Notre Dame's future: QB logjam only gets more crowded

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Notre Dame's future: QB logjam only gets more crowded

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Gunner Kiel sat in the stands at Sun Life Stadium last week and said all the right things. Among them: He's never considered transferring, he's learned a lot while sitting out his freshman season and he's prepared to try to better himself as a quarterback even in the face of a stacked depth chart.

Over the course of his recruitment, Kiel committed to Indiana and LSU before a late switch to Notre Dame. With Everett Golson -- who has three years of eligibility remaining -- quarterbacking Notre Dame to a BCS Championship berth this year, naturally speculation was conjured up that Kiel would consider leaving South Bend for a more secure shot at a starting role.

But if one quote Kiel said was telling, it was when he was asked about some harsh comments made by LSU coach Les Miles after he decommitted.

"I was dumb during the recruiting process," Kiel said. "I couldn't really make up my mind."

If Kiel still holds that same indecisiveness, he didn't show it. He referred to "so many doors" that could open and lead him to a starting position at Notre Dame before Golson's eligibility is exhausted.

"Anything could happen," Kiel said. "He could go to the NFL, you never know. But he could also get hurt, other people could get hurt."

Kiel could also unseat Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback.

RELATED: Reconciling BCS loss with 2012 season no easy task for Irish

During the season, coach Brian Kelly said Golson won't be handed his same gig in 2013. He made plenty of strides in 2012, but still has plenty of room to improve.

If those improvements don't come and Kiel proves himself worthy of topping Notre Dame's depth chart, then there's no reason why he wouldn't get the job.

"I'm going to try, but he's a great quarterback," Kiel said of dethroning Golson. "He's going to lead this team, and he's going to keep getting better, so I just need to keep getting better and learn from him and also learn from coach Kelly and just try to keep getting better each day."

Here's a thought, too: Golson's season took off when he gained the confidence of his teammates and coaches, and by extension, wasn't looking over his shoulder to the sidelines to see if Tommy Rees was warming up. How he handles a potential push from Kiel will be interesting, especially if it makes him uncomfortable with his role.

But make no mistake, it's Golson's job to lose. If he does lose it, chances are, it'll be to Kiel.

The forgotten one

Andrew Hendrix saw the field a bit in 2011, filling in for Rees and playing the entire second half of Notre Dame's 28-14 loss to Stanford. Over the course of his sophomore year, Hendrix completed 18-of-37 passes for 249 yards and rushed 25 times for 16 yards.

In 2012, he lost out to Golson for the team's starting gig and barely got on the field, only playing in garbage time against Navy and sparingly against BYU and Wake Forest. On the season, he threw seven passes and rushed eight times.

"He's kind of the glue that keeps us together," Rees said. " He's always there to help, he's always there to provide a laugh if we need it. He's been a great influence on all of us."

While the depth chart for Kiel may seem daunting, climbing it will be even more difficult for Hendrix. He was Notre Dame's No. 3 quarterback in 2012, and with Kiel entering the mix in 2013, he'll likely be bumped to No. 4. In what would be his final season, he might wind up in that same spot.

"After the season, we'll assess that, see where I stand -- I know the coaches will be honest with me, because I know they respect me and think of me as pretty much one of their own kids anyways," Hendrix said last week. "That'll be something that we'll work on after the season."

Of course Hendrix wants to play, but he doesn't sound like someone who has a laser focus on playing at the next level. He's a pre-med student and says that route is what he wants to do, and it was the first thing he brought up when asked about his future at Notre Dame.

"I'm so close to graduating anyways," Hendrix said. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

The backup

In three years at Notre Dame, Rees has assumed a starting role, lost it for 30 minutes, assumed it again and lost it three months before having a chance to retain it. From there, the to-be senior served as Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin's safety net, entering four games when it was deemed Golson wasn't good or healthy enough to continue playing.

Rees may see another demotion in 2013, if Kiel ascends to a backup role behind Golson. But perhaps Rees' experience will keep him in the mix if Golson gets hurt -- or loses his helmet, which happened seemingly once a game in 2012.

RELATED: Despite blowout loss, Notre Dame here to stay

Whereas Dayne Crist had the ability to transfer without sitting a year after it became clear he wasn't going to see the field in his final year of eligibility, Rees doesn't have that luxury. If he were to leave Notre Dame, he'd have to sit out 2013 and play in 2014. That's not an easy position, since a lot can change with a team's quarterback situation in a year.

Crist had the advantage of playing for a coach he was familiar with and for a Kansas program that didn't have much talent at the quarterback position. Finding that perfect fit would be difficult, and if Rees were to leave there's a chance he'd wind up in the same predicament he'd be in at Notre Dame.

When asked about going into 2013 as a backup, Rees didn't seem opposed to the idea.

The newcomer

Malik Zaire committed to Notre Dame over offers from programs such as Alabama, Nebraska, Ohio State and Oregon. He'll enroll at Notre Dame this month and carries to campus a four-star rating by Rivals.com, which tabbed him as the No. 3 quarterback in the class of 2013.

