With the 2011 football season just around the corner for Notre Dame, the most intriguing battle is at the quarterback position, though not for the reasons one might think. Many believe that Dayne Crist is the odds-on favorite to start the season. At the end of last season, Crist was statistically the stronger of the two quarterbacks who played. He has the tools and the intangibles to lead the team and he appears to have the confidence of his teammates and coaches.
It would not surprise or thoroughly disappoint any diehard Irish fan if Crist lines up under center on the first snap of the season. However, the most intriguing part of the position battle will be Coach Kelly and his staff's management of their three talented backups in Everett Golson, Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees.
Rees' solid performance at the end of last season demonstrated that he can be a successful starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame. He is a good fit for Coach Kelly’s offense, he understands the nuances of the spread offense, and despite some athletic limitations, he has proven to be a gamer and a winner.
Hendrix has all the tools to be an outstanding quarterback at the collegiate level and was a much more highly touted prospect coming out of high school than Rees. He has arguably the strongest arm of the quarterbacks in this pool, and he provides the added dimension of being much more mobile than Rees.
Many believe that Kelly’s well-documented discussion with Urban Meyer about a two-quarterback system had Golson in mind, but some speculate that Coach Kelly had Hendrix in mind. Hendrix appears to be the better option as the backup to Crist in every way but one: his understanding of the offensive system. If Hendrix can demonstrate that he understands Coach Kelly’s offense at a very high level going into the season then he may be Crist’s back up. On the other hand, if Hendrix begins the season as the third quarterback on the depth chart, then many believe we may lose him to another program at season’s end.
Golson appears to be the best suited of all the quarterbacks to run Kelly’s spread in the future. His talent is unmistakable. His performance at the Blue and Gold game was exhilarating and reminded many of the last quarterback to lead the Irish through a national championship season, Tony Rice. Despite this, the most likely scenario would find Golson watching from the sidelines this season and preserving four years of eligibility.
With the season less than two months away, it will be fascinating to watch this drama unfold. Coach Kelly and his staff have a difficult decision ahead of them, and the outcome of this decision may have long term effects on the success of the program. This will be the staff’s first big test. If the staff can successfully finesse an acceptable outcome and we are able to keep this talented stable of athletes, it bodes very well for the program in years to come.