Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson spent the 2013 season exiled from his team.
He opens 2014 as one of the leading preseason Heisman Trophy candidates.
Many factors—tangible and intangible—seemingly favor a Heisman run for Golson in 2014.
First, Notre Dame should be at least reasonably good next year. The Fighting Irish have a chance to be very good.
A trio of Pac-12 games—home against Stanford and at Arizona State and USC—reason to be tough, though the Fighting Irish managed a 2-1 record against them in 2013. A road contest at Florida State should be the most difficult test of the season.
|Aug. 30||Rice||Notre Dame, Ind.|
|Sept. 6||Michigan||Notre Dame, Ind.|
|Sept. 13||Purdue||Indianapolis, Ind. (Neutral field)|
|Sept. 27||Syracuse||East Rutherford, N.J. (Neutral field)|
|Oct. 4||Stanford||Notre Dame, Ind.|
|Oct. 11||North Carolina||Notre Dame, Ind.|
|Oct. 18||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.|
|Nov. 1||Navy||Landover, Md. (Neutral field)|
|Nov. 8||Arizona State||Tempe, Ariz.|
|Nov. 15||Northwestern||Notre Dame, Ind.|
|Nov. 22||Louisville||Notre Dame, Ind.|
|Nov. 29||USC||Los Angeles, Calif.|
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Notre Dame should also see a decrease in interceptions.
One of the reasons Golson beat out incumbent starter Tommy Rees during 2012 fall camp was his ability to avoid costly interceptions.
Rees suffered from familiar struggles in 2013, getting picked off 13 times, including nine in losses. Opponents scored 21 points following Rees interceptions that set up short fields. They also returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Golson threw six interceptions as a freshman in 2012.
Fewer pivotal mistakes should lead to stronger defensive numbers in 2014.
Playing for Notre Dame also assures a guaranteed national stage. Rest assured that if Golson plays well and Notre Dame wins big, it won’t go unnoticed.
The showdown game against 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and Florida State in Tallahassee also provides a potentially enormous stage for Golson.
Those questioning Golson’s place as a Heisman contender need look back to the end of 2012 to see why he's earned that status.
The final five games showcased his potential.
During that stretch, Golson completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns. He rushed for 153 yards and another three touchdowns.
Golson also provided one of the few Notre Dame bright spots during the 2013 BCS National Championship Game—a 42-14 blowout loss to Alabama.
He threw for 270 yards and accounted for Notre Dame’s only two touchdowns in the defeat.
All signs seemingly pointed to Golson enjoying a breakthrough season in 2013.
Will Everett Golson be a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2014?
However, everything changed during a fateful test.
In late May, Notre Dame booted Golson from campus for what the quarterback described as “poor academic judgment.”
Golson later told Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples that Notre Dame reached its decision because of a flagrant violation of the university’s honor code committed during a test.
Golson paid his time, sitting out the 2013 season.
Now he’s back on campus after Notre Dame reinstated Golson as a student in January.
In other words, Golson must win the starting position.
“I know we’re always in this rush to move to Everett, but I just want to caution everybody that we have a very good quarterback in Malik Zaire, as well,” Kelly said to the Sun-Times.
Don’t take that as proof Golson won’t win the Heisman this year, though.
Three of the last four Heisman-winning quarterbacks—Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston—entered spring practice in open position battles.
None of them had ever started a Division I game before their Heisman seasons either.
Golson has a year of starting experience under his belt.
He also utilized his time off wisely, working with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr.
Whitfield’s client list includes Manziel and Newton as well as Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.
Manziel, the only player on that list whom Whitfield tutored in college, made strides as a passer in 2013. The 2012 Heisman winner increased his passing completion to 69.9 percent and threw for 408 more yards and 11 more touchdowns.
Golson—unlike Manziel and Winston—didn’t post gaudy numbers as a redshirt freshman.
Then again, Golson didn’t have to light up the scoreboard for Notre Dame, which fielded a tremendous defense, to win.
Kelly asked Golson to make safer choices while gaining traction as a starter in 2012. This year, he should loosen the reins on his quarterback, allowing Golson and the offense to break out.
The losses of underclassman defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III mean Notre Dame has questions on that side of the ball.
Kelly and the Irish might need Golson and the offense to shoulder a bigger load in 2014.
If increased productivity correlates with a 10-win season, look for Golson’s name on the Heisman short list come December.