Thursday's post-practice news confirmed what most expected for weeks if not months. It in turn brought renewed hope to a fan base in need of a heavy dose: redshirt-freshman quarterback Everett Golson will start the season opener for Notre Dame.
Views on first-time starters, freshman and redshirt alike, differ greatly among fans, media, coaches, and opposing coaches. The latter pair know well the pitfalls; the former groupings? Let's just say the grass is always greener for those inclined to anoint the next big thing.
But in Notre Dame's case, this type of change appears to be for the better, because the alternative, the status quo, was sub par.
99 percent of Irish fans believe that the presence of Tommy Rees under center created a ceiling for the program. And the stark reality included is that a good portion of those "99 percenters" felt that ceiling was about knee-high.
It also appeared, due simply to requisite warts displayed over a mere 37 passes and about 80 snaps last season, that Rees' classmate Andrew Hendrix brought the proverbial season-ceiling with him. Fair or not, the fan base wanted change. 10 losses in two seasons and 31 in the last five will have that affect on even the heartiest supporters.
Avoiding the Sequel, Part IIBrian Kelly's only concern last spring was his program, but his comments represented the team's fan base as well after both Rees and Hendrix threw unconscionable Blue Gold Game interceptions, both of which were reminiscent of the 16 they combined for over 448 throws last fall:
"I saw some things out there that they hadn't done in the past," said Kelly last April. "But yet two interceptions in particular where we've seen that movie before. So we've got to move past that."
Now it appears, at least if Kelly's recent comments on the program's third-ever redshirt-freshman opening game starter are prescient, it appears they're finally headed in the right direction.
"The game is really, really hard," said Kelly yesterday. "Young kids have got to stay focused, and if he stays focused, he's (Golson) not going to be that guy that turns the football over."
Three Notre Dame quarterbacks combined for 22 turnovers last fall. It was an absurd number, sometimes achieved in absurd fashion, and far too often occurred at or near the opponent's goal.
Whatever Golson does wrong, and there will be plenty in Year 1, he cannot fall victim to the mistake of the red zone repeat.
Golson has the benefit of the nation's best tight end and what should be a deep, strong, and varied running game. Conversely he has unproven receivers at his disposal, veteran and rookie alike, though the latter appear promising.
Chinks in the ArmorLongtime Irish fans know well the pitfalls of a first-year starter in a passing offense. Ron Powlus, the most notable redshirt-freshman starter in program history, was a superstar for his first two games, became the devil-incarnate for fans in another couple, and finally leveled as a garden-variety, functional rookie during the team's 6-5-1 season in 1994, his redshirt-freshman year.
Though the pair's skill sets differ greatly, Golson's debut season will see similar peaks and valleys. Navy's defense isn't close to Michigan State's; the pressure to score vs. Purdue doesn't approach the importance of quality possessions vs. Oklahoma or USC. Fans will find out that like Rees, Dayne Crist, and a young Jimmy Clausen or early-career Brady Quinn before him, Golson isn't infallible.
He doesn't have to be.
He does have to be good enough that his head coach doesn't hold a similar press conference next August -- the same type he held in August 2011, one that announces that (and stop me if you've heard this before): "after a great battle in which both players showed great improvement, we're ready to name a starter..."
Golson, in Kelly's words, "has four seasons of competition remaining." Regardless of the talent in the classes above or below (read: freshman Gunner Kiel), Golson has a chance to cement his spot in the Irish huddle, a necessary reality heretofore absent from the Kelly regime in South Bend.
"Anytime you're starting someone with four seasons of competition you know he's going to learn more as he plays," said Kelly of Golson."
It's time to let him.