FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Everett Golson played in a few big games under heavy pressure and intense atmospheres over the course of his maiden voyage as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. But no matter what he did in Norman, Los Angeles or South Bend, it won't be the same when he steps on to the field for the first time Monday for the BCS Championship against Alabama.
"Take any other quarterback this year and try to figure out if they've gone through as much as Everett Golson," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "To me, it's not even close. Not even close."
But it's just like Martin said back in August, when Notre Dame was ready to set sail with Golson as its quarterback: No matter the preparation and practice, nobody knows really knows how Golson -- and his championship-inexperienced teammates -- will react to the magnitude of the BCS Championship.
"They'll realize the enormity of the moment when they go out there. But once those big guys start chasing them around, kind of instincts take over," Martin said. "I guarantee you the first set of drives they probably won't be thinking this is the National Championship, they'll be thinking, I've got to find a window to throw the ball."
Most everyone would point to Golson's performance against Oklahoma as his breakthrough game. He looked poised facing a crowd of over 86,000, managing Notre Dame's offense well and throwing a dagger of a deep ball to Chris Brown in the fourth quarter, which set up the Irish's scoring onslaught to roll to a 30-13 victory. But it's telling that in Notre Dame's three biggest road games -- at Oklahoma, USC and Michigan State -- Golson didn't turn the ball over.
"I think he's going to handle it fine, just like he's handled the spotlight in other games this year," wide receiver T.J. Jones said of Golson and the spotlight. "What we have to do as players is not blow this game up bigger than what the National Championship is. We have to handle it like every game. There's obviously going to be added pressure from it being the National Championship, but we just have to know how to control that and play our game."
That may sound cliche, but if Notre Dame stops playing its game because of the massive implications, they'll be in trouble.
"We're not like 'oh my god, it's our first time here,' and trying to panic," running back Theo Riddick added. "We realize what's at stake right now. But at the same time, we have this confidence in each other that we'll get the job done."
That confidence extends to Golson, and it's a confidence that grew along with the redshirt freshman quarterback. After Golson was yanked from Notre Dame's 20-17 win over Purdue in Week 2, Golson's confidence was down, as was the confidence of his coaches and teammates in him to get the job done. If it were higher, Tommy Rees wouldn't have entered the game, as he also did against Michigan and Pittsburgh.
The Oklahoma game cemented Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback in the sense of trust. Even though Golson was pulled from Notre Dame's game the next week, his teammates had far more confidence in him to bounce back than they did a month and a half prior. It goes with the territory of most inexperienced quarterbacks, at least ones not named Johnny Manziel.
"We were definitely patient," Jones said. "We knew this was his first year starting in college. For any quarterback, regardless of where you're at, that first half of the season is going to (have) some jitters, some indecisiveness, some really not knowing what to do. And then it takes a game like he had against Oklahoma to really establish his confidence in himself as a quarterback."
Golson's demeanor isn't manufactured for the football field, though. As calm and focused as he was in Norman, that's generally how he is off the field -- well, except for talking to the media: "You can still tell he's more comfortable out there playing than talking to these yahoos," Martin quipped, referring to the press assembled in front of him and Golson on Friday.
It's been about four-and-a-half months since Notre Dame named Golson its starting quarterback. He opened his college career on a fairly big stage, one well out of his comfort zone. On Monday, he'll finish up his first year as a starter on a much, much grander stage, but if his teammates and coaches are right, it'll be one that may be within his comfort zone.
"I don't ride the wave too much," Golson said. "I'm kind of just focused on what's played between the yard lines, what's played on the field. Can't really focus on everything that's off the field because that's out of my control."
Off the field will be the Coaches' Trophy, glistening under the lights of Sun Life Stadium. It could be in Golson's control by the end of the night.