Notre Dame Football: Everett Golson

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Only at Notre Dame.

This was what Everett Golson had tweeted last Wednesday, a cryptic message that naturally sent fans and media into a minor panic, though the source of the Irish quarterback's amusement remains unknown.

Turns out Golson was a week early with the sentiment, regardless of its intent.

On a day when Brian Kelly welcomed 24 new members to his football program, the additions naturally took back seats to news and apparent non-news regarding looming departures and potential replacements.

Brady Hoke? Contrary to a media report Wednesday morning, the ex-Michigan head coach has not joined Notre Dame's staff, both parties said during several media appearances later in the day. That could be because neither side has made any overtures, or it could be because it is just not true as of national signing day, as the Irish technically entered this day with no official openings.

"We've got nine coaches today," Kelly said, smiling. "We've got nine coaches today. We're going to talk recruiting today. Any changes that we have on the staff, we will definitely get you up to date on it, but I'm not going to get into today talking about coaches and who's coming, who's staying.

"I'm staying. You guys happy? Yeah, right. Big round of applause. I'll be here."

What appears to be much clearer is that the Irish will have vacancies to fill in the immediate future, with multiple outlets reporting that secondary coach Kerry Cooks is Oklahoma-bound and that quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur is going back to the NFL to join the Atlanta Falcons' staff.

That last nugget, it seems, might have also dripped out via social media, this time with another Irish quarterback — Malik Zaire — seemingly alluding to as much Wednesday morning.

Good news, however, did roll in, with the Irish landing a pair of targets who held off their pledges until signing day announcements: They received national letters of intent from four-star running back Dexter Williams of Winter Garden, Florida, who chose the Irish over Miami, and from four-star receiver Equanimeous St. Brown of Anaheim, California, who shunned Stanford, USC and UCLA and who, more notably, announced his decision in French, German and English.

"I'll have to figure out what language to talk to him in," Kelly quipped.

Kelly said there would be no more high school prospects on the way after Williams and St. Brown -- a pair of ESPN 300 prospects -- faxed in their commitments. The sixth-year Irish coach did, however, leave room open for some offseason transfers, along with two players who missed all of last season as part of the school's internal academic probe: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell and end Ishaq Williams.

"KeiVarae's situation is that he's working on classes right now at the University of Washington, and he's had conversations with the appropriate people to get those classes transferred back here to meet the needs that he has relative to transfer requirements and meeting eligibility," Kelly said. "There's still some work to be done there, but I know he's working toward getting that done, and our expectations are to have him back.

"I think Ishaq has a similar kind of criteria. His bar is a little bit more complicated, but he knows what he needs to do as well. So we're hoping that both of them can get it done."

So more good news could be on the way for Notre Dame, which hauled in the nation's No. 13 recruiting class, a group headlined by nine ESPN 300 prospects. Before then, though, clarity must arrive on who will coach some of these players, and that remained the prevailing storyline on a signing day like few others for Notre Dame.

Notes: Linebacker Jarrett Grace (multiple knee surgeries) is close to returning after missing the last year and a half, Kelly said. ... Safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be noncontact this spring. ... Safety Drue Tranquill (ACL) is ahead of schedule, Kelly said, while defensive linemen Jarron Jones (foot) will get his boot off Monday and linebacker Joe Schmidt (ankle) got his boot off several weeks ago. ... Kelly also said guard Conor Hanratty has decided to stop playing football. ... Kelly said there is no set spring game or location yet, though he thinks there likely will be one somewhere on campus. Notre Dame Stadium is currently undergoing renovations.
About two dozen schools have expressed interest in Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, if the Irish quarterback decides to transfer, a source told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Golson did not start the Irish’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl victory against LSU, prompting speculation that Golson would leave the school after the spring semester. Golson is scheduled to graduate from Notre Dame in May. At that point, he could transfer to another school, if he desires, to play his final season this fall.

Of the two dozen schools expressing interest in Golson, six were SEC schools, the source said. Golson has not contacted any schools about transferring, the source said.

Last Monday, the Times-Picayune reported that Golson had reached out to LSU about possibly transferring to the school. Later that day Golson tweeted: “Don’t believe everything you hear.”

On Thursday, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said: “I expect (Golson) to be back and competing for the starting position. I know he expects to be the starter.”

