Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 26, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 SEPT. 26, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A popular belief in col- lege football is that if a head coach says he has two quarterbacks that are good enough to start and win, then the coach actually has no quarterbacks that are good enough to start and win. This more-is-less theory carries some historical merit, but in the case of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, it need not ap- ply. In fact, when evaluat- ing Kelly's QB situation this season and in the foresee- able future, his Irish appear to be postured at this posi- tion group better than any other team in the country. Notre Dame earned the title of Tight End U because of its long legacy of send- ing All-Americans from this unit to the NFL. But after securing a growing number of four- and five- star quarterback recruits during his seven-seasons here, Kelly is better situated to have his program become Quarterback U. From former Irish signal-callers Ev- erett Golson (four) and Gunner Kiel (four), to current players Malik Zaire (four), DeShone Kizer (four) and Bran- don Wimbush (four), to future pros- pects Avery Davis (four) from the 2017 class and Phil Jurkovec (five) from the 2018 class, no other team in the coun- try appears more settled at quarter- back than Notre Dame, now and later. This doesn't include others that would be viable depth chart options elsewhere, such as three-star fresh- man Ian Book, who was wooed by top passing schools such as Washing- ton State. Sophomore walk-on Nolan Henry at Union High School in Van- couver, Wash., earned the Wendy's High School Heisman, a national prep award given for good play and great grades. And Montgomery VanGorder, a junior who came to Notre Dame as a walk-on, earned a scholarship after one season to reward his ability to replicate opposing quarterbacks during his prac- tice work on the Irish scout team. A wealth of talented quarterbacks keeps position competition high and brings insurance against the unexpected, but it also complicates the impossible coaching challenge of keeping multiple quarterbacks happy with one football, a lesson Kelly learned the hard way in a 50-47 season-opening loss to Texas. Monday morning quarterbacking after the Irish preseason QB com- petition is obviously made easy in hindsight after the disappointing outcome Sept. 4 at Texas. But Kelly makes an estimated $4 million a year to make tough deci- sions — no matter whose feelings get hurt — and to delay naming one full-time starter in the hope of keep- ing two players happy was a coach- ing mistake that may have cost Notre Dame that Texas game. "It's never easy playing two quar- terbacks," Kelly said immediately af- ter the loss to the Longhorns, which is why he never should've tried. In 11 starts last season, Kizer fin- ished with the seventh-best single- season passer rating in Notre Dame history (150.0). He also orchestrated three fourth-quarter comeback wins (Virginia, Temple and USC) and nearly two more — at Clemson when a two-point conversion attempt failed with seven seconds remain- ing in a 24-22 loss and at Stanford in a game the Irish took a 36-35 lead with 30 seconds remaining before losing 38-36. Kizer's poise, performance and fast start in his career have postured this quick study to become the first of what promises to be a string of NFL-ready Irish quar- terbacks. That is, of course, presuming recruits such as Wimbush, Davis, Jurkovec and others stay with the Notre Dame program. With only one starting spot and an abundance of talent, it's inevitable that with player impatience and transfer temptation some ex- odus will follow — a flight pattern perhaps mapped out for Zaire since his future at Notre Dame fell into limbo when Kizer was named the full-time starter before the Nevada game. Zaire, a fine quarterback and an- other future NFL candidate, has one year of eligibility remaining and is set to graduate in December, meaning he could choose the same graduate trans- fer route that Golson did, which al- lows a player with a degree to change schools and play immediately. Zaire's decision to stay or go and his future plans will play out after the season. Kizer, who redshirted as a freshman and could play two more seasons for Notre Dame after this fall, is already projected as the No. 1 overall selection in some 2017 NFL mock drafts and is a top-15 pick in all of them. In a perfect world for the Notre Dame faithful, Kizer returns next year and becomes the first Irish quar- terback to start consecutive season openers since Dayne Crist in 2010 and 2011 (for one half anyway). If Kizer doesn't come back, the new Quarterback U has plenty of rein- forcements in place to keep the Irish offense rolling and College Football Playoff hopes high. ✦ UND Is Quickly Becoming The New QB U UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at The Irish have an abundance of talent at the quarterback position on the cur- rent roster and committed to the program. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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