Optimism was high in South Bend as Notre Dame entered the 2011 season. The Fighting Irish closed the 2010 campaign riding a four-game win streak including a 33-17 victory over Miami, FL in the Sun Bowl to finish 8-5.
They were entering their second season under Brian Kelly, and in his previous bowl subdivision stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Year 2 proved to be very fruitful (he won the Big East title at Cincinnati in his second year).
However, there was one huge question surrounding the Irish entering the fall: who would be the starting quarterback, veteran Dayne Crist or sophomore Tommy Rees? Crist won the job, but was replaced at halftime of the season opener by Rees, who remained the starter for the rest of the 2011 season.
Crist transferred to Kansas at season’s end where he reunites with Charlie Weis, the man who recruited him to Notre Dame in 2008.
While Rees threw 20 touchdown passes, he also consistently incurred the wrath of Kelly by throwing 14 interceptions. The Irish finished 8-5 for the second straight year after losing to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl as Rees was intercepted twice and sophomore Andrew Hendrix once.
This spring, the Irish have another quarterback derby on their hands involving juniors Rees and Hendrix, redshirt freshman Everett Golson and true freshman Gunner Kiel – ESPN’s No. 3-rated QB in the 2012 class.
Whoever wins the job will not only be counted on to produce but also to help solve Notre Dame’s biggest problem in 2011 - turnovers.
The Irish committed 29 turnovers in 2011, only outdone by nine teams in the bowl subdivision. Things were even worse in the red zone where Notre Dame turned the ball over seven times, second only to SMU in the FBS.
The quarterbacks who played (Rees, Crist and Hendrix) were responsible for 23 of the 29 turnovers (17 interceptions and six fumbles lost). Rees alone had 19 turnovers (14 interceptions, five fumbles lost).
Over the last five seasons, only six "BCS schools" had a worse red-zone turnover percentage than Notre Dame’s 5.5 percent. Only one team in the last five seasons had a worse red-zone turnover percentage and finished with a better record: 2009 Nebraska, which featured Ndamukong Suh and one of the best defenses in recent college football history.
If the Irish quarterbacks don’t take better care of the football and play more efficiently, it could be another disappointing season in South Bend.