TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Everett Golson was standing near one of the sidelines at Doak Campbell Stadium on Florida State's campus on a sunny morning this summer, quietly taking a long look toward the empty bleachers.
His mind wondered: What if?
What if the offensive pass interference flag - one he still thinks wasn't exactly warranted - hadn't come out at the end of the game and denied the Notre Dame team that he was leading what would have been a huge win at Florida State a year ago? Would he have left the Fighting Irish after the season? Would the Seminoles have accepted him into their locker room? Would they even have wanted him as a transfer?
These are questions that will never be answered, nor will never need answering.
Reviled at Doak Campbell last season, Golson will likely be revered there starting Saturday - his debut as Florida State's starting quarterback when the 10th-ranked Seminoles open against Texas State. Golson earned the starting nod this week, replacing 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, national champion and now No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jameis Winston under center in Florida State's offense.
''Right now, I'm just looking forward,'' Golson said. ''I can't affect the past. The past is what it is. I'm just looking forward to being on that other side where you have all those fans screaming for you and just kind of being part of that culture.''
Golson appeared in 25 games for Notre Dame, starting for the Irish in their BCS championship game loss to Alabama at the end of the 2012 season. He was suspended for the fall 2013 semester for using, as he put it, ''poor judgment on a test.'' The Irish were 6-0 when they went to Florida State for a showdown on Oct. 18, Golson was dazzling at times but the Seminoles survived 31-27 thanks in part to that call at the end.
That started a stretch of five losses in six games for Notre Dame, the downfall of the season and downfall of his oft-troubled career in South Bend. Golson didn't even start the bowl game against LSU and after graduating in the spring he was gone, eventually settling on Florida State.
It's a huge get for Florida State: They replace one quarterback who won a national title with another who has started in a title game.
''He's a tremendous young man,'' Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. ''His consistency on the field, his ability to make plays, played very consistent. ... He can make big plays. He can throw the ball down the field. He can create plays with his legs when he has to. Makes great decisions in the pocket, doing the things he has to do with his versatility and athleticism.''
Golson also won the job with his poise.
He learned the playbook quickly, got to know his new teammates right away and even shrugged off when the inevitable teasing would come about Notre Dame's loss last season. He actually was part of two losses to the Seminoles, having been on the sideline but not playing when Florida State beat Notre Dame in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.
It all seems like a lifetime ago.
''Long time. Long time,'' Golson said. ''But that just speaks to everything that I've been through. Everything that I've really been through, seeing the ups and downs, going from a 12-0 season where we lost the BCS game to getting suspended in 2013, coming back, having a good 6-0 (start to the 2014 season) and then we completely just fall off.
''I've been at every end of that spectrum. That's the stuff I can take now and say I've learned and I've matured.''
What Golson took away from his two times on the opposite sideline of Florida State, what popped into his head during that look around the stadium on that summer morning, was what he called the passion of the fan base.
When he was choosing his transfer location - because he has his degree, he didn't have to sit out a year - many other schools were mentioned as candidates. Golson's thoughts kept coming back to those two Florida State games, and even the win that got away oddly seemed to have left a positive impact in his mind.
A year ago, he tried to beat them.
Now, he's about to try to lead them.
''I set expectations very high,'' Golson said. ''This program does as well.''