Everett Golson wasn’t going to be unseated as Notre Dame’s No. 1 quarterback this spring, nor was he going to lose his job in fall camp. More specifically, Gunner Kiel wasn't going to take the job from him in the next few months. Best-case, Kiel could've climbed the depth chart and replaced Golson during the 2013 season.
But with Kiel's widely-reported transfer -- it's yet to be confirmed by Notre Dame -- there's no questioning Golson's status as Notre Dame's quarterback of the present and future.
That status came into focus last fall, as Golson developed as the quarterback of a team that went 12-0 in the regular season and reached the BCS Championship. For Golson to become merely a good quarterback -- someone who can go out and be a key contributor to winning football games -- he has plenty of strides to make. The talent certainly exists. But now, the chance he’s dethroned while at Notre Dame may not.
2013 will be Tommy Rees’ final year in a Notre Dame uniform. It’ll be Malik Zaire’s first, although he’s likely to preserve a year of eligibility and stay on the sidelines. Andrew Hendrix was bumped down the quarterback pecking order last year and will likely be No. 3 on the Irish depth chart, behind Golson and Rees.
Unless something goes completely haywire, Rees isn’t taking over the starting spot. That didn’t happen last year, even despite all of Golson’s early misgivings and teammates that didn’t fully trust him for a good chunk of the season. If Golson's development continues trending upward, Rees may not even serve in the safety net role he had last year. As long as Golson leads college football in getting his helmet knocked off, though, Rees will still see some sporadic action.
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Spring practice, though, is just another period of time for Golson to improve. He’s reportedly added weight in the offseason, something coach Brian Kelly has stressed for a while. Golson’s shown the arm strength and elusiveness that can make him a strong quarterback, but it’s marrying those physical traits with confidence and success that’s the next step.
If Notre Dame can find a way to not just repeat the success of 2012 but also build on it, they'll need Golson to take that next step. The last time Golson played, he saw Alabama dismantle the Irish on a national stage. While the BCS Championship didn't go as Notre Dame hoped, it served as a grand learning experience for Notre Dame's first-year quarterback.
"His motivation in the off season is going to be to get back to this game," Kelly said after the game. "And the experience that he is able to take from this game, you can't duplicate it if you're sitting home or playing in a bowl game. When you're playing for a National Championship, that stuff doesn't leave you."
As Notre Dame licked its wounds in January, the talk around the Irish locker room was centered on closing the gap with Alabama. There's more to that than just the quarterback -- in fact, every Notre Dame unit is playing catch-up to Nick Saban's Crimson Tide -- but it's certainly an important area.
And those efforts for Golson to close the gap begin on a larger scale next week.