For our No. 1 rated position unit and an explanation of the rankings, click here.
No. 7 Return Teams
- IrishEyes' 2010 Pre-Camp Rank: No. 10 (of 12). Due largely to the lack of depth.
- 2009 Pre-Season Ranking: No. 4
- 2009 Post-Season Ranking: No. 1
- Highest ranking I can envision at season's end: With good health and good fortune, top four…plenty of redshirt-junior quarterbacks have excelled in their first seasons as a starter.
- Lowest ranking I can envision at season's end: No. 12
Pre-season National Acclaim: Phil Steele ranked Dayne Crist as his No. 44 draft-eligible quarterback.
Position Coach: Offensive Coordinator Charley Molnar – Enters his 26th season as a collegiate coach, 20 of which have been spent tutoring quarterbacks or directing a team's offense. Molnar has coached under Brian Kelly since the 2006 season at Central Michigan. The duo's passing offenses have ranked 19, 20, 26, and 8 nationally over the last four seasons. The Bearcats scored 62 offensive touchdowns last season, a mark that would rank as the highest in Notre Dame's history.
Quote to Note: – "As he feels more comfortable, he'll be able to slide and extend plays longer. That's what we'll look for in the development of him, extending plays." – Head coach Brian Kelly on junior Dayne Crist following the Blue Gold Game.
Starter: 6'4" 235-pound junior Dayne Crist (4 games played/0 starts; 10-20, 130 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception – albeit on a Hail Mary; 5 rushes, 16 yards). Crist tore the ACL in his right knee on October 31 vs. Washington State and had surgery in early November.
Backup: 6'4" 215-pound junior walk-on Nate Montana (First walked on in 2008, transferred to Pasadena Community College in the fall of 2009 where he completed 31-of-88 passes for 324 yards, with two touchdowns and five interceptions as part of a four-quarterback rotation).
Veteran Depth: None. No backup quarterback has taken a snap for the Irish.
Incoming Depth: 6'3" 226-pound freshman Andrew Hendrix (No. 29-rated QB by Scout.com); 6'3" 200-pound early enrollee freshman Tommy Rees (No. 64-rated QB by Scout.com); 6'5" 205-pound freshman Luke Massa (No. 74-rated QB by Scout.com).
StrengthsWhile not yet in Clausen's class as a polished passer, Crist's versatility should be put to good use in the spread offense. His frame can absorb the contact necessary of a Kelly QB and, at least prior to his knee injury, had showed impressive speed and the ability to get outside the pocket.
If healthy, Crist should first succeed then thrive in the new system. It's relevant to note that Crist appears to be a model teammate, one who has earned the confidence of his peers, and the ideal candidate to lead the players into a new era. Its Brian Kelly's team; its Kelly and Molnar's offense, but on-field, off-season, and behind the scenes leadership cannot be overlooked in the college game. The Irish huddle is in great hands for the next three seasons with Crist running the show.
Montana offered a mixed bag in the Blue Gold Game (the negative is included below), but I came away far more confident in his ability to help the squad in a pinch than I was entering spring ball.
The junior walk-on works the middle of the defense well (a must in this offense) and after some admitted early jitters, seemed to gain a feel for the game, showing well vs. a vanilla defense once he established rhythm. Montana made two plays outside the pocket, one a 37-yard touchdown to a wide open Duval Kamara.
Rees has a distinct advantage over Hendrix and Massa entering August. But his 15-practice spring session spent with Kelly, Molnar and his teammates must be evident from the outset if he'd like to finish camp as the team's No. 3 as competition for that role – one that would likely result in extensive playing time if Crist suffers an injury, will be heated in the coming months.
WeaknessesEight minutes and 11 seconds – Dayne Crist's career playing time represents the only major college field time experienced by any of the squad's five quarterbacks heading into the fall.
The team's four backups are an unknown entity; so too, technically, is Crist, though it's hard to envision calamity at QB if the junior signal-caller starts 10-12 games.
Montana's Blue Gold Game numbers were outstanding, but two crucial points must be noted:
- Who Cares? A quick run-down of former Blue Gold Game stars and their resulting regular seasons is sobering at best.
- The Irish (notably Jamoris Slaughter) dropped two sure interceptions, both the result of late Montana throws and what appeared to be a lack of arm strength on deep sideline routes.
Montana impressed the masses, but the film review was likely less kind to the improving backup than were the media's game recaps.
Kelly's 2008 season in Cincinnati is well-documented for its successes (11-3) despite the use of five quarterbacks. I'm confident Kelly and any Irish backup could steal a win or two in case of an injury to Crist, but the 2010 Irish will not win 10-11 games if history repeats this fall.
Entering AugustCrist showed jitters in limited action last season vs. Washington State (bouncing a pass to a wide open Tate and missing him on another occasion) and looked uncertain as a passer when the Purdue defense took away his sprint-option running game in the third quarter in West Lafayette.
But those appearances bear little resemblance to his current situation. It's his offense now, and the first hit vs. Purdue in September should cure him of the hindrance of paralysis by analysis. So too will the inherent quarterback movement in the spread offense. Crist will not be asked to drop back and fire multiple out-routes to the far side as was Jimmy Clausen last season. He'll be a playmaker, a facilitator, and as Kelly noted in April – an "extender" of plays.
A healthy Crist, coupled with the tutoring of the energetic Molnar and the play-calling brilliance of Kelly could lay waste to this pre-season ranking. But we're looking at each position group as a whole – the Irish quarterbacks are unproven and a major question mark entering training camp, especially with six BCS defenses and two tough road games awaiting the Irish in the first six weeks.