As a freshman quarterback in 2012, Everett Golson led Notre Dame to an unbeaten regular season and a berth in the BCS title game. After a year away, it now won't be long before Golson takes the field for the first time since that season-ending blowout 42-14 loss to Alabama.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told reporters on Wednesday that Golson, who missed the entire 2013 campaign due to a suspension, will start the Fighting Irish's Week 1 game against Rice. Golson was battling with freshman Malik Zaire for the role since returning to the program in January, after he completed a semester-long academic suspension. Golson admitted to SI.com's Andy Staples in October that he previously cheated on an assignment.
Golson's return is a welcome one for Irish fans, who watched the program's passing attack flounder at times in 2013. Without Golson, Tommy Rees led Notre Dame's offense to the tune of 3,257 passing yards with 27 touchdowns, but he only completed 54 percent of his attempts and tossed 13 interceptions. Mistakes that had come to define Rees' career surfaced at inopportune moments during the course of the Irish's 9-3 season.
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Golson, as a freshman, wasn't as prolific a passer as Rees was last year. Golson averaged 7.56 yards per attempt in 2012, compared to Rees' 7.86 mark in '13. But the 6-foot, 200-pound
Golson was a much more effective runner -- gaining 298 rushing yards and six touchdowns -- and he also cut down on mistakes, completing 58 percent of his throws with only six picks. That's good news for a relatively inexperienced Irish offense.
During spring practice, Golson said he feels faster than he was before, and he is more familiar with the offense. Kelly told ESPN in March that he noticed an improvement in Golson's film-room awareness. "In some of the film study I had with [Golson], there was definitely a conceptual awareness that he had lacked at some times with the passing game," Kelly said. "He clearly has that. It's an easier conversation for him. If I could give you the best way to explain it, it would be when he would explain his progression, it might take him 10 seconds. Well, you've got 2.6 seconds to throw the ball. Now he's precise in his communication."
Though former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin left to take over as the coach of Miami (Ohio) in December, the Irish promoted wide receivers' coach Mike Denbrock to the position. Denbrock was Notre Dame's passing game coordinator in 2012, when the Irish went to the BCS title game.
The program lacks proven skill-position players for Golson to work with, but plenty have potential. Running backs Greg Bryant and Cam McDaniel should join Golson as rushing threats, while DaVaris Daniels could blossom into a big weapon at receiver. Many assume Denbrock will rely on the ground game, which could be a strength of this team.
If Golson requires time to shake off his rust, Notre Dame's schedule might prove difficult. The Irish face a daunting slate that includes road games at Florida State, USC and Arizona State alongside home meetings with Michigan, Stanford and Louisville. But Kelly tabbed Golson as the starter relatively early in fall camp, a move that could be a positive sign for the offense.
||Purdue (in Indianapolis)
||Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.)
||at Florida State
||at Arizona State