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."

Bill Connelly: Notre Dame can be a playoff contender in 2016

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Bill Connelly: Notre Dame can be a playoff contender in 2016

SB Nation's Bill Connelly is one of the foremost experts on college football analytics out there today -- you'll see plenty of his numbers on this site -- so when he writes about Notre Dame, you pay attention. 

And in his 2016 preview of Notre Dame, Bill C. has quite an optimistic outlook. 

Still, Notre Dame features more exciting sophomores and juniors than almost any team in the country: quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, running back Josh Adams, tight end Alizé Jones, safety Drue Tranquill, etc. If Kelly can keep his troops rallied, Notre Dame will have a serious shot at a Playoff bid, especially considering the schedule might ease up. And if the defense plays to its recruiting rankings, this team's ceiling is as high as anyone's outside of Tuscaloosa.

Give the whole preview a read, since it's packed full of good information and numbers about what Notre Dame did last year and where it's going this fall. A few thoughts on it:

-- Somewhat surprising in Bill's numbers was that Notre Dame's defense had the same S&P+ rank (57) in the first quarter as it did in the fourth quarter. Slow starts were a major problem for this group last year, one that Brian VanGorder & Co. circled as in desperate need of a fix. The fourth quarter mediocrity, though, probably was brought down by foot-off-the-gas efforts at the end of the Georgia Tech and Boston College games. 

-- How does a run defense that ranked 56th in S&P+ get better when it loses so many key pieces from 2015? Bill leans heavily on the four-star recruiting rankings of guys like Nyles Morgan, Te'von Coney and Jerry Tillery, and doesn't see the Irish run defense getting any worse. But without Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara, Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith, it probably won't get any better. 

-- Bill's evaluation of the offense is pretty much on point. There's a lot missing from last year's group, but Notre Dame was extremely successful in replacing its starting quarterback and running back after the first two weeks of last season. Wide receiver coach Mike Denbrock and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have proven themselves more than capable of developing players over the last few years, too, so even with so many new faces in those groups, it's fair to trust both will continue to be productive. 

-- Now for the fun stuff. Bill's schedule breakdown is what really stands out about this preview in that Notre Dame's lowest win probability in its first 11 games is 59 percent (Week 1 at Texas). Home games against Michigan State and Stanford and a road trip to N.C. State are all in the 60-65 percent range, and Syracuse, Miami and Virginia Tech are between 70-75 percent. If Notre Dame is able to win close games against lesser opponents -- as it consistently did last year -- it very well could roll into Los Angeles 11-0. And while right now Bill only gives Notre Dame a 41 percent chance of beating USC, that's about as ideal a formula as Brian Kelly could follow to make the College Football Playoff. 

-- No matter how you view Bill's optimism about Notre Dame's offense/defense/special teams, expected regressions from Michigan State and Stanford and a schedule that only has three true road games does set up well. The onus will be on Irish coaches and players to avoid an offensive regression, improve the defense and do what last year's team could've done with this schedule -- and very well could've meant making the College Football Playoff. 

Looking at what QB recruit Phil Jurkovec could bring to Notre Dame

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Looking at what QB recruit Phil Jurkovec could bring to Notre Dame

Notre Dame got its guy on Monday when four-star dual-threat quarterback Phil Jurkovec verbally committed to Brian Kelly & Co. 

The Gibsonia, Pa. native is one of the more highly-touted recruits in the class of 2018 and follows Notre Dame's one-quarterback-a-year trend that's been in place since Everett Golson signed in 2011. Since then, Notre Dame has signed one quarterback every recruiting cycle, from Golson to Gunner Kiel to Malik Zaire to DeShone Kizer to Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book. Four-star dual-threat quarterback Avery Davis is a verbal commit for the class of 2017, and then there's Jurkovec on track to follow in 2018. 

For more perspective on Jurkovec -- who he is, what Notre Dame's chances of keeping him are, and how he fits in Kelly and Mike Sanford's plan -- J.B. Long and I talked with Irish Illustrated recruiting reporter Jake Brown on the Still Independent Podcast. Give it a listen:

 

Notre Dame-Texas to kick off in primetime Sept. 4

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Notre Dame-Texas to kick off in primetime Sept. 4

Notre Dame's Sept. 4 season opener against the Texas Longhorns in Austin will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC, ESPN announced Tuesday. 

Last month, Notre Dame and Texas announced the game would be moved to Sunday from its original Saturday, Sept. 3 scheduled date. It's the only college football game scheduled on Sep. 4, which is one week before the NFL takes over Sundays. 

With the Texas start time announcement and last week's reveal of kickoff times for home games and the Shamrock Series, only three Notre Dame games have TBA kickoffs: Oct. 1 at Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium), Oct. 8 at North Carolina State and Nov. 26 at USC. 

Notre Dame throttled Texas, 38-3, in South Bend to open the 2015 season. That game also kicked off at 7:30 p.m. ET.