Tommy Rees did a serviceable job filling in at quarterback for Notre Dame this season—one he likely won’t get enough credit for—but the Irish need Everett Golson to recapture the magic of a season ago. And thankfully, his return is here.
The potential is in place, and it was on display (at times) in Notre Dame’s 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers. It wasn’t necessarily flashy or impressive. In fact, it was an afternoon of missed opportunities and special teams blunders, a theme that was that was all too prominent throughout 2013.
And yes, the Irish had to manage a different opponent: the flu.
Even with this uphill climb, the Irish dominated in total yardage on Saturday, outgaining the Scarlet Knights 494-236. They moved the ball with ease at times—even though the running game sputtered throughout—and the score could have been a lot more lopsided.
But for every two steps forward, they took a step back: penalties, missed deep balls, questionable play calls and stalled drives. The game was not always easy on the eyes, and again, much of this performance paralleled a season with both peaks and valleys.
The end result for Notre Dame is a nine-win season, a mark that should be appreciated given some of its losses and Golson's unexpected departure, as well a schedule that was by no means favorable. Ten of ND’s opponents made a bowl game, and three will play in a BCS bowl.
Next year’s schedule isn’t easy, either. It includes the likes of Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC. While it will be a challenging run loaded with capable opponents, there’s reason to be optimistic.
Tommy Rees is done at Notre Dame, finally exhausting what felt like 15 years or so of eligibility. Head coach Brian Kelly expressed his gratitude for the quarterback following the bowl win.
ND coach Brian Kelly on senior QB Tommy Rees: “He’s got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime.”— Kevin Armstrong (@KevinGArmstrong) December 28, 2013
With that, however, Rees will hand the baton back to Golson. And his return could completely change an offense in desperate need of a spark.
Golson was readmitted to Notre Dame in the middle of December after being suspended for the fall semester for what he referred to as “poor academic judgment.” He later provided a bit more clarity on the situation by speaking with Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples.
After sitting out the season, however, Golson is expected to be a full go for spring practice. He’ll likely compete with sophomore-to-be Malik Zaire for the starting quarterback opening. If Golson stays healthy and eligible, the job will be his.
While he was raw throughout Notre Dame’s undefeated run to the national championship game, the potential is off the charts.
His ability to run will completely alter the offense, which struggled to move the ball on the ground with consistency this year. He also has one of the strongest arms in the country, something that was on display in his first season under center. Now it will be a matter of harnessing them both and realizing the enormous potential that he showed throughout the 2012 season.
Adding to the excitement of his return are the offensive weapons Notre Dame will have back. And there are a few.
Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels will almost certainly be back for his senior year, as will tight end Troy Niklas. The emergence of freshman running back Tarean Folston was one of the bright spots for the team in the second half, and the “Golson-Folston” potential will be more than a fun nickname.
The playbook will look vastly different with an athletic quarterback reassuming his role, and it will be up to Golson to lead the way.
Rees, while improved, operated with a limited physical skill set. Simply put, he made the most of what he had. In turn, the offense couldn't accomplish a lot, although it pulled off quite a bit given the circumstances.
That won’t be the case next season. If Golson is indeed the starter, the offense has the potential to be one of the more dynamic attacks in the country. The governor will be removed, the limitations tossed away and it will be full speed ahead.
One book is closing. Another is reopening.