Football fans never need additional incentive to monitor the progress of the quarterback position, particularly when it involves a tale as interesting as the one currently unfolding at Notre Dame. Former starting quarterback Everett Golson has returned after serving an academic suspension and missing the 2013 season only to battle for his former position with emerging quarterback talent, Malik Zaire. What was sure to capture every Fighting Irish fan’s interest became a concrete certainty when Zaire recently stated his intentions clearly to ESPN.
“Without a doubt,” the redshirt freshman said to ESPN when asked if he believes he’ll be the starting quarterback this upcoming fall. “There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me.”
Issuing a challenge to a presumed incumbent starter via a national sports outlet is one thing – backing it up is quite another. Yet Malik Zaire showed he has every intention of staying true to his word after spinning the scoreboard dial during Notre Dame’s 85th annual Blue-Gold game this past Saturday. The Ohio signal caller completed 18 of 25 passes for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns, outperforming Golson in the process. Zaire displayed an ability to extend plays and make every throw, including a six-yard rocket touchdown pass to wide receiver Amir Carlisle that seemed to channel a youthful Brett Favre in its improbability and preciseness.
If Zaire’s intention was to send a joint message to the media and Notre Dame’s fan base – which have largely considered the quarterback competition to be an empty gesture before inevitably naming Everett Golson the starter – it was received in high definition throughout the country on NBC Sports. But will his performance be enough to tip the scales?
The challenge for Zaire in his quest to become Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in 2014 isn’t besting Golson in head-to-head competition but overcoming Goison’s brief-but-deep résumé, a much more daunting task. Everett Golson has seen the very best college football has to offer after helping lead Notre Dame to its first national championship appearance in decades, and he was one of the rare bright spots in Notre Dame’s blowout loss to Alabama. Zaire proving he is as productive as Golson is not enough – he must show that his talent is so great that it outweighs Golson’s built-in advantage of having endured the brightest of lights and the highest forms of pressure.
If the redshirt freshman and Ohio native is to pass such a threshold he must prove he is consistently better than Golson. It will take more than outperforming Golson in the Blue-Gold game, which served as only one of the fifteen scheduled spring practices. How Zaire managed in his other fourteen attempts is only known to Notre Dame’s coaching staff, though it is potentially revealing that head coach Brian Kelly listed “consistency in staying with progressions” as one of Zaire’s areas in need of improvement.
With no starting quarterback being named in the near future, Notre Dame fans now have all summer to debate which of the talented quarterbacks is best suited to lead the Fighting Irish in 2014. Such side-taking, however, misses the point.
Notre Dame is not experiencing a quarterback controversy – it’s finally experiencing quarterback depth.
Brian Kelly has needed two quarterbacks in many of his seasons as head coach at different locations, including Notre Dame. This season, Kelly’s fifth year as Notre Dame’s head coach, will be the first he will have two quarterbacks capable of not only executing every layer of his offensive system but doing so at a very high level.
Who will ultimately take the field against Rice on August 30th as Notre Dame’s starter after a quarterback competition lasting multiple months is unknown. The fact such fierce competition is taking place at all, however, is not an indication of controversy but of depth.
If the feeling is foreign to Notre Dame fans it’s because it’s the first occurrence since Kelly’s arrival, and also the first sign of a very bright offensive future.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.