Golson has thrown for 5,850 yards, 41 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in two seasons with the Fighting Irish. He started 23 of 25 games. Sophomore Malik Zaire started for Golson in the Music City Bowl, with Golson coming off the bench in the second quarter.

Golson did not play during the 2013 season after he was suspended from Notre Dame for “poor academic judgment” and was not enrolled in the school. He returned to Notre Dame before the 2014 season.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — This really is 2011 all over again, from the fateful turnovers to the final, attractive matchup with a similarly underwhelming brand name.

Notre Dame will play No. 23 LSU in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 30. And, similar to the lead-up to the Irish's matchup with Florida State to conclude that wayward campaign three years ago in the Champs Sports Bowl, they will enter the game in Nashville, Tennessee, with uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Quarterback was supposed to be settled for three straight seasons after Everett Golson helped lead Notre Dame to the national title game in 2012. Even after Golson was suspended for last season and returned this past spring, he was still supposed to be settled for the next two seasons after several big early-season performances helped spark premature Heisman Trophy chatter.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsEverett Golson will have something to prove in practices leading into the Music City Bowl.
But as the Irish look to stanch the bleeding from a four-game slide to end the regular season, it appears to be open season on Golson's job security, along with that of everyone else on a roster that helped lift the program into the early discussion of the College Football Playoff after a 6-0 start before falling apart down the stretch.

"The tone is pretty clear about what the expectations are," coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. "There's competition. There's competition at all positions. So we'll be looking forward to that kind of spirited practice opportunity."

Kelly conceded that was never really the case under center this fall, holding true to the stance he took upon anointing Golson his starter early in fall camp. It was not until turnover No. 22, in game No. 12, that Kelly threw Malik Zaire into the fire in a rout at USC.

If this sounds familiar, just peek back to three years ago, as Tommy Rees' 20 turnovers and Andrew Hendrix's flashes of potential late in a different rout in California, that one courtesy of Stanford, led to even more ambiguity around a position that was initially held by another guy, Dayne Crist, to start the season.

"I think that really what we're talking about is some things that I want to see change that will have to change during practice," Kelly said. "And I've already had a conversation with both quarterbacks. So I think it's probably more towards what my eye sees during practice. It will be when I see what I see will be the duration of that competition.

"So it may be eight practices. It may be a year. But I'm going to have to see what I need to see from both of them."

When that time comes is anyone's guess, as the waiting for quarterback answers continues with Year 5 of the Kelly era rounding to an end this month. It didn't happen at the end of the 2011 season, when three more interceptions from two different quarterbacks cost the Irish a chance to gain a respectable victory over the 9-4 Seminoles. And while that hiccup hardly mattered in the big picture of the following season — a surprising 12-1 run that illustrated everything this coaching regime does so well — the feeling of familiarity three years removed from that letdown might linger, which makes the idea of playing LSU, even this year's 8-4 outfit, so appeasing.

"We want to win," safety Matthias Farley said. "At the end of the day, we're going to a cool location to play an opponent we don't normally play, but the focus and the outcome is what we're trying to determine and work toward, so it's just like any other week in that sense."

With a similar cast of characters returning next year, though, this finale against the Tigers from the SEC could help right the ship heading into 2015.

"Especially being a younger team," guard Nick Martin said, "it makes it easier for everyone to buy in."

For the Irish, amends for 2014 start with the guy under center, like so many other years. Figuring out who that is, and how to move forward with him, will help avoid the back-to-square-one feeling surrounding this year's final act.
The four-loss football power dressed just 48 scholarship players for a showdown with a rival -- attrition that bubbled to the surface in an embarrassing blowout defeat.

Then USC came back a week later and beat its other rival 49-14 Saturday in a game that even head coach Brian Kelly would admit was not nearly as close as the score indicated.

Notre Dame is hurt, especially on defense. We get it. The Fighting Irish are not exactly alone, though, as we can see from USC. And they are not all that hurt when compared to last season.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
The defense entered last year's New Era Pinstripe Bowl with nine regular contributors having missed a combined 44 games due to injury.

They will enter a similarly-underwhelming postseason destination this winter with 11 regular contributors having missed a combined 44 games due to injury.

No, that does not include the lost seasons, and lost half-season, of four defensive starters implicated in the school's summer internal academic probe. And that does not include the casualties of this weekend's nightmare in Hollywood: Max Redfield (broken rib), Austin Collinsworth (separated shoulder), Greer Martini (quad), Jay Hayes (high ankle sprain) and Jacob Matuska (shoulder).

