Everett Golson may be back in a Notre Dame uniform for the first time in a year, but it doesn't mean he's the most important piece to the puzzle for the Irish in 2014. In fact, it may be the quarterback he is competing with for the starting job who is equally as important—redshirt freshman Malik Zaire.
If there is one school that knows the value of having multiple quarterbacks with the ability to lead a team, it is Notre Dame under Brian Kelly. Injuries, suspensions and defections from the program have led to plenty of quarterbacks with opportunities to start during Kelly's tenure in South Bend.
The fact that Kelly has yet to name a starter in the quarterback battle between the returning Golson and the young Zaire makes this Saturday's annual Blue-Gold game that much more important.
It's an opportunity for either one to separate himself from the other, and if it’s Zaire that does so, he instantly becomes just as important to Notre Dame's season.
Spring game performances aside, there are other reasons Zaire will be equally important to the Irish's success in 2014.
Zaire has one big advantage over Golson in this battle—and that's his knowledge of a very young wide receiver group.
During his redshirt year, Zaire got a chance to work extensively with names like Corey Robinson and C.J. Prosise, to name a few. Both are expected to have extensive roles at wide receiver in 2014, and having a chance to develop a relationship over the course of a season can't be overlooked.
Beyond his experience with a young wide receiver group, Zaire isn't lacking in self-confidence, either. Just a few weeks ago, Zaire made it clear he believes he'll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.
"Without a doubt. There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me," he said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com), late last month.
For a young quarterback, that kind of confidence can be a huge help in regard to whether his prophecy comes true or not. Believing in yourself and your abilities this early in a career goes a long way in overcoming some of the deficiencies that may exist in knowledge of an offense or reading defenses at this level.
Golson may enter 2014 with the experience advantage, having directed the 12-1 season of 2012 while throwing for 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions that year. However, Golson didn't exactly light the world on fire with his 58 percent completion rate.
The biggest difference between that season and this one is that whoever wins the starting job won't be asked to be a game manager like Golson was in 2012. The winner in 2014 will have to command the complete offense and do so with confidence.
"It's always about finding that consistency at that position," Kelly said in the AP article. "It's just going to take some time. I don't have a timetable on it. I'll know when it's running the right way and it's smooth. It's not there yet."
Whatever goes down between now and the opener against Rice, Notre Dame has two quarterbacks it can count on to help win games with their feet and their arms. That's a far cry from what happened a season ago, and it makes Zaire a very important piece to the Irish's puzzle in 2014.
Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @ AndyOnCFB.