- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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So here we are, seven games in the books, a quarterback (uncertainty/drama/conundrum … but certainly not controversy) seemingly at last settled, the biggest game in at least seven years awaiting this Saturday in Oklahoma.
Barring any setbacks as he goes through final post-concussion exercises Monday, Everett Golson will take the first snap for Notre Dame at Owen Field. He is the man most responsible for proving that the Irish are more than just a BCS-bowl-bound team and, in fact, a true national title contender.
He gets the call after a so-so first half that saw him complete better than 58 percent of his passes over five starts in six games, while throwing for 968 yards with four touchdowns and three picks. He has added 81 yards and two scores on the ground, but he has fumbled it away four times as well.
He gets the call after being replaced by Tommy Rees in two close games, after missing the first series of another one because of tardiness and after being knocked out of one more with said concussion.
He gets the call after the Notre Dame offense lacked a certain element without him in charge Saturday, before the Irish face a one-loss Sooners team that already was defeated by a Kansas State quarterback known as much for his legs as his arm.
"I think it's clear we want to definitely continue to take advantage of his strengths outside the pocket and his ability to run," coach Brian Kelly said Sunday of Golson, adding, "I think we have got enough plays. We know where we want to utilize him. I think everybody knows his talents as it relates to his feet and his arm. We want to get that involved in the offense."
Golson will take the first snap on the Irish's biggest stage nearly half a year after Rees all but took himself out of contention with an off-field mistake, making Kelly's season-opening choice for starter all the easier.
That choice has not exactly been smooth so far. Golson is coming off a three-turnover outing that led directly to seven Stanford points, an outing he bounced back in before taking a blow to the head and watching Rees finish the game -- thereby validating the adage of the backup quarterback being the most popular guy on a football team.
But with halftime arriving Saturday and the backup having yet to run away from BYU -- and even trailing, at that -- well, there was no one really left to take over the crown of most popular, or to take Golson's job at the most opportune time.
Those prizes are up for grabs Saturday, along with the chance to give Notre Dame its first national title shot of this generation.
"All the pieces that come together for him to make him a better quarterback than he was earlier in the year is his experience," Kelly said of Golson, "and we think he'll build on that and should not have any problem playing in a big environment at Oklahoma because he's already done it."
Just not with these stakes, not with Notre Dame so close to something it has been chasing for so long.