But it is unlikely that any of those wounded at the Coliseum would have made much of a difference against a Trojans team that actually showed mercy on the battered Irish after racing to a 35-0 start in the first 25 minutes.

The 2013 edition of Notre Dame entered last fall as somewhat of a deflated group, having endured an offseason of questions following the Alabama beatdown, Kelly's NFL flirtations, the Lennay Kekua saga and the season-long dismissal of starting quarterback Everett Golson.

It made do with what it had. It handed eventual Rose Bowl champ Michigan State its only loss, it withstood a never-ending run of defensive depletion and it finished the regular season 8-4, a game better than this year's 7-5 team.

Asked 13 months ago if he ever coached a unit so decimated by injuries, Kelly said at the time: "I think this is probably close to the pinnacle."

He added then: "They don't give you any points for complaining about it. If they did, I'd complain every minute. So we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."

Problem this season is there were not all that many next guys ready. The 2013 unit returned eight starters from a 2012 unit that finished second nationally in scoring average. The 2014 unit returned three starters and was breaking in a new scheme under new coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Everything changed when the quarterback of that group, linebacker Joe Schmidt, had a season-ending ankle injury in a Nov. 1 win at Navy. Anyone around the program will tell you how he was the MVP of that unit, how he got those green guys ready, how he helped simplify things for his overloaded teammates.

Save for the Northwestern game, it is no surprise that Notre Dame is now 0-4 without Schmidt, a former walk-on. That Schmidt finished the regular season as the Irish's second-leading tackler (65) despite missing so much time speaks to just how little there was to work with after losing plenty of pro talent from last year, and especially after losing two preseason starters to academic matters.

None of this is breaking news. Notre Dame raced to a 6-0 start this season and was a play away from knocking off Florida State because that defense had played above its head, because it had some great injury luck, because, frankly, the competition it had played was nothing special.

Everything for these Irish hinged on Golson's arm to begin with, and his unraveling has been too much for that now-banged up defense -- and a special teams unit that remains M.I.A. -- to overcome against better competition. A Kelly offense hinges on quarterback play, and how that position shakes out with Golson and Malik Zaire will dictate everything about a 2015 Notre Dame outfit that will be more experienced than this year's, and even more seasoned than anyone had initially anticipated.

The same can be said of the rivals out west who just left these Irish beaten in a manner foreign to this regime.

"They got punched in the nose today," Kelly said Saturday. "You want to see a response too, right? They're young, but I want to see some bite, too. I want to see some bite. The bowl preparation, we're going to have to see a response. All jobs are available and we're going to have to see something from this group."

Example A may just come from, of all places, the Trojans who left them like this.

Notre Dame prediction: Game 12 at USC

November, 26, 2014
One 7-4 rival faces another. Who ends the regular season on a positive note?

How Notre Dame can win: It has been said before and it will be said again: Everett Golson and the Irish offense have to protect the defense, now more than ever. That means being efficient, and not turning the ball over. It means building on the efforts the ground game made this past weekend, when Tarean Folston ran for 134 yards. And it means not messing up on special teams — the Irish actually had one of their best all-around special teams performances of the Brian Kelly era last Saturday before the final, fateful missed kick. Notre Dame won't survive a miscue like that one when facing USC's offense.

How USC can win: It is rare that a USC quarterback can fly under the radar, but that appears to be the case with Cody Kessler. He has been remarkable this season, throwing for 3,133 yards with 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has tremendous weapons around him, and the Trojans would be wise to attack early and often against an Irish defense reaching even further down the depth chart this week, as it is without tackle Jarron Jones and safety Drue Tranquill (in addition to Sheldon Day for the game and Nyles Morgan for a half). That is all the more important for the Trojans given their youth on the offensive line.

Breakout player: Amir Carlisle. The man has been on both sides of this rivalry before. Expect a long kick return in his first game at the Coliseum wearing a white jersey.

Prediction: USC 35, Notre Dame 27. The Trojans' skill players prove to be too much in this one.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jaylon Smith took in the query and thought to himself for a quick second, for the game in question could not possibly have been so close to the present.

Not after Notre Dame's latest setback Saturday, a 31-28 loss to Louisville. Not after the loss to Northwestern a week earlier, or the loss at Arizona State before that one.

