Welcomed changes await the Notre Dame offense when the calendar flips to 2014.
With the team's struggles this season—the Irish rank 71st nationally in scoring offense—the outset of the 2014 season couldn't come soon enough.
While incumbent starting quarterback Tommy Rees has performed admirably in four years at Notre Dame—the Lake Forest, Ill., native owns a 21-7 career record as a starter—his physical limitations are well-documented and have prevented head coach Brian Kelly from operating his ideal vision of the spread offense with variations of the read-option sprinkled in.
Thus, it is at the quarterback position where the Irish offense will experience its most drastic change in 2014.
Beginning with spring practices, Notre Dame will have its first so-called quarterback "controversy" on its hands, when former starter Everett Golson, who was expelled for cheating in May and is in the midst of a season-long banishment, will battle Malik Zaire to reclaim his former job.
Regardless of who wins that competition, the Irish offense will be of the new-look variety starting with their opening game of the 2014 season against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium.
What both Golson and Zaire possess that Rees doesn't is mobility, which would allow Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin to move the ball down the field in a much more efficient manner than they were able to with Rees; because both Zaire and Golson are rushing threats, the Irish are afforded the opportunity to run the read-option, keeping defenses honest.
Thus, the offense will be capable of converting third downs at a more consistent rate—Notre Dame ranks 60th nationally in third-down conversions this season at a clip of .409 percent.
This condition does include one caveat, though.
Whichever quarterback is selected as the starter by the coaching staff, he'll need to prove capable of beating defenses down the field as a passer, which includes accuracy on fade routes, deep outs, posts, etc.
Should Golson or Zaire display consistency in that area, Notre Dame's deep stable of running backs will see daylight in running lanes that wouldn't be open against a stacked box, a defensive strategy that has dominated the Irish's rushing attack thus far in the 2013 season.
With running backs George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, Tarean Folston, Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant each slated to return next season, the Irish will possess a wealth of talent at the position, though sorting out the pecking order remains a process in flux.
The production from the unit will be largely dependent on how the left side of the offensive line gels, as incumbent starters Chris Watt and Zack Martin are each in their final seasons of eligibility.
Should Watt and Martin's replacements—assumed to be Steve Elmer at tackle and Hunter Bivin at guard—strike a rhythm quickly, the Irish's rushing attack could very well be an improved unit from the current version.
Will Notre Dame's offense be an improved unit in 2014?
Whichever duo or trio of backs receives the lion's share of the carries, it's production will also open the door for the Irish to hit their perimeter weapons on play action; receivers Will Fuller, DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu should each be consistent contributors in the passing game.
With a plethora of talent and experience returning for the 2014 season, Kelly may finally deliver the type of high-scoring, high-octane offense fans expected when the fourth-year head coach was hired.