Traversing the path less traveled is rarely a favorable choice, particularly in college football where normalcy and commonality reign supreme.
Gunner Kiel is one of the brave souls who chose to go against the grain.
A little more than one year ago—Jan. 17, 2012, to be exact—Kiel committed to Notre Dame, a move that was met with heaping amounts of negative judgment and nit-picking criticisms, which has become the norm during college football recruiting in the digital age.
Indiana, the first program Kiel had committed to during his recruitment, saw the 6'4", 220-pound quarterback as the potential savior of a program that has been mired in mediocrity for the better part of the 21st century. When he de-committed in October 2011, Hoosier fans were displeased, which is a supreme understatement.
The Hoosiers' starting job would have been handed to Kiel on a silver platter had he chosen to remain committed to his home-state program, but greener pastures existed in his mind.
Kiel eventually decided that LSU was the school for him and even had a trailer of his belongings sent to the Baton Rouge, La., campus before reneging on the Tigers in favor of Notre Dame.
To LSU fans, Kiel was the long anticipated replacement to Jarrett Lee, meaning a starting gig was all but his should he have chosen to stick with the Tigers.
Even LSU head coach Les Miles was miffed at Kiel's decision to head north to Notre Dame, saying that the Columbus, Ind., native didn't have the "chest" to lead a program.
While there's no place in the sport for head coaches to publicly criticize 17 and 18-year-old kids, Kiel's whirlwind recruitment and decision to attend Notre Dame was somewhat befuddling, even to Irish fans. What's the logic in choosing a school where the starting quarterback gig wasn't readily available when two other schools all but handed it to you?
In an interview with UND.com two weeks after committing to Notre Dame, Kiel opened up about committing to the Irish.
"Whenever I was going through the process, I always had three things in my mind, and that was how close it was to home, the academics I was going to get and the guys on the team. The staying home factor was huge. My family and I are very close. When people get to come see me play is very, very special to me."
However, Kiel's decision has landed him in a rather precarious position.
As a freshman in 2012, Kiel was redshirted, and watched incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson lead the Irish to a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
While Golson's play didn't necessarily lock up the starting job for the next three seasons, it delivered a body blow to the starting hopes of the other quarterbacks on the roster—Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Kiel (early enrollee Malik Zaire could also be included).
Though, to be fair to all candidates, it must be remembered that head coach Brian Kelly holds an open competition for the starting job during each and every fall camp, meaning that Golson's job can't be considered truly "safe."
For conversation's sake, let's assume that Golson does win the starting job for the 2013 season and avoids a significant injury during the season. That scenario would leave Kiel with the option of riding out Golson's eligibility and starting as a redshirt senior in 2017, though that's not an ideal set of circumstances for a player once billed as a 5-star talent.
Of course, the possibility does exist for Kiel to beat out Golson for the starting gig this season. That scenario can't be ruled out. Yet it's difficult to imagine the starting quarterback of a national championship-partcipating team to be dethroned the following season.
Another factor working against Kiel's favor is Kelly's preference for a swift, agile and mobile quarterback to operate his offense.
Golson and Zaire each embody those characteristics, while Kiel represents the ideal pocket passer in a true pro-style offense. Heck, Rivals.com even compared Kiel to Peyton Manning, the current starting quarterback for the NFL's Denver Broncos.
That isn't to say that Kiel doesn't possesses adequate mobility, though. He's able to pick up yards with his feet when absolutely necessary, but he's not the type of pure athlete that both Golson and Zaire are.
These factors have led me to one conclusion, which is that it would be in Kiel's best football-related interests to transfer to another school.
Yet transferring in itself is a sticky situation for Kiel, as he referenced his desire to play close to home as an important factor of his decision to choose Notre Dame.
Transferring to a Big Ten Conference program would make the most sense should Kiel go the route of transferring, but one rather significant problem would exist: Kiel would have to sit out one season, per NCAA rules, unless he and a new school were able to convince the NCAA to waive that requirement.
The likelihood of the NCAA granting such a pardon is unlikely, as no hardship would lead to his decision to transfer.
And having already served a redshirt season at Notre Dame, the thought of sitting for another can't be appealing to Kiel.
So no matter how you frame Kiel's options, none seem to be desirable at this point.
Kiel's chances to live up to his rating as the top-rated quarterback in the 2012 class are likely resting on his ability to beat out Golson for the starting quarterback job this season. If he fails to do so, he'll be dealt an extremely poor hand.
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