With only three games left on the season (granted that Notre Dame is selected for and accepts a bowl game), Tommy Rees's performance for the rest of the way could decide how entrenched the sophomore is as the team's starting quarterback for next season.
There has been some debate as to whether Rees is going to have the upper hand when deciding upon a quarterback for next year, or if he is just the most viable option for the team right now.
One thing is almost certain—Rees will no longer have to look at his friend and fellow quarterback, Dayne Crist, as competition.
Crist has stated that he wants to earn a degree from Notre Dame, and he will do so by the end of the school year.
Crist does have a season of eligibility left, though, but Brian Kelly has said that he hasn't discussed Crist's future with the team yet.
Kelly plans to do so at season's end.
While an experienced backup quarterback is always useful, with a series of young players waiting in the wings, one can imagine that Kelly will tell Crist it is time to move on.
Now, there are really only two questions regarding Crist, and neither of them pertain to him staying at Notre Dame.
Will Crist transfer as a graduate student and play somewhere else, or will he enter the NFL Draft and try to make a team as a free agent or a late-round draft pick?
If he enters a graduate program not offered at Notre Dame, then Crist will be able to play immediately.
Crist has the size and arm strength coveted in the NFL, but until he has proven himself in college, he might not find many teams that are willing to give him a chance (at least not in the draft).
That leaves Rees, Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix, all of whom are vying for the starting quarterback job next season.
A highly touted freshman could come in and impress the coaching staff, but it would be a long shot for an incoming first-year player to be named the starter.
While fans would love to see Golson take the field, the 6'0" Myrtle Beach product hasn't seen any action yet, and he probably won't in order to preserve his red-shirt status. Golson is a perfect fit for Kelly's offense, though, and he has the potential to jump both Rees and Hendrix to get the starting job.
With Michael Floyd, the team's biggest offensive threat, on his way to the NFL for next season, Golson's explosiveness and ability to escape a pass-rush could add versatility to the offense.
Hendrix has played a few downs this season and has more experience than Golson, but with just five passing and nine rushing attempts, the sample size has been too small for coaches to determine anything.
Hendrix went without a passing attempt and had a single rushing attempt in Notre Dame's convincing win over Maryland, so it doesn't seem like Kelly is too eager to increase that sample size, either.
But with a 78-yard scamper earlier in the season, Hendrix has proven that he can do something that Rees can't—run.
Tommy Rees has seen nearly every snap for the Irish this season, and although Hendrix and Golson fit Kelly's offensive system better, it would be difficult for an unproven player with little game experience to unseat Rees.
Unless coach Kelly decides to play Hendrix more often or not in order to preserve Golson's red-shirt status, Rees might be the winner by default. However, if Rees completely flounders in the last few games of the season, there could be a legitimate quarterback competition before next season begins.
Notre Dame is predicted to face the outstanding passing and rushing defense of Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl (ranked 25th and 4th respectively). Rees won't need to be perfect, but he will need to show Coach Kelly that a stellar defense isn't capable of shutting him down, and that he is the player who has the best chance to lead the team to a BCS game in the future.
Although Stanford has fallen quite a bit statistically in passing defense (77th), a win in Palo Alto could cement Rees as the quarterback in Kelly's eyes as well.
Other than winning against a beaten down USC team last season without its starting quarterback, Rees has yet to have a signature win. Rees' 11-2 record as a starter is impressive (11-3 if including the Tulsa game, where he played all but a few snaps), but that alone shouldn't win him the job.
If he beats Stanford and Florida State (or a solid ACC team in the Champs Sports Bowl), Rees's resume might be too good to pass over.
Even if Rees is named the starter, Golson and Hendrix will likely be worked heavily into the game plan, and with another year of experience behind Rees's belt, Kelly's leash will be much shorter for the rising junior out of Lake Forest, Illinois.