Brian Kelly finds himself in an attractive predicament, one that will stretch well past the summer heat and into the brisk South Bend fall.
He has two quarterbacks—each vastly different in terms of style, skill and makeup—and one vacancy to fill. It is an enviable position, although that is typically not the case in the sport he coaches. As the tried and true saying has taught us—the one hanging on the basement wall of every coach’s getaway lake home—two quarterbacks typically equate to no quarterbacks.
Not here, though.
This is the exception to the rule, a luxury at a position that rarely produces luxuries in bulk. With this rarity comes depth, but with such depth there also comes fine print. The Notre Dame quarterback competition won’t just be decided at some point this fall; it will likely be game to game, series to series and throw to throw. And for that reason, there’s a distinct possibility this attractive predicament could turn at some point.
More so than the candidates—which will be addressed momentarily—is the master puppeteer. Brian Kelly has already shown the propensity to go to his bullpen at any point, regardless of record, score or situation.
He couldn’t dip into his reserves last season because (a) the depth behind Tommy Rees was nonexistent and (b) outside of a handful of glaring, Tommy Rees-esque mistakes, the senior played quite well given the circumstances. But that’s not the case in 2014. Kelly’s itchy trigger finger could find life, and no one would be surprised given the arsenal he has to work with.
Following Notre Dame’s spring game, Kelly addressed the quarterback competition while speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times:
I would like to have one quarterback because they both can run the offense. This is not about having one offense for one quarterback and another offense for the other…I should be able to figure this thing out.
We should be able to get our players in a position where we can have a starting quarterback. I’ve been doing it long enough that I would hope I could figure it out come time to play Rice.
The two likeliest candidates are well established. In this corner we have Everett Golson, a year and a half removed from his trip to the national championship game and a year removed from his departure from Notre Dame after an academic mishap. He returned to Notre Dame before spring, meaning he was able to soak up valuable spring repetitions.
It was almost assumed—despite Brian Kelly’s magnificent extinguisher work to say otherwise—that Golson would immediately jump back into his role as starter. That still might be the case, although the term "assumption" no longer applies.
In terms of tools, no quarterback on the Notre Dame roster can match what Golson provides. In fact, in terms of overall arm strength, you’d be hard-pressed to find many quarterbacks nationally—excluding a handful of superhumans, starting with Penn State's Christian Hackenberg—that throw the football with the pace and distance that he delivers. His connection with Chris Brown in Notre Dame's 2012 victory against Oklahoma comes to mind.
He does this despite checking in right around 6’0” and 200 pounds, although his physical gifts are undeniable.
The other contender in this conversation is no longer simply a cult favorite in Notre Dame circles. Malik Zaire, fresh off his 292-yard, two-touchdown spring game, has seemingly obliterated the once-assumed canyon-sized gap between the two players.
Like Golson, Zaire does not come from the create-a-player QB mold. He’s listed at 6'0" and 208 pounds on his Notre Dame bio, similar in stature to his competition. Despite his lack of height, Zaire was still the No. 5 ranked dual-threat quarterback according to 247Sports’ composite rankings in the 2013 class, and he likely would have ranked much higher if he were a few inches taller.
Zaire, a lefty, runs exceptionally well. He’s not necessarily as explosive as Golson, however, and his game is built more on accuracy and control. That’s not to say he doesn’t have the physical gifts to excel at this level, but it’s simply acknowledging the obvious: He’s a different player than Golson. Each comes equipped with strengths and weaknesses.
Following a strong spring—highlighted by his electric performance in the spring game—Zaire added a bit more intrigue to the competition. Don't mistake this as one great performance in front of fans, either. He has been superb, and he also didn’t lack confidence when asked about his prospects of starting.
"Without a doubt. There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me," he said, courtesy of ESPN.com.
Kelly has yet to announce when he will decide on a starter, although he’ll likely use the early reps in fall camp and name a starter shortly after that. Given Golson’s experience, there’s still a hovering notion that he will be the starter for Week 1. If you had to guess who the starter would be at this moment, he'd probably be the name you lean toward.
That might be the case, although it’s anything but concrete. And even if Golson’s remarkable skill set and experience prevail, there’s no guarantee that will be the case come Week 4. Heck, there's no guarantee it will be the case for Week 2 when Michigan comes to town.
Kelly has already proven that he’s not afraid to make a switch without much warning. Golson knows this firsthand having been pulled for Tommy Rees a handful of times in the midst of Notre Dame's undefeated regular season.
Perhaps Kelly will have to make that call again. Or perhaps the quarterback chosen will take full advantage of the opportunity and never look back.
