Notre Dame fans can be forgiven for looking ahead: past Dec. 28's Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers and toward the 2014 season, when Tommy Rees will be gone and Everett Golson will be back under center for the Irish.
Golson led Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game as a redshirt freshman in 2012, but he was suspended from the university for academic reasons this May. On Friday, however, he was re-enrolled in the university, and he has spent this past season working with quarterback guru George Whitfield, so the year has not gone completely to waste.
Because of his return and his supposed improvement, Notre Dame fans are understandably bullish about what next season might bear. Perhaps a little too bullish. So bullish, in fact, that if you search "Everett Golson Heisman" on Twitter, you find more than a handful of genuine support.
But that might be a little too far.
This is nothing against Golson, who was actually somehow underrated in leading Notre Dame to the national title game last season. More attention was focused on Manti Te'o and the Irish defense, but the offense was actually the only top-10 unit on the team, according to Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings.
If he comes back improved next season—and even if he doesn't—Golson should be able to lead this team at a very high level. But the offense doesn't exactly need saving. Even with Rees under center, according to this year's F/+ rankings, the Irish have the 16th-best offense in America.
In the past two years, only six other teams have placed in the top-16 in offensive F/+ twice: Alabama, Oregon, Texas A&M, Baylor, Ohio State and Georgia. Check out the numbers that the quarterbacks of those offenses have produced, compared to Notre Dame's:
|Team Quarterback Stats (2012-2013)|
|Team||Passing Yards||Rushing Yards||Total Yards||Total TD|
Fair or not—hint: the answer is not—the Heisman Trophy is an award that is predicated on statistics. Without meeting certain benchmarks and crossing certain thresholds, there is no way a player can win.
If anything else were the case, wouldn't Golson have been a candidate in 2012?
The argument against that would be AJ McCarron's candidacy in 2013, playing in an offense that puts up similar numbers to Notre Dame's. But that, I fear, might have been the exception that proves the rule. This was a fluky year with just one true Heisman candidate, allowing a guy with McCarron's numbers to finish second as some sort of career achievement recognition.
In normal years, which there's no reason to believe 2014 won't be, a quarterback in Brian Kelly's offense will not put up enough stats to win the Heisman. Unless Kelly changes his offense, that is; but why would he do that? Despite its methodical pace and deflated quarterback stats, Notre Dame is on that rarefied list of most efficient offenses since 2012.
There is no need for a change.
The guy who wins the Heisman will likely be the quarterback of one those teams—the type that actually does put up giant passing stats. Jameis Winston will be back at Florida State; Marcus Mariota will be back at Oregon; even guys like Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater have yet to declare for the NFL draft.
A field that deep, with that many options, all of whom play in prolific offenses, will not allow Golson to compete for a Heisman next season—no matter how much he has improved. Kelly's system is simply tailored against it.
A national championship, on the other hand, might be a whole different story.