The dual-threat quarterback from Kettering, Ohio will likely sit out 2013, allowing him to stay at Notre Dame through 2017.

In a few years, though, would Golson, Kiel and Zaire really want to be on the same roster? If Zaire pans out and all three have next-level aspirations, there just wouldn't be enough opportunities to go around.

The incumbent

Against Alabama, Golson was tasked with handling the entirety of Notre Dame's offense. With Alabama throwing a few early haymakers and possessing an outstanding run defense, Notre Dame's rushing attack never had the chance to get going -- which meant Golson had to pass early and often.

He struggled early but held his own late, although part of that may have had to do with Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart calling off the dogs while the Tide stormed to a four-touchdown lead.

"I'm kind of just taking this game under my belt," Golson said. "I'll just gain the experience from it, and really looking forward to next year knowing that I've got to be more of a leader, and just being more of a leader to this team and trying to make this team better."

Golson completed 21-of-36 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Notre Dame's 42-14 BCS Championship loss. For the season, the first-year starter completed 187-of-318 passes for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also rushed 94 times for 298 yards and six touchdowns.

That's not a bad starting point, and Golson made plenty of strides from Sept. 1 through Jan. 7. But he'll have to continue to make strides to hold off Kiel, especially in spring ball when Kiel will be given every opportunity to have a breakout performance.

But the No. 1 quarterback job is Golson's to lose. He has the talent to not only hold off Kiel, but be an impact player for the Irish offense over the next few seasons.

And, for what it's worth, he has the endorsement of the coach of college football's most powerful program.

"The guy's a really good player," Alabama coach Nick Saban said last week. "He's a very good athlete, first of all. He can extend plays. He can run. He can scramble. He's not typically a guy that just wants to take off. He's a very effective passer.

"So anybody that thinks he's not capable as a passer is totally missing the boat."

Notre Dame unit preview: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and the quarterbacks

Notre Dame unit preview: DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and the quarterbacks

With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp fast approaching, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. 

Depth Chart

1A. DeShone Kizer (Redshirt sophomore)
1B. Malik Zaire (Redshirt junior)
2. Brandon Wimbush (Sophomore)
3. Ian Book (Freshman)

All eyes will be on Notre Dame’s quarterback competition in August, with coach Brian Kelly saying after spring practice Kizer and Zaire were entering the summer on an even playing field. Zaire needed the spring to catch up to Kizer in terms of some of the offensive wrinkles installed after his season-ending ankle injury in the second week of the season. 

Both quarterbacks will get an opportunity to win the starting job during preseason camp, though the slight edge has to go to Kizer given his experience (11 starts) against that of Zaire (three starts). While Zaire’s potential remains high (he did, after all, quarterback Notre Dame’s best win of the season last year, that 38-3 shellacking of Texas), Kizer showed last fall plenty of the traits Kelly has wanted out of a quarterback since arriving in South Bend in December of 2009. Kizer takes coaching well and rarely made the same mistakes on a week-to-week basis, and he accounted for 31 touchdowns with some solid other numbers, too. 

That’s not to say Zaire can’t win the job next month, but he probably has more of an uphill climb to earn it than Kizer does. 

Biggest question: When will a starting QB be announced?

Kelly said during spring practice he wants his offense to form an identity around a starting quarterback, so don’t expect this decision to drag on until right before kickoff of the Texas game (Ohio State’s handling of the Cardale Jones-J.T. Barrett competition last year stands as a lesson in how to not make a quarterback and an offense comfortable). The preseason camp portion of Notre Dame’s August practices usually runs for about two weeks, so with a start date of Aug. 6, expect Kelly to announce a starter sometime after Aug. 20. 

Whether that announcement becomes public is another question, but Kizer, Zaire and Notre Dame’s offense likely will have have about two weeks of practice/meetings before the Texas game knowing who their starting quarterback is. 

Youthful impact

Wimbush appeared in two games last year, with Kelly, Mike Sanford & Co. seeing the necessity to burn his redshirt to get him in-game reps in case he needed to take meaningful snaps in a College Football Playoff race. Kelly in the spring walked back a comment he made in February about planning to redshirt Wimbush this fall, but if Kizer and Zaire both stay healthy, Notre Dame would probably prefer to keep the talented sophomore on the sidelines in 2016. 

Book enrolled in Notre Dame this summer with far less hype than his predecessors (he was only a three-star recruit), but Sanford raved about his skillset and fit in the Irish offense on signing day in February. He’ll likely take a redshirt year and begin his quest to move up the rungs of the depth chart in 2017. 

They said it

“They are both that good. I already know that. But there will be a day, and we're going to have to say: It's time to go, he's our quarterback, everybody's behind him and we need to go, and that's who the quarterback is.” — Brian Kelly

Notre Dame unveils 2016 Shamrock Series uniforms

Notre Dame unveils 2016 Shamrock Series uniforms

Notre Dame will wear green (and gold) for its Shamrock Series game against Army in November. 