For now, Kelly can rest easy knowing he has the most impressive depth at the most important position in the country. It really is a wonderful luxury to have, one coaches likely marvel at from a distance. And then that first (or second) interception comes once the curtain goes up and a familiar cycle begins to churn.
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Yesterday, we hit on the SEC West's optimistic, pessimistic and realistic 2014 predictions. Now, it's time to head to the wide-open SEC East.
Defending SEC East champ Missouri surprised the world last year but now has to deal with the target on its back and some major holes on both sides of the ball.
Can Georgia, Florida, South Carolina or Tennessee get back to Atlanta, or will this be another year of surprises and upsets in the East?
Optimistic, pessimistic and realistic picks are in this slideshow.
On Wednesday afternoon, Gentry Estes of 247Sports (and others) reported that Daryl Jones had vacated his position as director of on-campus recruiting at the University of Georgia. Shortly after these initial reports, Jones issues a statement, per 247Sports confirming his departure:
After serving the past two years as Director of On-Campus Recruiting for the Georgia football program, I will be pursuing other opportunities going forward. I would like to thank Coach Richt for the opportunity of representing the Bulldawg Nation in that capacity. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Richt and all he stands for as a head coach, man, and leader of the football program. I enjoyed my role in the two top 10 recruiting classes we signed and want to wish everyone involved with the team nothing but success in the years to come.
While Jones’ leaving the program may have been somewhat surprising and his statement did little to clarify the reasoning for the change, one thing is certain: Jones’ resignation will not adversely affect Georgia’s 2015 recruiting class.
While it would be ignorant to discount the role of on-campus recruiting directors, it is important to understand the scope of their influence over blue chip recruits.
A few months ago, Bleacher Report’s own Barrett Sallee took a behind-the-scenes look at an official recruiting visit in Athens. Anyone reading that article would be hard-pressed not to find Jones’ fingerprints throughout. As director of on-campus recruiting, official visits were Jones’ wheelhouse. And he took the job seriously. According to Sallee, Jones viewed hosting official visits as a commitment of resources and a dedication of time.
We don't visit guys just for the sake of visiting. If they visit here, there's a sincere interest because we're pouring resources into them with manpower and hours being poured into getting guys here on campus. From that point on, we've done the background work, we know what they like, we know what their needs are and we know what they're interested in.
And to be sure, Jones had his hand in all of those actionable steps. Undoubtedly he was instrumental in conducting background work, managing schedules, crafting activities and making the trip run smooth.
Jones—or any on-campus recruiting director for that matter—can add value to the recruiting process by laying the ground work and executing logistics to perfection. And the importance of those functions should not be underestimated. But Jones was not the relational draw responsible for defining a recruit’s view of the program.
That responsibility—or perhaps more aptly, that opportunity—still belongs to the coaching staff.
As it stands, Mark Richt’s coaching staff continues to press forward in recruiting, and some of the nation’s best recruiters (Mike Bobo, Bryan McClendon, John Lilly, Jeremy Pruitt) will be the men responsible for earning the trust and confidence of recruits and their families.
So in that regard, Georgia’s recruiting objectives for 2015 have been minimally changed following Jones’ departure.
By most accounts, Jones performed well in his duties as director of on-campus recruiting, but his job (by its very nature) did not necessitate deep personal connections with Georgia’s top targets. Accordingly, fans can expect Georgia to fill the staff vacancy and press on.
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Everybody deals with pressure differently. Some take deep breaths, pick up a few yoga lessons or go for a late night stroll along the beach to help calm those nerves. Others are able to go on vacation for a week or so, completely removing themselves from the stressful situation.
Unfortunately, there are no days off and there is no offseason in college football, which has forced Florida head coach Will Muschamp to handle his stressful situation by pretending it doesn’t even exist. In an SEC spring meeting earlier this week, Muschamp said he’s not feeling any pressure heading into his fourth season as Florida’s coach, according to David Jones of Florida Today.
I don't feel any different pressure at all. We didn't have a good year and it was very unfortunate in what happened but I have complete confidence in where we are heading. No. 1, we are as deep and talented at running back and receiver as we've been. Jeff Driskel is going to have an outstanding year. I feel very comfortable in the first five to seven offensive linemen and I think we have the ingredients on defense to be really good. Our kick game, I think we have two punters that have NFL legs. … So I feel real good about our football team heading into the fall.
Confident? Every coach has to be in order to be successful. Expecting a better season than last year? Well, there’s only one way to go after last year’s four-win season. Pretending you can’t feel the steam seeping through your khakis from sitting on a hot seat? If you believe that, I have an igloo in sunny Miami to sell you.
