In a matter of about seven weeks, Notre Dame has gone from a quarterback surplus to a quarterback crisis.
The stunning news Saturday night that starter Everett Golson is no longer enrolled in school comes after five-star freshman Gunner Kiel announced his transfer in April to Cincinnati. Suddenly, the Fighting Irish chances of repeating last year's BCS championship game run look a lot longer than they were coming out of spring practice. A team with a solid opportunity to start 2013 in the preseason top five now must be reconsidered.
In fact, the loss of Golson continues a succession of shocks Notre Dame has endured since its 12-0 season landed it a spot opposite Alabama in the title game. First, the Irish bombed against the Crimson Tide and were routed, 42-14. Then star linebacker Manti Te'o had his reputation assailed when revelations surfaced that the girlfriend he spoke of many times during the season – and who allegedly died – in fact never existed. Now the school's starting quarterback has been dismissed from school.
The good news for Notre Dame is that there still is some depth at that most critical of positions. Tommy Rees, who performed exceptionally in relief of Golson several times in 2012, is back for his senior year. Rees has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns with the Irish, and in theory will have a competent backup in Andrew Hendrix, who possesses more elusiveness and athleticism.
But while there is experience at quarterback, Golson clearly established himself last fall as Notre Dame's leader and a rising star. He stepped up his performance in the second half of the season, most notably in road victories over Oklahoma and Southern California, and was one of the few Irish players not to play horribly against Alabama in the title game.
Golson's ascendance effectively ended any idea of a quarterback competition in spring practice and helped lead to the transfer of Kiel, who has been all over the college football map in a short period of time.
Kiel, from Columbus, Ind., initially committed to nearby Indiana. Then he switched course and committed to LSU. But before enrolling he switched again and went to Notre Dame – where his uncle, Blair, once starred at quarterback. After redshirting last season, he left for Cincinnati, a major coup for new Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville.
John Infante, who operates the popular Bylaw Blog, which parses NCAA issues, wrote Saturday night that Kiel actually could switch course one more time and return to Notre Dame without having to sit out. Infante cited "Bylaw 22.214.171.124.8, the Return to Original Institution Without Participation or With Minimal Participation Exception." That bylaw says that a student-athlete can play immediately after a transfer under the following circumstance:
"The student transfers to a second four-year collegiate institution, does not compete at the second institution and does not engage in other countable athletically related activities in the involved sport at the second institution beyond a 14-consecutive-day period and returns to the original institution. The 14-consecutive-day period begins with the date on which the student-athlete first engages in any countable athletically related activity (see Bylaw 17.02.1). A student may use this exception even if he or she has an unfulfilled residence requirement at the institution from which he or she is transferring."
Kiel enrolled at Cincinnati earlier this month. He has not partaken in any countable athletically related activities.
There is no indication that Kiel would consider a return to Notre Dame, whether Notre Dame would welcome his return, or what kind of resistance that sentiment might encounter from Cincinnati. And regardless of that situation, Golson's abrupt departure is a major blow.
The exact nature of what transpired with Golson remained unknown Saturday night. Notre Dame officials declined comment to Yahoo! Sports. The school is one of the most rigorous academic institutions in the country and makes few exceptions for its athletes in the classroom or in the course of everyday dorm life.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has had some notable successes plugging in backup quarterbacks, dating to his days at Cincinnati. But Golson was his first major QB recruit and significant success, and his future was very bright.
Now that future appears to be derailed for at least a year. It's a big loss for the player and for the program.
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