Moving on from Golson: Three burning questions for ND

Moving on from Golson: Three burning questions for ND
May 26, 2013, 12:15 am
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A month ago, Notre Dame had wrapped up its spring game and the focus had shifted toward the 2013 season. With it came one central question: Just how good could Everett Golson be?

Notre Dame will never know the answer to that question. The guy who was tabbed as Notre Dame's quarterback of the future doesn't have one with the Irish in 2013 -- barring any unexpected turn of events -- and with his stunning split come a few big questions.

[MORE: Golson no longer enrolled at Notre Dame]

1. Who's the starter in 2013?

The best bet here would be Tommy Rees, who's started 18 games in three years with the Irish. Notre Dame coaches like Rees' knowledge of the playbook, and his teammates have the utmost respect for him.

Chances are Notre Dame won't name Rees its starter when fall camp begins in early August. Andrew Hendrix and Malik Zaire could merit looks, especially because they'll have the entire summer to prepare for a shot at the No. 1 quarterback job.

But Hendrix barely saw the field in 2012 and was ineffective in 2011. There was no competition for Notre Dame's No. 2 job behind Golson when Rees was reinstated from a one-game suspension to begin last season, and that's a fairly good indication of where the pair stand on Notre Dame's depth chart.

Zaire has plenty of potential, but as a true freshman will have a tough time competing with the experience Rees has accumulated through three years on campus. Zaire may wind up as Notre Dame's starting quarterback as soon as 2014, but it's unlikely he'll earn that role in 2013.

What Golson's departure may force Notre Dame to do, though, is burn a year of Zaire's eligibility. If Rees or Hendrix get hurt, or walk-on Charlie Fiessinger isn't deemed ready to come into a game, Zaire may be forced to see the field -- meaning his eligibility would extend through 2016 instead of 2017.

2. So…does Gunner Kiel regret transferring now?

Little column A, little column B. Had Kiel stayed at Notre Dame, he certainly would've been pitted against Rees for the No. 1 job this summer. But Kiel told the Cincinnati Enquirer in April "I really didn’t have the relationship I wanted" with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chuck Martin, so perhaps a shot at a starting role may not have been enough to entice Kiel to stay.

The Bylaw Blog's John Infante, though, did explain how Kiel could actually play for Notre Dame this fall, although given his split with the school that's quite a long shot.

Still, Golson's departure from Notre Dame validated a quote Kiel fed the media in South Florida prior to the BCS Championship, when he was asked if he would consider transferring:

"Anything could happen," Kiel said. "(Golson) could go to the NFL, you never know. But he could also get hurt, other people could get hurt. There's so many doors that could be opened that I just have to be patient and wait my turn and try to get better."

3. Is Notre Dame doomed for 2013?

The short answer to this? Hardly. The long answer is a little more complicated.

Notre Dame's defense still looks great, even without Manti Te'o, Zeke Motta and Kapron Lewis-Moore returning. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt form as fearsome of a defensive tackle-defensive end combo as any program has in the nation. The Irish retain a solid linebacking group, one that may see a significant drop off is Jarrett Grace is as good as advertised. And with Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood and KeiVarae Russell suiting up at cornerback, the Irish secondary won't be flying by the seat of its pants -- like it did in 2012.

It's the Irish offense that, of course, raises the most concerns.

While Golson didn't fully dive into Notre Dame's offense until the latter third of 2012, he didn't turn the ball over much as he grew into his role. With the defense Notre Dame possessed, that was all they needed -- in fact, it was probably all the Irish needed in 2011 to reach a BCS bowl.

But Rees' penchant for turnovers -- plenty of them in crippling situations -- is why he didn't hang on to his No. 1 role from 2011 to 2012 (his arrest in May of 2012 didn't help him, either). Despite his smarts and knowledge of Notre Dame's offense, Rees still threw 14 interceptions in 2011 and eight in 2012. 

No matter how good Notre Dame's defense is, those numbers have to be better in 2013 if Rees indeed is the guy for Brian Kelly & Co. If opposing offenses are given prime field position thanks to a poor read or bad throw, Notre Dame's defensive prowess can only take them so far. 

If Rees is able to limit his turnovers, though, Notre Dame may not be in too bad of shape. The Irish won with defense last year, and chances are, they can win again with defense in 2013 -- so long as the defense is given a chance.