Life After Jimmy Clausen: Taking a Look at Notre Dame's Quarterback Situation

Dan ScofieldAnalyst IDecember 31, 2009

Irish fans were warned to appreciate what they had while Jimmy Clausen was under center this past season, even if that same season ended with six disappointing losses.

Clausen, with special thanks to Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, skyrocketed up NFL draft boards after an impressive junior campaign in which he threw 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He is predicted to be taken somewhere in the early first round come April, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Brady Quinn.

Now, the Irish begin a new era of football under Brian Kelly and his spread-style offense.

With the early departure of Clausen and the graduation of fifth-year senior Evan Sharpley, Kelly inherits a roster that is dangerously thin at quarterback.

Dayne Crist, a highly-touted Californian recruit who chose the Irish just a year after Clausen had signed with them, is the heir apparent.

Even though Crist will be the only quarterback on the roster familiar with the program, he is recovering from an ACL tear suffered in San Antonio against Washington State earlier this year. Many feared that Notre Dame would enter spring practice without a single scholarship quarterback on the practice field.

However, Crist's rehab has progressed faster than expected and Kelly has mentioned that he will expect to see the signal-caller in the Spring. Even if it is only for non-contact drills, any practice in the new offensive attack is better than nothing, like previously expected.

Much like Zach Calloros at Cincinnati, Crist can both throw and run the football. Although he can use his legs, he will look to throw first as he has a strong arm and good vision to go along with his mobility.

I fully expect him to be the starting quarterback on Sept. 4, 2010.

As much as his ACL raises questions, the real question marks start when realizing what sits behind Crist on the depth chart.

Currently, Notre Dame has two commitments in the 2010 class who plan to play quarterback next fall.

Enrolling early this January, Tommy Rees is an exciting prospect in that he has flown entirely under the radar.

Although you won't find Clausen and Crist-like stars next to Rees' name on recruiting services, don't be alarmed. Rees played quarterback in a spread offense in high school and looks to have a good handle on what will be thrown at him on the practice field next year.

The reason for Rees not getting more interest on the recruiting trail was because of lack of arm strength. With a year in the weight room in a college program, Rees will be a legitimate backup to Crist.

The second of the two commitments, Andrew Hendrix, was recently wavering on his verbal commitment to the Irish. Many were holding their breath, as losing his signature would mean a major problem on the depth chart next season.

However, thanks to Urban Meyer's antics and Kelly's in-home visit, Hendrix is now a solid commit for the Irish and will enroll in the summer. Unlike Rees, Hendrix is one of the top quarterbacks in this years' class and will be ready to see the field early on in his collegiate career.

Hendrix is similar to Crist in that he can use both his arm and legs to move the chains and shows maturity that most high schoolers do not attain at such a young age. Although the Irish won't have any experience behind the already inexperienced Crist, that isn't to say that there isn't any talent behind him.

With Nate Montana's underwhelming performance at Pasadena County College, there aren't many other options to turn to besides the two freshman.

The most intriguing option for Kelly will be to get current wide receiver John Goodman quarterback reps this offseason as he has recently expressed interest in competing for the job if need be.

"If I move to quarterback, I want to compete for it. I want a fair chance for it. If that's the case, I'm confident I can win the position," said Goodman.

Goodman, a former high school quarterback, is rumored to be able to throw up to 85 yards in the air. He also saw snaps the second half of last year out of the wildcat formation, showing great promise under center.

As many question marks as there are, Crist will need to set the example for the rest of the depth chart.

If he acts like an upperclassmen ready to bring the Irish back to a BCS game, the offense will look more like a 2005 version rather than a 2007 version.

If he fails to accept the challenge and lead his team, Kelly may have to turn to his freshman for early, pressured playing time.

Whichever route next season takes, the Irish will be following in Crist's footsteps.