Florida hasn’t had to do much firing over the last few decades, but like any prestigious program, it won’t hesitate to show you the door once enough becomes enough. Just ask Ron Zook, the only Florida head coach who was fired since Galen Hall in the late 1980s. Zook was fired with a 23-14 record in three seasons. Muschamp is 22-16 in three seasons.
If that wasn’t enough to raise some eyebrows, 12 of Zook’s 14 losses came against ranked teams. Muschamp lost eight games last season, and one of them came against an FCS team. There’s an eerie pattern going on here that doesn’t exactly favor the current Florida head coach.
So, what has to be done to save Muschamp's job?
In the words of the late, great Al Davis: Just win, baby.
Since Muschamp admitted he’s comfortable with pretty much his entire roster, that shouldn’t be difficult. Problem is, the schedule is no cakewalk. I have the Gators winning nine games this season if everything goes well. In other words, assuming the offense is able to move the ball further than the length of a loveseat. Certainly that would be good enough to keep Muschamp around for another year.
But some may say that’s a stretch given the way the Gators performed last season and the difficulty of the schedule. After all, not every team can make an Auburn-like run from worst to one of the better teams in the conference in one short season.
If that’s the case and Florida can’t make the big boy jump, Muschamp must satisfy Gator fans with a bowl win and at least one victory over a rival. If there’s anything less attractive than his overall record, it’s his 1-5 record against Georgia and Florida State. Some things make mediocre seasons easier to swallow, and bragging rights over teams the fanbase can’t stand is one of those few things.
Muschamp must deliver some key victories this season or he'll have plenty of free time for walks on the beach and yoga lessons.
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At the end of January, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly declared he will be calling the offensive plays in 2014.
Kelly described the look he wants the offense to have as the Irish prepare to transition back to a style that “is best suited for the personnel that we have,” the head coach explained.
What exactly is that look?
“It starts with the quarterback and his ability to be a playmaker within the offense,” Kelly said at the time. “[We’ve had] an offense that, certainly at times, we really haven't been able to craft it to fit a player behind the center.”
In four seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly has played five different quarterbacks: Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, Dayne Crist and Nate Montana. Only Golson was part of a recruiting class essentially completely handled by Kelly’s regime (Rees and Hendrix were part of the class of 2010, which signed two months after Kelly was named head coach). And only Golson has rushed for more than 200 yards in a single season.
The Irish, Kelly said in January, are looking to tweak the style of quarterback play within the offense.
“What I'm looking for in particular is somebody that can make some things happen outside the pocket,” Kelly said. “We have been driven behind the tackles for the last couple of years. We would like to be a little bit more dynamic outside the pocket.”
Now entering his fifth season in South Bend, Indiana, Kelly has stocked the roster with his players. And, with both the current signal-callers on the roster as well as the commitments and signees on the way, Kelly’s preferred style of quarterback play is apparent.
Notre Dame has targeted the quarterbacks it wants and—by and large—has reeled them in, situating the position nicely for the coming years.
In some order, Golson and Malik Zaire will be the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart in the fall. Incoming freshman DeShone Kizer is set to enroll at Notre Dame this summer. Between those three, the Irish boast a talented trio of dual-threat quarterbacks.
But the wheels have already been set in motion on the next wave of Irish quarterbacks. Four-star prospect Blake Barnett is the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015 and the 65th-best player in the nation overall.
“Notre Dame is signing a guy that you don’t hear too often as the top quarterback in the country, but he’s in the discussion,” said Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting.
Maybe more importantly than national rankings, Notre Dame clearly identified Barnett early in the process, and the Corona, California, native gave his verbal commitment in late November.
“For what they do on offense, they couldn’t get a better player,” Wiltfong said of Barnett.
Kelly and the Irish continue to load up on quarterbacks. All five current and future Irish quarterbacks have garnered 4-star status and ranked in the top 300 overall recruits in the country.
The process has already begun to find a quarterback in the class of 2016. Notre Dame has sent out five scholarship offers, the second-most of any position. Four of those offers have gone to quarterbacks ranked among the top 100 players in the class of 2016: Malik Henry, Jawon Pass, Shea Patterson and Xavier Gaines.
“Now that they have Barnett in the boat, they can get in early with some of the top 2016 quarterbacks in the country,” Wiltfong said. “They’ve already offered a few. So they’ve established who they’d like and now they can start building a relationship early in the process.”
The future is undoubtedly bright for Notre Dame at the quarterback position. Golson has two years of eligibility remaining, while Zaire holds four.
Sure, there’s still a starter to be named for 2014. But, big picture, Kelly has the groundwork laid for his quarterbacks to be the dynamic playmakers he wants.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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