(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)
It was a rocky offseason long before news broke that Notre Dame would be without Everett Golson for its 2013 season. Think about it: An embarrassing showing against Alabama, Brian Kelly speed dating with the NFL, high-profile transfers by Gunner Kiel and Davonte Neal, decommitments from blue chippers like Alex Anzalone, a super-delayed decommitment from Eddie Vanderdoes, the Manti Te’o - Lennay Kekua soap opera, and anything else I left out. In reality, the smart asses at Maxim were doing Notre Dame a favor by putting Kekua on their Hot 100 list. The Irish will take a win however they can get it.
Now, there’s this. According to Golson’s official statement, he will miss the upcoming season due to “poor academic judgment”. Some have guessed at the specifics; quite honestly, they don’t really matter. If all goes well, he can be reinstated and play out his remaining two years of eligibility in 2014, but 2013 is, for all intents and purposes, a lost cause.
From a football standpoint, the ramifications are cut-and-dry: The Irish will be without their most dynamic offensive weapon. There is no real silver lining, only distractions that dull the sting. Yes, the Notre Dame program will be fine in the long run. Yes, the defense is still among the best in college football, which will ease the burden on Golson’s replacement. And yes, despite some questions about the supporting offensive cast, the Irish line and skill positions are well-stocked with talent. But it’s impossible to look past the obvious, and you have to wonder whether Kelly logged back onto CareerBuilder out of sheer frustration.
What does this mean? Golson’s absence essentially resets the clock back to 2012 for the Irish. The quarterback problem is the same, if not worse, than a year ago, but with fewer options and even more uncertainty, as Golson is no lock to return in 2014. This is where it gets tricky.
Does Kelly opt for Rees, his closer-turned-full-time-backup from a year ago and starter in 2011? This seems the most likely scenario, as it keeps the door open for Golson and gives the keys to the most experienced quarterback on the roster. Or does Kelly deviate from the script and go with true freshman Malik Zaire? Zaire has better physical tools, but may not be fully ready and could create an even bigger controversy if Golson does regain eligibility. Or does Kelly give the nod to Andrew Hendrix, a fourth-year junior who seems to be a hybrid of both Rees and Zaire? Hendrix has real talent, but struggles under pressure and can’t throw a ball slower than 190 miles-per-hour.
Ironically, Golson’s ascension was exciting not only for the new dynamic it brought to the offense, but also for the demotion it meant for Rees. This isn’t meant to sound mean-spirited. In fairness, Rees has been a gritty zealot to the cause, rebounding from legal troubles and doing whatever has been asked of him by Kelly. But it’s tough to forget the disaster that was his 2011 and the moments from last season when he relapsed and threw into triple coverage. The truth is that Rees has a very real ceiling and by Golson winning the job throughout the course of last season, it meant Kelly would no longer need to rely on a process-of-elimination approach to picking his quarterback.
So much for that.
All that said, Rees can win games with his poise and command of the offense. He can also lose them with the poor decisions that have left many wondering whether it’s safe to trust him under center. If he is the starter in 2013, we’ll likely see both sides of the coin, perhaps mixed in with a fastball or two from Hendrix to keep defenses guessing. In terms of wins and losses, Rees equates to more 8-4 than 10-2 or 12-0.
But neither Rees nor Hendrix nor Zaire is Golson, the redshirt freshman that helped wake up the echoes and guide Notre Dame to its first undefeated season in 25 years. Golson was far from perfect, but showed flashes of brilliance with his ability to extend plays and deliver in key situations. Kelly can find a stopgap, just not a true replacement for what Golson brought to the table.
Notre Dame will indeed survive, but another war of quarterback attrition was the last thing it needed.
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