With the recent suspension of star quarterback, Everett Golson, and the naming of Tommy Rees as the season opener starter, the Irish fanbase went baselessly ballistic, causing an immediate uproar of a “9-win-at-best” season.
But that got me to thinking… is it possible to have a season similar to last year with Tommy Rees leading the way? It also got me thinking about how blessed we are to have a backup quarterback with 18 career starts and several minutes of mop-up duty under his belt. In fact, many teams we face this year don’t quite have that same luxury.
What do Stanford, Oklahoma, Michigan, and USC – our toughest opponents – all have in common? They’re missing a starting quarterback with ample experience. Even better, though, is the fact that practically the rest of the Irish’s opponents are in the same exact boat…
12. AIR FORCE – JR Kale Pearson
As we all know, the traditional quarterback position doesn’t really exist at Air Force. The starter from last year has moved on, which means junior Kale Pearson will likely take over. What’s worse though, is that Air Force returns virtually no one on offense. In another reloading year, Pearson will have to battle incoming freshman, 2-star quarterback Ben Okun. As if that doesn’t speak volumes enough, Pearson has only 29 passing attempts with a completion rating of 41%. He also didn’t run the ball once last year. I think it’s safe to say that, unless circumstances severely improve, Air Force’s quarterbacks will not be much of a threat against Notre Dame’s powerful defense.
11. TEMPLE – JR Connor Reilly/FR P.J. Walker/SO Clinton Granger
A lot of questions surround one of the worst offenses in the country from last season. The starting and backup quarterbacks, Chris Coyer and Kevin Newsome, were switched to H-back and tailback respectively as soon as new offensive coordinator Matt Rhule arrived to implement his pro-style offense. It is assumed that redshirt junior, Connor Reilly, will take over this year if not pushed too hard by incoming freshman P.J. Walker. Whoever starts, though, will be asked to improve upon the 1300 total passing yards and 10 total passing touchdowns from a year ago. Not a tall task by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m not expecting a total makeover overnight either.
10. PURDUE – SR Rob Henry/FR Danny Etling
Purdue has to replace the multi-year starting quarterback duo of Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. And according to those close with the program, this may take awhile. There’s currently a four-way race, but it looks as if senior Rob Henry is a step in front. He only attempted 38 passes last season and didn’t make the best of those situations amassing a mere 55% completion rating. Also in the mix is freshman Danny Etling who enrolled early. He had a mediocre spring game showing passing for over 100 yards, but has impressed coaches throughout the rest of the spring.
9. BYU – JR Taysom Hill
Head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, named Taysom Hill as this year’s starter because of his game experience and strong showing in the spring. He carries a lot of athleticism to go along with his agility and escapability. However, jumping from third on the depth chart a year ago to taking the starting role a season later is never an easy task. His speed is certainly an upside, but against Notre Dame’s top-tier run defense, that will hardly be a benefit. He only had 4 passing touchdowns to go along with his 71 pass attempts from a year ago. He’ll have to improve on his 59% completion rate and rely less on his legs if he wants a victory come November 23rd.
8. PITTSBURGH – JR Trey Anderson/SR Tom Savage/FR Chad Voytik
Pittsburgh is faced with a situation that many other Irish opponents are experiencing: replacing a multi-year starting quarterback. Because Tino Sunseri exhausted his eligibility, there’s a tight race between Trey Anderson, Rutgers transfer Tom Savage, and redshirt phenom Chad Voytik. However, none have truly impressed and the verdict is still out. Once again, the Irish will be facing a below-par offense, who finished dead last in the Big East. If Pittsburgh can improve on allowing 3+ sacks a game this season, they will be a step ahead of last year. Until then, the quarterback controversy still remains a mess.
7. MICHIGAN STATE – SR Andrew Maxwell/SO Connor Cook
Michigan State’s offense last year centered around early Heisman hopeful, Leveon Bell. He averaged 30 carries a game – alone. That certainly took a load off first year starter, Andrew Maxwell. The only issue is, Leveon Bell is up in the NFL this season. Maxwell only completed 52.5% of his passes last season, which is ironic considering most of his passes were no longer than 5 yards. His 13-9 TD/Int ratio isn’t eye-popping either. He will be listed as the starter going into the fall camp, but MSU coaches have already expressed interest in sophomore Connor Cook if Maxwell can’t improve his game. Either way, the Irish defense should have no problem keeping them in check for a third straight year.
