The quarterback position has been tenuous at best in South Bend since head coach Brian Kelly’s arrival over four years ago.
Three days before being announced as Notre Dame’s new head coach, prolific passer Jimmy Clausen opted to forego his final year of eligibility to head for the professional ranks, leaving the Fighting Irish with a talented but inexperienced quarterback in Dayne Crist. Crist would tear his ACL for the second time in October of 2010 – the first occurrence happening in 2009 in mop-up duty against Washington State – his first season as starter, forcing Notre Dame into the precarious position of having to start true freshman Tommy Rees in his stead. Crist would get the starting nod once again in 2011 only to be demoted behind Rees by the second game of the season, a transition that would ultimately result in Crist transferring to Kansas to be united with former head coach, Charlie Weis.
Just when it appeared stability had arrived at the position with the emergence of Everett Golson and the signing of #1 quarterback recruit for the Class of 2012, Gunner Kiel, the bad breaks resurfaced, first with Kiel transferring to Cincinnati, and several months later when Golson was suspended for the season due to academic reasons.
Despite the innumerable setbacks over the years, slowly, the tide had begun to turn. Golson has been reinstated and will be the likely starter for the Fighting Irish this fall. Redshirt freshman Malik Zaire flashed his potential for the Notre Dame faithful at this year’s spring game, offering glimpses of how high his ceiling reaches. And with the recent arrival of DeShone Kizer Notre Dame now possesses a quarterback depth chart with dual-threat capability at every level. The Fighting Irish were even poised to sign their highest rated quarterback prospect of the Kelly era with the commitment of blue-chip signal caller, Blake Barnett.
And then the bad breaks resurfaced for a third time.
The de-commitment of Blake Barnett, and his subsequent commitment to Alabama, left Notre Dame in a tough position. Brian Kelly and staff immediately implemented a plan of action and offered three other Class of 2015 quarterback prospects in Travis Waller, Deondre Francis, and Jarrett Stidham, though the damage had already been done. Francis briefly considered Notre Dame’s offer but ultimately dropped them from consideration due to a lack of relationship, something the Fighting Irish were unable to develop while Barnett was still in the fold.
Travis Waller expressed heavy initial interest in the Irish and was considered the most likely recruit to take Barnett’s place in the commitment column, though the perpetual quarterback carousel has shifted away from Notre Dame’s favor. Waller recently received an offer from the Oregon Ducks, an offer he coveted and accepted on July 1st
The issues that have plagued Notre Dame at the quarterback position have left the program at a crossroads. Should Notre Dame reevaluate its options and offer a new slate of Class of 2015 quarterbacks or hold back and wait for an elite prospect from the 2016 ranks (Kelly and staff have already made extensive in-roads with the likes of Jacob Eason, a quarterback prospect who may end up as the #1 quarterback in his class)?
Each option brings unique problems. Waiting until the Class of 2016 to sign a quarterback could create space between Notre Dame’s quarterbacks. By the time a 2016 signee arrived to campus, Golson will have graduated and Zaire will have two years of eligibility remaining, with DeShone Kizer – likely to redshirt – having three years remaining. However, skipping a quarterback in 2015 could also come with a cautionary tale.
If Everett Golson lives up to the expectations that have been placed upon him since his elite performance against Alabama in the BCS National Championship game, the possibility exists Golson may forego his final year of eligibility at Notre Dame and head for the pro ranks. Doing so without a quarterback signed for the Class of 2015 would leave Notre Dame with only two scholarship quarterbacks for the fall of 2015 in Malik Zaire and an inexperienced DeShone Kizer, a less than ideal situation given Kelly’s history of needing two quarterbacks throughout a season.
The best solution may be one that’s least discussed: aggressively pursuing current Texas Tech quarterback pledge, Jarrett Stidham. Stidham, a Class of 2015 Texas native tabbed by Rivals as the #1 dual-threat quarterback in his class, was recently offered by Notre Dame, and there has been speculation that Stidham may be open to other programs. Kelly and staff should fight to get Stidham on campus for a visit, and failing that, should close shop and begin to focus solely on Class of 2016 prospects.
Whatever strategy Notre Dame’s coaching staff decides to take could have major ramifications moving forward.
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 chagrin of his fiancée. Scott can be reached at [email protected].