The worst off-season in recent Notre Dame history reached it’s summit exactly one year ago today. Late Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend 2013 news began to broke that Everett Golson, fresh off a national championship game appearance where he was one of the few bright spots for the Irish, was no longer enrolled at Notre Dame and he would not be a member of the 2013 Fighting Irish.
I still remember getting the text messages as the news broke and immediately thinking, “well, there goes that second title run. We’re looking at 9 wins, maybe 10 if we’re lucky.” Unfortunately that turned out to be just about what we got from Notre Dame in 2013. The Irish won 9 games but were in position to and should have won more.
The loss of Golson in 2013 ended up costing Notre Dame more than just a couple of wins though. As Notre Dame charged to the 2012 title game, they also charged towards Signing Day ’13 and ended up bringing home a top 5 class even after the blowout at the hands of Alabama.
As Notre Dame struggled in 2013 with early season losses to Michigan and Oklahoma taking them out of any title game talk before the end of September, the Irish also lost momentum on the recruiting trail. In 2013, Notre Dame signed the #3 recruiting class in the country according to Rivals. A year later, the Irish fell to #11 in their rankings.
Would Notre Dame have been able to improve on that #11 ranking with a few more wins and bowl game a little more exciting than one that kicked off at noon on December 28th against team that had just fired both of it’s coordinators? Probably. Would having Golson under center throughout the season have given the Irish those a couple more wins? Very likely.
A year later, Golson is back at Notre Dame and still looking to lock down the starting quarterback position that he had finally gained a stranglehold of by the end of 2012 after Brian Kelly was quick to give him the hook early in the season.
While Golson can’t do anything about the opportunity lost for both himself and Notre Dame in 2013, he has a golden opportunity in front of him to take the Irish back to where they were the last time he wore a Notre Dame jersey in a game against someone other than his own teammates.
Notre Dame has the weapons at running back, wide receiver, and tight end combined with a deep and talented offensive line to make for an explosive offense as long as they have a quarterback capable of orchestrating the kind of high-powered attack Notre Dame has been lacking. If Golson can play this fall like he did the last time he wore a Notre Dame jersey against a live opponent – the BCS Title game – he can be that quarterback for the Notre Dame.
The last time we saw Everett Golson
One of the lost storylines from the BCS Championship disaster was that Golson was one of the few players on the field in Miami that looked like he belonged on the same field as Alabama. He wasn’t perfect, but against the best defense he had ever played against in his entire career, he had one of his better games. The same kid who got pulled against Purdue in the second game of the season threw for 270 yards and completed nearly 60% of his passes while accounting for both of Notre Dame’s touchdowns – one running and one passing.
The outside world is recognizing that Golson has the kind of potential necessary to run Brian Kelly’s offense like no other signal caller has during his time at Notre Dame. Golson is already being mentioned as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy and Vegas setting his odds at 25:1 already.
As we saw in the spring though, Golson is still shaking off the rust from being away from the program for a year even though he did spend his time in exile working with renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield. Golson has Malik Zaire hot on his trails and while it would be a major upset if Golson was not the starting quarterback on August 31, it would also not be the biggest shock in the world if he wasn’t after Zaire’s eye opening spring performance.
What a difference a year makes
Golson’s dismissal last year left Notre Dame with a decimated depth chart at quarterback after the Irish had lost Gunner Kiel before spring practice. A year though, Notre Dame is looking at a depth chart at quarterback that very well could be the deepest and most talented since Brian Kelly’s arrival. More importantly though, that depth chart will feature three similarly skilled quarterbacks for the first time under Kelly.
At many times throughout the tenure of Brian Kelly, the Irish offense has had quarterbacks with different skillsets that were not all able to running his full playbook. Tommy Rees, for instance, was not able to run any of the designed quarterback runs that were very successful for Everett Golson in 2012 and successful to a lesser extent for Dayne Crist at times in 2010 and 2011 even though Rees did surprise Michigan in 2012 with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.
With Golson and Zaire at the top of the Notre Dame depth chart and incoming freshman DeShone Kizer physically capable of running the full playoff, Brian Kelly could open up his offense for the first time since his arrival. Even in 2012 when Golson was in the game and physically able to execute the full offense, he didn’t have the complete grasp of it that Rees had to really open up the offense.
Nothing is going to get the time back that Golson lost last year, but a year after learning that he wouldn’t be joining his teammates for the 2013 season, he finds himself with another golden opportunity staring him in the face. What he does with that opportunity will determine whether or not the Irish will be preparing for January football or if their season will end before the ball drops for the second season in a row.