Emerging from that contest victorious was the easy part after suffering a pair of season-ending knee injuries that tested his mettle and cast doubts upon his durability as the Fighting Irish's top signal caller.
"There wasn't a day where I said, 'Man, I wish I didn't have this day, I wish I could have this day back,' " Crist said. "More than anything, each day in camp, I understood how important each day was, and I knew I couldn't leave anything on the field. That's got to be my mindset as long as I'm here."
Now, such a mindset will go a long way in determining the fate of a Notre Dame team with its sights set on a BCS bowl and taking the next step in Year 2 under Brian Kelly.
It is the perseverance Kelly saw from Crist in consecutive offseasons that gives the head coach comfort in handing over the offense to the senior one more time.
"This is only the start for him; you know what I mean?" Kelly said. "He's only gotten a chance to start against South Florida. He's got to produce to be the starting quarterback each and every week, so I think he carries that with him in the way he practices."
Crist carries a 4-5 record as a starter and 2,163 career passing yards to go with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he brings those numbers with him after wiping away the burden of injuries in each knee.
An anterior cruciate ligament tear in Crist's right knee in 2009 only served as an opening act for the arduous path to the top of the depth chart. A ruptured patella tendon in his left knee in the ninth game of last season -- followed by an infection and the emergence of Rees, who went 4-0 as a starter -- presented a character test that he was ultimately able to pass.
"It may sound cliche, but the love of the game," Crist said of what kept him going. "I can't tell you how much football means to me and what a big part of my life football has been since I can remember, since I was 6-years old and playing football in Pop Warner. It means so much to me, this team means so much to me and this university means so much to me, that if it wasn't just this sheer love of the game, it was all these other people that I wanted to go out and play with and compete with and be successful with.
"Sure, I mean, rehab is tough. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. It's some dark times. If you don't love it, it's pretty easy to quit and give in. Those thoughts never really crossed my mind because of how much I love football and how much I love the university."
Kelly said Crist showed him the "want to" to re-win the job that he needed to see, culminating in a decision that had more to do with a road less traveled over two years than the 19 preseason practices the Irish ran before naming a starter.
That's what has Crist -- who actually has two years of eligibility left after not playing in 2008 -- treating 2011 as an all-or-nothing exercise.
"Last year everything was new to me -- just the game day experience, just the pageantry of college football as the starting quarterback, that was all new to me," Crist said. "I think that I had some jitters last year on opening day and I was overly excited, understandably so. This year I will obviously be incredibly excited to start the season and finally get to go out and compete against some other guys, but it will be a lot more calm of an experience for me.
"A more mature time, I think."