#4 - QuarterbackSenior Everett Golson, redshirt-freshman Malik Zaire, incoming freshman DeShone Kizer. The trio is joined by freshman preferred walk-on Montgomery VanGorder and returning walk-on, Charlie Fiessinger.
The Starter: Everett GolsonIn an effort to dispense with unnecessary semantics, a Notre Dame football preview should begin with this reality: barring injury, off-field incident, or the sudden inability to function in a practice huddle, Golson will start the opener against Rice.
Thereafter, he'll have to play consistent, intelligent, playmaking football to fight off aggressive challenge Malik Zaire. But entering and likely exiting August, Golson is the man -- a senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining and the player best equipped to lead Notre Dame from the outset.
And though I project him to be outside the sport's top five, I believe Golson will be among the 10-12 best quarterbacks in the nation at season's end.
Next In Line: Malik ZaireHe'll play, because Kelly's backups generally do. And he might start a game or two, because that's the norm under the veteran head coach as well. But Zaire's makeup at present is far more human highlight reel than championship game manager -- this offense needs plenty of the latter to navigate a brutal three-month slate.
Zaire is a future team leader, but baby steps are on tap for 2014. Look for the redshirt-freshman to win a game, or contribute to multiple efforts, with athletic plays outside the pocket.
In Development: DeShone KizerWith *one exception (Tommy Rees, 2010) since 2008, Notre Dame's quarterback recruits have earned their stripes on the Irish scout team, thus preserving season of eligibility: Dayne Crist (2008), Andrew Hendrix (2010), Everett Golson (2011), Gunner Kiel (2012), and Zaire (2013).
Barring a season-ending injury to either Golson or Zaire, Kizer will follow suit -- and though he'd ascend to the varsity for game week practice should injury befall one of his mentors, it's likely Kelly and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur would still look to preserve Kizer's eligibility by withholding him from unnecessary action. He'll only play if neither of the top two triggermen can answer the bell.
(Mop-up snaps could go to VanGorder or Fiessinger.)
X-Factor -- Separation Anxiety: August's quarterback battle will only be noteworthy if Golson isn't the clear cut starter by the time the team hits it's midpoint of practice allotment (approximately 14).
If Golson doesn't separate, it's because A.) Zaire is lights out. Far beyond what he was in Spring Practice 2014, or B.) Golson face plants.
Camp QuestionsHow long will Zaire technically be in the running for the starting job? At what point would Kelly, LaFleur and the rest of the offensive coaching staff feel comfortable fostering the competition? What would Zaire have to do pull off a major upset and win the job? For that matter, short of a horrendous two weeks, can Golson conceivably lose it entering the opener?
Will Kizer stay with the varsity to open the season as Zaire and Kiel did before him?
Best-Case Scenario Golson is the best player in Notre Dame's camp and Zaire is among the top 15….Kizer picks up the necessities of the offense quickly, allowing him to grow in it as the season and winter season progress…Golson remains in good health and a package is created for Zaire to get his feet wet early against Rice and Michigan.
Worst-Case Scenario Injury to either Golson or Zaire. Failing that, Golson wins the job by default as Zaire struggles with his accuracy or to consistently produce scoring drives in live scrimmages.
Out on a LimbGolson breaks the recent Irish quarterbacks streak of poor play against Michigan (a combined nine interceptions thrown in four games of the Kelly era) and cements his role as the team's starter. Until…Zaire enters against Stanford as the Cardinal again knock Notre Dame's starting quarterback from the contest (as their brutish defense did in both 2011 and 2012 -- and, at least mentally, for all intents and purposes in 2010 vs. Crist.)…
Zaire starts and fares well against North Carolina thereafter, then both quarterbacks are used in a valiant effort in Tallahassee that comes up just short…Golson settles in and becomes the straw that stirs the drink offensively for Kelly's Irish as the team puts up in excess of 35 points per game four straight heading into the season finale at USC.
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