6. USC – SO Max Wittek/FR Max Browne
Everyone’s 2012 preseason Heisman winner was Matt Barkley. Of course, as we all know, that didn’t turn out as expected. With an injury late in the season, the Fighting Irish got a taste of the years to come at USC. Max Wittek came in, threw for 186 yards, and completed 2 interceptions to the Irish defense. He finished the year completing more passes to opposing defenses than passes to his own teammates in the endzone, as well as only 52% of his passes. He’ll be in a tight race this summer and fall with 5-star freshman, Max Browne – who many are saying is the future face of the organization. Like the rest of the Irish opponents this year, though, USC faces some serious lack of experience issues at a position in which it is so vital.
5. NAVY– SO Keenan Reynolds
Navy runs, runs, and runs. We all know that. Whoever the quarterback is must have endurance and the capability to burn. Keenan Reynolds is expected to start this season after taking over midway through last season for Trey Miller. Since Miller has been released from the academy for what’s believed to be academic violations, the spot is Reynolds’ to lose. He averaged 4 yards per carry and complimented that with 10 rushing touchdowns. If Notre Dame’s superior run defense can eliminate this threat, he’ll be forced to throw. While Reynolds is one of the better passers out of the Naval Academy, his 9 touchdowns, 900 passing yards, and 56% completion rate are really of no concern.
4. OKLAHOMA – JR Blake Bell
It’s hard to replace a starter who has over 16,600 career passing yards and over 120 career touchdowns, but that is the task head coach, Bob Stoops, is faced with this offseason. The presumptive winner is junior Blake Bell who was used primarily in short-yardage or goal-line scenarios last season. His 11 rushing touchdowns were superb for a backup. But the real question is, can he be an every-down quarterback while passing the ball, too? His 213 yards and 2 touchdowns in the spring game nullify bits of that dilemma, but we all know how spring games go. The question still remains unanswered with Bell, as he hasn’t obtained much game-time experience.
3. STANFORD – SO Kevin Hogan
It’s been a couple years since Andrew Luck took snaps, and with Josh Nunez as the season opener starter last season, the forecast looked pretty dismal. Now that Nunez has officially “retired” from football, sophomore Kevin Hogan has the spot all to himself. In the six starts he had last year, he was more than efficient. His 72% completion clip is eye-popping at first, until you realize that the majority of those passes were to star tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, and star running back, Stepfan Taylor – all of whom are not returning. More responsibility will fall on Hogan’s shoulders as he soaks in more leadership of the offense after leading the Cardinals to another Rose Bowl victory.
2. MICHIGAN – SR Devin Gardner
Michigan senior quarterback, Devin Gardner, certainly has the size and ceiling to be great. However, for the past couple years, he’s been hiding in the shadows of past star “quarterback,” Denard Robinson. With Robinson headed off to play wide receiver in the NFL, this may be a blessing in disguise for the Wolverines. Gardner started 4 games last season, completed 60% of his passes, and had a 6-touchdown performance against Iowa. The potential is already there. The skillset is already there. But will only a few games of experience be enough to make a difference by Week 2 of this season? As the season rolls on, I expect Gardner to have a spectacular year. But, I think the top defense in the country will be too much for him to handle on September 7th.
1. ARIZONA STATE – JR Taylor Kelly
Notre Dame’s defense faces its toughest quarterback challenge all season on October 5th against Arizona State. With a full season of starting experience under his belt, junior Taylor Kelly is primed to improve on what was already an extremely impressive first year. This dual-threat quarterback threw for over 3,000 yards, ran for 500, and had 30 total touchdowns. He’s efficient, too, as he completed 67% of his passes and only threw 9 interceptions. There is hope for Irish fans, though. Notre Dame is the last game of a nasty four-game stretch for the Sun Devils that also includes Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC. Regardless, they’ll come out ready to play their best game against the Irish with Taylor Kelly leading the charge.
Year in and year out, Notre Dame plays a tough schedule. But this year, their schedule is littered with name-brand teams with little or no experience at the most critical position. 10 of the 12 teams don’t have an established quarterback with even a year of starting experience. If South Bend produced the best defense in the country in 2012 against a schedule crowded with top-tier quarterbacks, what’s the limit for the 2013 Irish defense against a schedule with several inexperienced signal-callers?