Does the Florida State game, Smith was asked, feel like it was more than a month ago?

[+] EnlargeCam McDaniel
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsCam McDaniel and the Irish are stumbling to the finish line after another close loss.
"What is it, three losses in a row?" Smith said of the Irish's current predicament. "Man. Yeah. It feels like it's been a long month, month and a half, whatever it's been. But playing against our rival, the score is 0-0, we've just got to find a way to get a victory."

That is what it comes down to now for Notre Dame, a far cry from that fateful final October drive in Tallahassee, then on the brink of 7-0 and upsetting the reigning national champs. Four losses in five games have presented an entirely new scenario as the Irish head to fellow four-loss rival USC for the regular-season finale. Eleven weeks in, and it remains tough to tell just who this team is.

Few saw that 6-0 start coming, especially after the handing down of preseason suspensions that figured to deteriorate an already thin and green defense. That, of course, only makes this past month all the more difficult to digest.

Brian Kelly would not go as far as to say that his club overachieved in the first half of the season, opting to play the game-of-inches card, which is certainly not inaccurate.

"No, I mean, look, we're 10 points from three more wins, right?" the fifth-year Irish coach said. "Florida State, we lose in overtime, and then we miss a field goal here to go to overtime. Very easily, this team could be in a totally different position, so that's college football, you know? They're very close. We needed to make a play here or there, a kick here or there, and it's a totally different look."

Another way to look at it: Who knew the most important fifth-year decision this past offseason would end up being Luke Massa, who decided to call it a football career after four years, one degree and several injuries? A reserve receiver on the official roster but a steady holder for field goals, Massa could have been the difference this year between 7-4 and 9-2, a fact every bit as remarkable to type as it is to read and say out loud.

The Irish were winning earlier this season because of those overlooked intangibles, from former walk-on Joe Schmidt carrying along the defense to the far more measured play of quarterback Everett Golson — a pair of pieces that have had a circular, drowning effect on these Irish lately as Schmidt's injury has decimated the defense and put a bigger onus on the quarterback.

Kelly talked a lot about his team's youth coming into this season, setting the table for a 2015 run, intentionally or not. Perhaps a 6-0 start fast-tracked that, inside the football complex and out of it. But these last three losses have unmasked the vulnerabilities of this young squad, which has plenty of work to do if it wants to even sniff the playoff conversation next year.

"They played with great effort," Kelly said of Saturday's game. "We would have liked to have made a play here or there, and blocked a little bit better, tackled a little bit better. But we got everything out of these guys. Like I said to them after, I mean, we asked them to control two things, and that was their effort and to play with a great attitude, and they certainly did that.

"We've got a lot of inexperienced guys that are trying to get the job done the best they can. I'm really proud of what they did. They played a lot cleaner."

Did anyone watch the Cardinals and Irish play for 60 minutes and not think that the visitors were the better team? That the difference between these two on Saturday ran deeper than a special teams miscue?

Notre Dame has run the emotional gamut of playing such a young team. With next year right around the corner, the Irish need to grow up fast.
Will 1995 repeat itself?

How Northwestern can win: The Wildcats' defense snapped out of its two-game rut (86 total points allowed) this past Saturday against Michigan, forcing three turnovers and giving the offense a chance to win late. That offense, though, has yet to really do much of anything, as Northwestern has failed to score more than 20 points in each of its last five games. Matt Alviti saw action Saturday for the first time in his career and could possibly be a curveball against an Irish defense that does not have much tape on the redshirt freshman quarterback, though his potential entrance may speak as much to his leaky offensive line as anything else.

How Notre Dame can win: The Irish simply need to cut down on turnovers. If this sounds like a repeat from previous weeks, that is exactly what it is. Notre Dame's game at ASU last week appeared to be over by halftime because of carelessness with the ball, but the Irish's rally shows just how smooth the offense is when Everett Golson is playing mistake-free (and when his offensive line gives him some time). The backfield needs to gain some traction, too, something that will be much more important next week when Louisville's defense comes to town.

Breakout player: Nyles Morgan. The former four-star linebacker will be in a much more ideal situation Saturday than he was last week, when he was thrust into the fire at ASU while the defense itself was put in vulnerable positions. He'll get a chance against the Wildcats to show what some of the recruiting hype was about.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Northwestern 14. The Irish play much smarter offensively, which makes for a crisp outing and, for the first time since September, a relatively stress-free win.
Perhaps Brian Kelly could have been a newspaperman in another life, his terming of Notre Dame's latest loss — "the debacle in the desert" — sly enough to warm the hearts of headline writers everywhere. Except what he said after that shied away from the macro approach the rest of us are taking after his Irish were virtually eliminated from College Football Playoff contention this past weekend.

