With Everett Golson suspended for the 2013 season, Notre Dame's offense struggled with turnovers and inconsistent play under center.
With him returning in 2014, conventional wisdom says that those problems will go away, and the unit will revert to the form of 2012's national title game participant.
But are we ever sure Golson will start? Brian Kelly didn't sound definite before assembled media on Friday, going out of his way to praise young quarterback Malik Zaire, according to John Taylor of College Football Talk:
Speaking to the media Friday, Brian Kelly warned those assembled against anointing Golson as the starter, going out of his way to praise freshman Malik Zaire as a player who could change the predetermined storylines.
“I just want to caution everybody that we have I think a very good quarterback in Malik Zaire,” Kelly said. “I’m not ready to hand everything over to Everett. I love Everett, he played in the national championship game, but I’m also somebody that wants to make sure the quarterback position is such that we give everybody an opportunity to compete for that position.”
According to 247Sports, Zaire was a 4-star member of the 2013 recruiting class, and even though he didn't see the field as a true freshman last season, he is held in high regard by both coaches and fans of the team. Many clamored for him to sub in for Tommy Rees in 2013, and he is next in line to succeed the position once Golson leaves South Bend, Ind.
But could he really start so soon and relegate Golson to the bench?
It doesn't seem likely.
Golson, after all, headed a unit that ranked ninth in Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings two seasons ago—as a redshirt freshman, no less. Even if Golson's development had stalled and been put on ice during his time away from the school (for academic reasons), that player would still likely be good enough to warrant a starting job.
And that's not even the case. Golson has been working with QB guru George Whitfield, and by all indications he's even better than he was two seasons ago, as reported in thorough detail by B/R's Keith Arnold.
This might be little more than a message from Kelly to his returning quarterback, a reminder that he'd better show up ready to compete at the start of spring practice. Zaire is willing and able to put up a fight, but wresting the job from Golson would be a major upset.
Still, a little competition never hurt nobody. Right?
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT