Notre Dame opens its fall practice for the 2012 season on August 4, and continues its trend of facing uncertainty as it looks forward to the season opener. As has been the case in the recent past, head coach Brian Kelly must deal with both good news and bad news as he prepares his squad for the season.
The Irish are coming off another disappointing season following a frustrating bowl game loss to Florida State last winter. While hopes will always be high among Notre Dame football fans and alumni like me, it remains to be seen whether there is a basis for that optimism, or whether a generation of frustration will continue.
Legendary coach Bill Parcells famously said that if you had two quarterbacks, you really had none. That puts the current four-man race for Irish starter in context. The opening game suspension of Tommy Rees, while bad news for him and the image of the university, might be good news for the three QBs remaining in the chase.
Junior Andrew Hendrix saw late season action in relief of Rees last year, throwing 37 passes. He showed some mobility to match is strong arm, but shared Rees's propensity to turn the ball over. Sophomore Everett Golson is a scramble that fits the mold of Kelly's preferred spread offense philosophy. Heralded freshman Gunner Kiel is a quintessential pro-style quarterback.
The season opener, against Navy in Dublin, Ireland on September 1, will be the first start ever for one of these quarterbacks, and would be the first collegiate snaps ever taken by Golson or Kiel. Does Kelly have an idea which one he is leaning toward as practice begins?
"I do," he says. "I've got an idea in my mind, but we now have to take that from what I consider meeting-room talk and what we all see in the meeting room, and then we've got to go apply that. But one is not good enough. We've got to get a couple of guys ready for Navy and the season."
The Irish are ranked 24th in the preseason coaches' poll. That is good news, of a sort. Kelly is accustomed to having his teams ranked prior to the start of the season, but knows that it doesn't matter once the teams take the field.
The bad news out of the pre-season rankings relates to Notre Dame's competition. Two of the teams the Irish will play on the road currently reside in the top five -- #3 USC and #4 Oklahoma. Three other teams that will face the Fighting Irish this season are among the top 20 -- #8 Michigan and #18 Stanford will play at Notre Dame Stadium, while ND will travel to East Lansing to meet #13 Michigan State.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.