"We have a lot to focus on just on Tuesday," Kelly said Sunday. "So we're going to focus on cleaning up what we need to clean up internally, offensively, defensively. So there won't be any bigpicture conversations. We've got a lot of work to do to be better as a football team. That's going to be the focus this week."

Kelly can start with his quarterback, the guy who never gave the Irish a chance to beat a Sun Devils team that itself now has a path toward the postseason after handing Notre Dame a 55-31 defeat that looked like the 2013 BCS title game in final score only.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWhile Everett Golson is certainly talented and has had big-game success, his propensity for turnovers could have the Irish potentially looking at alternatives.
Notre Dame was not overmatched in Tempe the way it was nearly two years ago against Alabama, that 42-14 result being the last time the Irish lost by such a wide margin. Everett Golson just could not get out of his own way Saturday, and you have to wonder how much longer that is going to impede the Irish.

With playoff hopes out the door, these final three regular-season games take on new meaning. And they could help shape this team for 2015.

Of the 22 guys Notre Dame started Saturday, 20 have eligibility remaining for next year. The defense could get back a potential All-American next year in cornerback KeiVarae Russell, too. This is a team that might still finish with 10 or 11 wins this year, and the combination of all of those numbers makes for a unit that should absolutely be primed to make a run in 2015.

Notre Dame cannot screw this up the way it did Saturday.

And that starts with the quarterback.

This is not to say that Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer or someone else is the answer at quarterback. Golson can still make incredible things happen — going punch-for-punch with the reigning Heisman winner in defeat — and he still has a 17-3 career record to his name. The body of work is impressive. But the home stretch here might be the time for Notre Dame to at least explore the possibility of an alternative, seeing as though there is little to lose.

Way too much of this operation relies on Golson to begin with. The dangers of that were exposed last year, when he got himself kicked out of school after being handed the keys to the offense that spring. If that did not set the program back some, it severely hampered the momentum gained from a national title game appearance.

For all of Golson's greatness through Notre Dame's 7-1 start this year, from the premature Heisman Trophy chatter to the game-winning touchdown pass that beat Stanford, there was a seemingly inevitable feeling that came with each passing week — as the competition level grew, as the young defense regressed to the mean, as turnover upon turnover piled up.

Then came Saturday, a confluence of mistakes meeting an opportunistic team that was oh so happy to take what Notre Dame gave it.

Five turnovers from Golson at Arizona State — including a pair of pick-sixes — have given him 17 turnovers in his past six games. That is more than 74 other teams have committed all season long. And, frankly, Golson is lucky there have not been more.

If that kind of play is not enough to at least entertain the prospect of Zaire, if only for a few snaps here or there, what is?

Notre Dame is not going to the playoff this year, and the fact the Irish could even remain in that discussion through the first weekend of November, despite all of their shortcomings, is impressive. It will be expected next year, though, and that can no longer be ignored.

Notre Dame prediction: Game 9 at ASU

November, 6, 2014
No. 10 at No. 9. What's not to love?

How Notre Dame can win: So much of Notre Dame's defensive success came from the unit's ability to adapt and react so quickly under new coordinator Brian VanGorder. No one was more instrumental to that success than Joe Schmidt, who is now out for the season with a broken left ankle. Nyles Morgan steps in and needs to rise to the challenge quickly. Offensively, Everett Golson needs to protect the ball while his line needs to protect him, as Arizona State loves to bring pressure, recording 16 sacks when sending five or more pass-rushers.

How ASU can win: Jaelen Strong is a handful, and if Taylor Kelly can establish a rhythm early, this offense can really open things up, especially with a backfield threat as versatile as D.J. Foster, who has as many 20-plus yard plays receiving (nine) as he does rushing (nine). His 18 plays of 20 or more yards are the most in the Pac-12, and tied for the third-most in the nation. Like Notre Dame, though, ASU needs to fend off pressure, something the Sun Devils have struggled with in the two games since Kelly's return from a foot injury, giving up 11 sacks.

