Everett Golson was Notre Dame's most impressive quarterback seven months ago, when Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix both threw interceptions in the team's spring game. But coach Brian Kelly still referred to Golson as a "heart attack for me," noting how the young quarterback struggled to read signals and get plays called in a timely manner.
When fall camp rolled around, it quickly became clear Golson was the favorite to beat out Andrew Hendrix for the starting nod. Despite having no experience at the collegiate level, Golson was going to be Notre Dame's quarterback. So did the redshirt freshman picture back in August the kind of season he and the Irish wound having?
"Nah, not at all," Golson laughed after Notre Dame's 22-13 win over USC Saturday. "I think I was getting frustrated too much to be envisioning that."
Early on, Golson didn't struggle statistically, completing 47 of 81 passes for 611 yards and two touchdowns. A year after Notre Dame's season was done in by a spate of early-season turnovers, Golson didn't throw an interception against Navy, Purdue and Michigan State.
But he wasn't comfortable in that stretch, and that led to Tommy Rees replacing him late in Notre Dame's win over Purdue. The Michigan game -- three completions in eight attempts for 30 yards with two bad interceptions -- was the culmination of Golson's September discomfort.
"I keep going back to Purdue week, talking about that game. It was a little bit a lot for me, to be honest," Golson said. "But seeing how Ive progressed now, with the help of coaches and the O-line being with me and the wide receivers and the running backs, and also the guys on the defensive side instilling that confidence, its helped me a lot."
Kelly stuck by his quarterback, reaffirming over and over that Golson was entrenched as Notre Dame's starter. Rees has slowly been phased out as a safety net, with Kelly saying prior to the USC game that Golson reached a point where he would play through any struggles.
The playbook has opened up for Golson, starting with some zone reads against Miami and progressing to deep balls and options as the weeks have wore on. But his development still has a ways to go, and Golson was quick to point out he still needs to work on red zone execution heading into the BCS Championship.
"Its been a learning process. Were still right in the midst of it, youre watching it," Kelly explained. "Hes making better decisions with the football. I guess the difference is hes not careless with the football. Careless I cant take. Hes going to make some bad decisions once in a while. But hes not careless with the football."
Few expected Notre Dame to be in the position they currently are, awaiting the winner of the SEC championship in Miami Jan. 7. But of all the teams with first-year starting quarterbacks, it's Notre Dame and Golson -- not Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel, not Oregon and Marcus Mariota -- that's going to the BCS Championship.
"It was a great feeling knowing everything you worked for in spring ball and everything you worked for in summer camp, it really kind of proved itself to be true and worthwhile," Golson said.