Brian Kelly needs some answers.
Beginning under center, there is one question that needs to be filled with a truly cemented answer—who will quarterback the Irish in 2011?
Unlike in years past, the Irish have more than enough options to fill the most important position on the field. These options aren't only seasoned quarterbacks, but talented ones as well.
Last season, Dayne Crist was given the nod to start the season, taking over for golden boy Jimmy Clausen as he bolted early to the NFL. Although he showed signs of excellence in the beginning stages of the 2010 season, Crist never was able to put it all together before ending his season with yet another devastating knee injury.
Now entering his senior season with the Irish, Crist has much to prove if he's going to be given another chance to be the go-to-guy with so many young guns waiting for an opportunity to showcase their talents.
Thus, the Irish have a dilemma that draws more positives than negatives.
After Crist's knee gave way for a second year in a row, an 18-year old Tommy Rees was pushed into the starting role as a true freshman. With many people doubting his arm strength and underclass leadership, Rees proved everyone—even his own fanbase—considerably wrong in every way. Although his numbers didn't scream All-American (1,106 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, 8 interceptions), Rees willed his team to a much-needed 4-0 finish, beating USC, Utah, and Miami along the way.
Rees will have every opportunity to prove he is worthy of keeping the starting job he stepped into last season. However, many Irish supporters still have Crist on top of the depth chart. Although this may not be safest choice, the senior does bring something Rees won't—a threat through the air and on the ground.
If Crist's knees are both fully healed by the opener with South Florida, don't be surprised to see him under center from the get-go. His "ceiling" is perhaps still the highest on the roster. However, as the oldest quarterback on the depth chart by a large margin, his time to reach that potential is running out, and fast.
With the 2010 season laid to rest, Kelly brought in another option on top of the underclass signal-callers already on the depth chart. In the mold of the perfect spread-option quarterback, Everett Golson was signed in this offseason's recruiting haul.
A prolific high school quarterback with plenty of trophies in his back pocket, Golson will also be given every chance to prove he is worthy of some snaps. Although it isn't likely he will start a game this season for the Irish, it isn't unrealistic to foresee Kelly implementing some packages for his Charlie Ward-like freshman.
If you think the talent runs dry there, you're awfully wrong. Perhaps one of the most intriguing quarterback options on the roster lies in redshirt-sophmore Andrew Hendrix. A highly-touted quarterback out of Cincinnati, Hendrix comes in the mold of a Crist-like gunner. He is pretty much an unknown quanity at this point, but reports from practices and the Blue-Gold game have fans on the edge of their seat wondering what Hendrix's game is really all about.
With the position change of former quarterback Luke Massa (wide receiver), Kelly now has four solid options under center. Crist, Rees, Golson, and Hendrix all have definite talent, and plenty of it.
Yet picking just one (or even two) of these talents to be the starting quarterback of Notre Dame in 2011 will be a daunting task for the Irish head coach. On the brighter side of things, it's better to have too many options than none at all, isn't it?
Putting my money down on the table, I will go out on a limb and predict Crist as the starting quarterback against South Florida. Where the quarterback position goes from there is anyone's guess. As it was last year, this is Crist's job to lose as the only upperclassman at the position.
He needs to be aware of the talent behind him, which will help make all four quarterbacks challenge for the job while improving as players at the same time. At some point in 2011, however, you can be almost certain the steady Rees will see a fair amount of action, as well as at least one of the two younger guys in Golson or Hendrix.