For Notre Dame football fans, and alumni like me, the burning question leading up to the start of the new season is simple. Who is going to be the starting quarterback? Three players, none of whom have ever started a college football game and two of whom have never even taken a snap, are vying for the job.
With fall practice less than a week old, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says the competition remains very close between junior Andrew Hendrix and sophomore Everett Golson, with freshman phenom Gunner Kiel a bit behind.
"It's 1-A, 1-B," Kelly says of the front-runners. "Both have made great progress."
The starting role opened up for the Irish when junior Tommy Rees, who has started 16 of the last 17 games for Notre Dame, was suspended for the September 1 season opener in Dublin, Ireland against Navy following his arrest and guilty plea related to an off-campus disturbance in May.
Hendrix is the only one of the three with actual game experience. He threw 37 passes for Notre Dame last season but, like a number of players on the Irish offense, was plagued by turnovers. He has some mobility, and a reputation as a guy with a big arm. For now, he is philosophical about the head-to-head nature of the competition for one of the most high-profile roles in college sports.
"As long as I focus on what I can do being the best me that I possibly can, at the end of the day, if that's not enough, that's not enough," he says.
The flashy sophomore had the best spring game of all the Irish QBs, which earned him the lead role as fall practice opened. His ability to both run and throw makes him the best candidate, on paper, to run the spread offense that Kelly has used so effectively at other schools during his career.
"One of the biggest things for me, talking with Coach Kelly, is I have the art of it but I need the science," Golson says. "So that was one of my biggest things, getting into the film room and getting my mechanics down and being a better quarterback."
The highly-touted recruit is seeing about half the reps as each of the other two competitors, indicating that he is less likely to snare the starting role. But the strong pro-style quarterback says he is comfortable for now just learning the Irish offensive scheme.
"Whatever the coaches want me to do," the Indiana native says. "If Andrew and Everett are going to get more reps than I am, then that's fine. I'm going to be the best player I can be for the team and do whatever I can to make the team better. You've just got to be smart. It's going to take a while to learn, but if you take the time and put in the effort to get into it and ask the questions about it, you're going to get it. That's what I'm trying to do."
Kelly says he would be okay with playing two quarterbacks if he needs to, but also has said that he would like to settle on one guy quickly, so the rest of the squad can get comfortable with their leader and their roles.
"I've played two quarterbacks before and I've had great success with that," the coach says. "We'll know if we get to game time that both of them have to play. Obviously they both have ability to be starters, so I can't say that I wouldn't be comfortable."
Last year's uncertainty, with a drawn out competition ending with Rees replacing starter Dayne Crist at halftime of the season opener, needs to be avoided. Kelly should pick a starter, plan to stay with that guy through the entire season, and hope that circumstances don't once again force his hand.
Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.