If the calendar were to read April 1 this headline here would seem like a cruel April’s fool joke. Unfortunately, the calendar reads May 26 and that headline is just another cruel twist to an off-season that has turned into a nightmare for Notre Dame despite being fresh off a championship game appearance in January.
Since the wheels landed in Miami carrying the 2012 Fighting Irish to the National Championship game, not much has gone right for Notre Dame and it’s fans. The Manti Te’o saga unfolded, Notre Dame signed a prized recruit only to see him look to transfer before ever stepping foot on campus, and now the Irish have lost the starting quarterback that guided them to a 12-0 regular season last year.
Multiple sources are reporting that Golson’s departure from Notre Dame is academic related. The university, however, due to federal privacy laws and their own internal policies, is unable to confirm the reason that Brian Kelly will once again be looking for a new starting quarterback as he enters his 4th year in South Bend.
Heading into 2013, many were optimistic that the Irish offense was going to take a big step forward given that the Irish would have stability at the quarterback position for the first time under Kelly. Golson made huge strides last year from the inexperienced kid who had to be pulled from the Michigan game to the experienced starter who led the Irish into Norman and LA and left with wins in both road contests.
With Golson out of school, the Irish quarterback position becomes a major question mark. Tommy Rees likely steps into the role – a role he lost last year to Golson during training camp. As a backup, Rees is all you can ask for. As a starter, however, his limitations have been exploited by agressive and athletic defenses in the past.
Outside of Rees, the Irish have senior Andrew Hendrix who didn’t play any meaningful snaps last year and freshman early enrollee Malik Zaire. A lot of knee jerk reaction will speculate that Kelly should roll the dice with Zaire and have the offense take its lumps this year in order for Zaire to get experience. In an ideal world though, Zaire would have redshirted this year and had four years of eligibility heading into 2014 and backing up Golson as he prepared for his senior year.
Zaire flashed plenty of talent in the Spring game, but like Golson in the spring of 2011, he also looked plenty raw. In 2011 though, Kelly had the benefit of having Rees and Dayne Crist at the top of his depth chart so he could afford to bring Golson along slowly. With Zaire, it is possible that Kelly decides he gives the Irish the best chance to make another BCS run in 2013 and spends the majority of his time in fall camp bringing him along.
Golson’s absence and uncertain future, however, throw all of that up in the air. No one is reporting that Golson is done at Notre Dame permanently. We’ve seen other players leave the university for a year and come back the following year to finish their careers – Darrin Walls immediately comes to mind. The only certainty with Golson right now though, is that he won’t be playing anywhere this fall since he would be required to sit out this fall should he decide to transfer rather than do what he needs to to re-enroll at Notre Dame.
The only other certainty here is that this is a major, major blow for Notre Dame as it tries to capitalize on last year’s BCS Title game appearance. There is maybe one other player that the Irish could have lost for the year that would have had a more devastating effect than Golson – nose tackle Louis Nix. Golson was going to be the key to the Notre Dame offense starting to resemble some of those high powered offenses that Kelly put on the field during his days at Cincinnati.
Instead of working on adding more wrinkles into the offense for an experienced quarterback, Kelly will now be faced with the task of limiting his playbook for a starting quarterback without great downfield arm strength or limiting his playbook for a young, inexperienced quarterback for the second year in a row. Not an enviable task for any coach, let alone who we also found out this week was paid less to coach the Fighting Irish in 2012 than Charlie Weis was to not coach them.