The football program unveiled 2016's one-off Under Armour jerseys for the annual Irish showcase game on Thursday. The uniforms come on the heels of last year's all-green look for Notre Dame's game against Boston College at Fenway Park.

Take a look at the announcement video for this year's threads:

Here's some closer-up looks:

Notre Dame and Army kick off at the Alamodome in San Antonio at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 12. The Shamrock Series will take a one-year hiatus in 2017, with the neutral-site showcase game expected to return in 2018. 

[SHOP: Buy a 2016 Shamrock Series jersey]

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

Ranking Notre Dame's schedule: The four toughest games

We’ve covered four games Notre Dame should have no excuse not to win and four that could blossom into tricky trap games this fall. If all goes well, though, those eight games won’t decide Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff fate. 

That’s where these last four games in our schedule ranking come into play. If Notre Dame goes 8-0 against those opponents it’ll be heavily favored against, it can realistically go 3-1 against these four teams and have a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Of course, winning all four of these games would all but assure the Irish a spot in college football’s Final Four on New Year’s Eve. 

4. Texas (Sept. 4 in Austin, Texas)

The Longhorns are the biggest wild card on Notre Dame’s 2016 schedule. This wasn’t a good team last year — they ranked 68th in F/+ and went 5-7 — but there is so, so much talent at Charlie Strong’s disposal. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson is a star in the making and both sides of the ball are littered with former blue-chip recruits. But this has been the narrative around Texas for the last four or five years — there’s talent, but when will that produce the kind of win totals those in Austin expect? 

The biggest immediate question to be answered is who Texas’ starting quarterback will be on this season-opening Sunday night at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. All signs seem to be pointing to true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele — the son of former Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Steve Buechele — and if it is him, he’ll be an unknown for both teams. Texas can’t predict how he’ll handle the pressure of a nationally-televised primetime game, and Notre Dame won’t have much film on him. 

And there’s also the nebulous revenge factor that comes from Notre Dame’s 38-3 stomping of Texas in last year’s season opener. This seems like a game in which it wouldn’t be surprising to see Notre Dame to again win handily or for an ascending Longhorns side to give the Irish a tough evening. 

3. Michigan State (Sept. 17 in South Bend)

The first of two primetime kickoffs at Notre Dame Stadium this fall comes against last year’s College Football Playoff No. 4 seed, but one that loses star players across the field. Quarterback Connor Cook, offensive linemen Jack Allen and Jack Conklin and defensive end Shilique Calhoun all have to be replaced, as well as plenty of other key contributors. 

Michigan State’s quarterback will probably be Tyler O’Connor, though they’ll rely heavily on running back L.J Scott to power the offense. With an inexperienced quarterback and plenty of youth at wide receiver, Notre Dame may look to sell out to stop the run and make the Spartans’ passing game beat them. 

While there’s some uncertainty that has to be worked through in East Lansing, it’d be foolish to expect anything less than a strong Mark Dantonio side to arrive in South Bend. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in five of the last six years and have finished in the AP top six in each of the last three years. 

2. Stanford (Oct. 15 in South Bend)

The good news for Notre Dame, oddly, may be that quarterback Kevin Hogan doesn’t return while Heisman finalist running back Christian McCaffrey is back. Notre Dame set out to mute McCaffrey last year in California, and it worked — he only rushed for 94 yards on 27 carries and didn’t score a touchdown — but in that vacuum, Hogan threw as many touchdowns as incompletion (four) in a two-point Irish loss. 

Hogan’s replacement, Keller Chryst, has already drawn comparisons to former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. We’ll probably know by mid-October if that’s fair or not, but as long as McCaffrey is there and Stanford continues to develop strong offensive lines, this team should glide to another top-10 or top-20 season. 

Much like Dantonio and Michigan State, it’s reasonable to expect David Shaw’s Stanford teams to be among the best Notre Dame will play every year. And each of the last four Notre Dame-Stanford games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Don’t expect anything different this fall. 

1. USC (Nov. 26 in Los Angeles)

There isn’t much separating the difficulty levels of the Stanford and USC games, but because Notre Dame gets the talented, explosive Trojans on the road, it gets the top spot. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson are back, as are a dynamic pair of running backs in Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. Max Browne will slide in for Cody Kessler at quarterback and finally has developed a good offensive line (Phil Steele ranks it as the best group nationally). 

USC’s front seven does have some holes, but its defensive backs — led by cornerbacks Jackson and Iman Marshall — should buoy Clancy Pendergast's group. 

Unlike Stanford and Michigan State, though, USC hasn’t been stable since the end of the Pete Carroll era. Will Clay Helton prove to be exactly what USC needed or an uninspired hire by one of college football’s elite programs? With this being the last game of the season, it wouldn’t be surprising for Notre Dame to roll into Los Angeles to face a middling Pac-12 side or one competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But if USC’s offense comes together and its defense can hold serve, this’ll be the most difficult game on Notre Dame’s schedule.