls holding a stunning 16-0 lead over the Irish.
During the second half alone, Rees completed 24 of 34 passing attempts for 296 yards and two touchdowns, while also committing two turnovers, both interceptions.
While the effort didn't result in an Irish victory—South Florida won, 23-20, in shocking fashion—it earned Rees the starting job for the following week's game at Michigan, as well as for the remainder of the season.
Quickly earning approval from the fanbase, Rees slowly but surely saw the celebratory praises of his efforts transform into the unmistakable ire of Irish fans far and wide after accounting for 19 of the team's 29 turnovers during the course of the season, earning him the moniker of "Tommy Turnover."
Matters for Rees worsened, as freshman quarterback Everett Golson—a more mobile, athletic alternative—was gaining steam as the favorite to usurp Rees as the team's starter entering the 2012 season.
It was a prophetic notion, as Golson won the job and started 11 of the Irish's 13 games, including the BCS National Championship Game.
After that incredible run, it was difficult to imagine Rees resurfacing as a starting quarterback at the collegiate level, but fate has quite peculiar way of flipping a situation on its head. In June, it was announced that Golson was suspended for the fall semester for what he deemed "poor academic judgment," opening the door for Rees.
For all the negativity surrounding Rees' abilities as a quarterback, there are positive aspects and things to like.
First and foremost, Rees' moxie is an intangible trait that is rarely appreciated.
While he's not former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana, Rees has displayed the type of composure in the pocket that earned Montana the nickname "Joe Cool."
One particular moment during last season's 30-13 victory at Oklahoma perfectly displayed that quality found in Rees (please fast forward to the 4:22 mark of the video).
With 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter and the Irish facing a 3rd-and-8 from the Sooners' 42-yard line, Rees entered the game for the first time, after spending the better part of the first 45 minutes of the game on the sideline.
Here, Rees analyzed Oklahoma's defensive formation and quickly identified single coverage on former Irish tight end Tyler Eifert. Stepping up to the offensive line, Rees communicated the audible—a pass to Eifert—before taking the snap and calmly delivering a first down throw to keep the chains moving deeper into Oklahoma territory.
Considering the circumstances—the Irish held a four-point advantage late in the game in a hostile road environment against a Top 10 team—that third-down conversion, no matter how minuscule, was one of many small yet critical moments during Notre Dame's undefeated 2012 regular season.
Sept. 7 at Michigan
Two years ago, then-19-year-old Tommy Rees started for the Irish in front of an NCAA-record 114,804 fans in attendance at Michigan Stadium. The Irish suffered a shocking 35-31 defeat at the hands of the Wolverines, largely due in part to Rees' three turnovers.
This season's matchup serves as a shot at redemption for both Notre Dame and Rees.
Oct. 19 vs. USC
Entering these teams' 2011 matchup, Rees had led the Irish to four consecutive victories after beginning the season 0-2. The game was being played under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 1990. Yet Rees had a forgettable performance, completing 23 of 37 passing attempts for 190 yards and one interception during a disheartening 31-17 loss to the Trojans.
Rees will have yet another chance for redemption, once again under the lights versus the Trojans.
Nov. 30 at Stanford
The Cardinal will surely remember Rees, as he saved the day for the Irish during last season's meeting, entering the game in overtime and delivering what would prove to be the winning touchdown pass to TJ Jones.
However, Stanford head coach David Shaw surely remembers Rees' performance at Stanford Stadium two years ago, when he committed two turnovers and was benched during the second quarter.
A major focal point of the griping about Rees' athleticism, or lack thereof, has centered on his mobility.
It's a commonly known fact that Rees won't outrun defenders or stretch the field as a threat to move the chains, but from head coach Brian Kelly's comments in his press conference Friday, that part of Rees' game has improved.
#NotreDame HC Brian Kelly on Tommy Rees: “He’s kept some plays alive that he’s not been able to do in the past.”— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) August 9, 2013
While this may turn out to be nothing but pure coach speak, any improvement from Rees in the athleticism department would be significant for an offense that was shown glimpses last season of what a mobile quarterback can provide.
Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune also noted this change in Rees' game during a live look-in at Notre Dame's practice last week, though he also witnessed Rees throw an interception.
QB Tommy Rees moved better,scrambled well but got picked by Lo Wood on a deep pass to DaVaris Daniels....— Eric Hansen (@hansenNDInsider) August 9, 2013
Not much can be gleaned from a turnover committed during fall camp. However, learning that Rees is throwing the ball on the run is a revelation itself—he struggled mightily in that aspect of the game as a sophomore in 2011.
Any improvement made by Rees hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates, either.
Receiver DaVaris Daniels, a likely starter for the Irish this season, has the utmost confidence in the senior signal-caller, via Jim Johnston of WNDU.com.
"His confidence is through the roof," Daniels said. "I know he feels the pressure and everything, but Tommy thrives in those situations."
Tommy Rees' 2011 stat line appears to be sparkling at first glance: 2,871 passing yards, a 65.5 percent completion percentage and 20 touchdowns.
However, the final figure of that stat line reads 14 interceptions.
If Rees can curtail his penchant for turnovers—don't forget he accounted for 19 of Notre Dame's 29 turnovers in 2011—the Irish will see an improved offense and more scores to be had.
Assuming that Rees is an improved quarterback during the 2013 season, it can be widely expected that Rees' numbers will have a sterling shine by the season finale at Stanford Nov. 30.
Following are my predicted stats for Rees, barring injury or suspension: 3,150 passing yards, 66.7 completion percentage, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
And for those interested, I believe Rees' total amount of turnovers will amount to 10—eight interceptions and two fumbles.