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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

And Malik Zaire Makes Five (in 2013)

Let’s resume our regularly scheduled programming. How was your week? Mine was good — great, actually. I’m relaxed. Tanned. Ready for the next week, the next month and the summer. Some research on the project-that-shall-not-be-named led to one pretty clear conclusion: Texas-San Antonio is coming in last. I’ve tried in the past to leave at least a little doubt as to No. 120 — or No. 123, actually — but the Roadrunners are an easy pick. So what did I miss over the last eight days? A day of catching up, in brief, beginning with quarterback prospect Malik Zaire committing to Notre Dame:

If Sunday’s commitment sticks — and I’ll give you one reason why it might not — the Irish will enter next season with Zaire, true freshman Gunner Kiel, sophomores Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson and junior Tommy Rees. That’s quite a haul for Brian Kelly, who would theoretically be able to identify at least one competent passer from a quintet of intriguing options.

That’s a year away, however. Zaire may very well enroll early, much like Kiel did this past winter, which might give him a slight leg up in his push for immediate playing time. By that point, on the other hand, it may be too late.

What happens during this spring and in August, and what impact will that have on Notre Dame’s future at the position? Here’s the reason why Zaire’s commitment may very well not stick: Notre Dame could turn the reins over Kiel from day one, meaning that Zaire, for instance, might carry a clipboard for the next three seasons.

Kelly has made this spring’s position battle an open, four-man competition. Rees’ experience might give him a slight edge in the early spring — the Irish have completed three practices thus far — but Kelly and the Notre Dame staff know Rees’ ceiling. He’s hit his ceiling, in fact, and it’s not at the height Kelly desires from his starting quarterback.

An early guess: Rees will not be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in 2012. That’s if one of the three younger options step up their games to match Kelly’s standard; the position won’t be handed to any one of the three, but the door is clearly open for one to make a move. And that includes Kiel — that definitely includes Kiel.

Don’t sleep on Hendrix, who has room for growth as a passer but has already flashed an ability to make plays with his feet, unlike Rees. Whether Hendrix can avoid turnovers, however — he tossed two picks in 37 attempts as a freshman — will decide how far he moves along in Notre Dame’s spring competition.

Golson is the only one of the three returning quarterbacks to not see the field in 2011. Instead, Golson spent last season as Notre Dame’s scout team quarterback, imitating the opposition’s starter against the Notre Dame defense. That gives us no sample size to gauge Golson’s chances at leaping to the top of the depth chart, even if there’s tremendous value to be found in spending a freshman season taking such meaningful practice snaps.

This is depth. And if not true depth — only one of the four has starting experience — the Irish have options: Rees, Hendrix, Kiel and Golson. Add Zaire into the mix and Notre Dame will have five potential options heading into 2013. But what if Kiel is all he’s built up to be?

Then this depth might quickly evaporate. Saying that Kiel grabs the starting role during the spring, would it be of any surprise to see either Hendrix or Golson — if not both — opt to transfer elsewhere in the search for playing time? And would Zaire entertain other scholarship offers if heading to Notre Dame seems like a ticket to backup status for the next three seasons?

That’s a potential career decision for Zaire, one that lies outside of Notre Dame’s control. And, perhaps, it’s a situation the Irish will accept with open arms: Losing Hendrix, Golson or Zaire means that Kiel has lived up to expectations. In turn, that means that Kelly has found his quarterback. Notre Dame will take this scenario, I’d think.

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  1. DMK says:

    And if Kiel redshirts (unlikely barring injury) then Zaire would be in an even tougher position going forward. Zaire to Indiana?: He might be able to beat out that Kiel.

  2. Evan says:

    So this is probably a stupid question, but I thought there were 4 new teams in FBS this year?

    Which one doesn’t count as a full member?
    Obviously not UTSA since you’ve already said they are on the list.

    Texas State?
    U. Mass?
    South Alabama?

    As far as I could tell they all seem to be transitioning equally concurrently.

  3. jojoblack says:

    Gunner Keil is way over rated and also not that good he is in no way as gifted as an thelete as the zaire kid nor does he have the football id the zaire kid has. All of you all will see just how good the Zaire kid is especially when he enrolls in January. ND will have its next tony rice or even better….stay tune.

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