After throwing for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season, Everett Golson was poised to emerge as one of Notre Dame’s top players for 2013. The Fighting Irish expected their defense to rank among the best nationally once again, but the offense was supposed to shoulder more of the burden this fall.
However, that outlook has changed significantly. Golson has been suspended for the 2013 season due to an academic issue, dealing the Notre Dame offense a huge setback three months before kickoff. While the Fighting Irish offense will miss Golson this season, the sophomore plans on returning to the team in 2014.
Although Golson wasn’t going to be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football this year, it was clear he made progress in the second half of 2012 and held his own (21-of-36, 270 yards, TD, INT) against Alabama in the national championship game.
Everett Golson's 2013 Statistics
First 7 Games
First 6 Games
Where Does Notre Dame Go From Here?
Losing Golson is a clear setback for Notre Dame’s offense. However, if there is any good news surrounding this situation, it’s the fact that backup Tommy Rees has played in 33 career games and has 18 starts under his belt.
Rees has thrown for 34 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in his career, along with a 63.5 completion percentage. With Golson sidelined against BYU last year, Rees completed seven of 16 passes for 117 yards and one score.
There’s no question Rees has the experience necessary to lead Notre Dame to 10 wins in 2013. However, in terms of talent, Golson clearly had the edge and his mobility added an extra dimension to the offense.
Rees should open fall practice atop the depth chart, but junior Andrew Hendrix (304 career passing yards) and true freshman Malik Zaire will compete for time. Hendrix is a good runner but has yet to prove he can consistently beat defenses with his arm.
Zaire was rated as Athlon's No. 21 quarterback and has dual-threat ability. But would a true freshman be a better option than Rees this season? Probably not.
Considering Brian Kelly’s experience at Cincinnati and at Notre Dame, during which he has won with multiple quarterbacks, the Fighting Irish offense should be solid regardless of who is under center. No, Notre Dame isn't going to score 35-40 points a game, but the offense should do just enough to keep this team in every game. Rees may not bring much dynamic ability to the position, but he has experience and played well when called upon last year. If Zaire has to start, the Fighting Irish will have to lean on their defense even more than last season.
Regardless of which quarterback starts, expect Notre Dame to lean more on its ground attack – even with the departure of running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. USC transfer Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson III and true freshman Greg Bryant should be a capable trio, and Notre Dame returns three starters on one of the top 15 offensive lines in the nation.
How Many Games Will Notre Dame Win in 2013?
Make no mistake: Notre Dame has one of the toughest schedules in college football for 2013. The Fighting Irish must play 11 bowl teams, with road trips to Michigan, Pittsburgh and Stanford. And there’s a neutral site matchup against Arizona State, who is picked as the favorite by Athlon Sports to win the Pac-12 South.
Considering Notre Dame has one of the nation’s top defenses, along with a reliable rushing attack and offensive line, winning 10 games is certainly possible. Had Golson returned, the Fighting Irish would have to be considered a national title contender. However, without Golson, Notre Dame will take a step back on offense.
Athlon ranked Notre Dame as the No. 8 team for 2013 and projected the Fighting Irish to finish 10-2 prior to Golson’s suspension. But that may be too optimistic with Rees, Zaire or Hendrix under center.
Despite the loss of Golson, the Fighting Irish should have a chance to play for a BCS game. The strength of schedule will help in the polls, and the defense should be able to carry Notre Dame while the offense settles on a quarterback.
There’s not much room for error for Notre Dame in 2013. However, if the defense matches last year’s performance, the Fighting Irish should be able to finish 9-3 or 10-2 and rank among the top 14 teams at the end of the regular season.
After last year's appearance in the national championship game, it was clear Notre Dame was headed on the right track under Brian Kelly. Losing Golson is a setback, but nothing that should derail the Fighting Irish from becoming a consistent top 10-15 team.
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