Breakout player: Morgan. The four-star freshman needs to break out -- or at the very least grow up quickly -- for Notre Dame to keep its playoff hopes alive in Tempe.

Prediction: ASU 34, Notre Dame 27. It is entirely possible that the Irish are the better team, but the timing of this contest could not come at a worse time for them, as it is their first game without their most important defensive player, and their first after playing Navy. (Notre Dame is 2-5 in the past seven years in games after facing Navy, beating just Wake Forest in 2011 and Purdue in 2012 by seven and three points, respectively.)

Notre Dame prediction: Game 8 at Navy

November, 1, 2014
No. 10 Notre Dame renews its rivalry with Navy at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Are we in for another tight contest?

How Notre Dame can win: Everett Golson and the Irish have to avoid turnovers, first and foremost. The longer the Irish hold the ball, the more efficient they can be, the better it is for their defense, which will have its work cut out for it defending Navy. That can be the difference between Notre Dame blowing Navy out -- as it did in 2011 and 2012 -- and finding itself in a tight contest, as it did last year (38-34). Forcing turnovers always makes life easier for Notre Dame against Navy, too. (Notre Dame has forced 15 turnovers this season, tied for 36th nationally.)

How Navy can win: The Midshipmen have been hitting their stride lately, with Keenan Reynolds scoring a rushing touchdown in 14 straight games after last week's 251-yard, three-score performance on the ground. Reynolds needs to run another efficient charge against Notre Dame, as Navy's turnover-less performance gave it a great shot at the upset last season. (A missed extra-point didn't help, either.) It will be interesting to see this Irish defense facing the option in its first year under Brian VanGorder, who said he has not defended the option since going against Georgia Southern in 2004. Still, if the first seven games are any indication, the Irish won't lack for discipline.

Breakout player: Jaylon Smith is the best player on Notre Dame's defense. He hit his stride last season after facing Air Force and Navy back-to-back. Should Notre Dame's defense perform well Saturday, Smith will be a big reason why.

Prediction: Notre Dame 48, Navy 24. Style points? Don't be surprised if the Irish go for some after the initial College Football Playoff rankings had them at No. 10.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson's last trip to the Sunshine State was unique, to be sure. The bells and whistles of the BCS title game presented their own set of distractions. Alabama's defense was unforgiving. There was, of course, the final score, a 42-14 humbling of then-No. 1 Notre Dame.

And then there was the aftermath, an unfamiliar feeling whose imprint remains, frankly, unknown: Golson had lost a football game that he took the first snap in -- a blemish that, given its distinction, has seemingly taken on added significance with each passing win.

Golson brings a 16-1 career record as a starter into Florida State this Saturday. That outlier is what, in many ways, sets him apart from the man likely to be under center on the other side of things, 19-0 Jameis Winston. No active FBS quarterback with at least 10 starts can touch the winning percentages of Golson (.941) and Winston (1.000), who has a national title to his name.

Golson exited Miami nearly two years ago and, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, would not play a football game again for 600 more days, thanks to an academic suspension imposed nearly five months later. The shame of discipline overshadowed the only real on-field black mark of his career. Given his inward nature while on public display, it is no easy task untangling whatever resentment has stuck with Golson from Jan. 7, 2013.

One of the first people outside of the Irish locker room to see Golson in wake of the defeat was Hugh T. Wallace, a former assistant principal at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) High who has served as a mentor to the signal-caller since his days as a prepster. Wallace had driven down to Miami and back, there to pick Golson up from the airport at home a day after the loss to the Crimson Tide.

Little was gleaned.

"He wanders out of the terminal with his little backpack, gets in the (car) like nothing has ever happened, and he asks me, 'Did you see the game?' " Wallace recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, I watched it on television in a bar outside the lobby.' And I said, 'Didn't anybody say anything to you after the game?' He said no. I said, 'You played good, your team just got beat. Too much speed.'

"He keeps that wanting-to-play pretty internal. Every now and then he'll say, 'I'm competitive.' But almost all of that stuff he really internalizes. He's very quiet, self-determined. If he talks, it's about music. He doesn't say a lot about football. He's not your swaggering jock."

On a team that was outplayed and overwhelmed that night, Golson was solid, though not spectacular. Spotted a three-touchdown hole three Tide drives into the game, Golson finished with 21 of 36 for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He added another score on the ground.

Head coach Brian Kelly quipped before this season that Golson "rode the bus" to the title game during that 2012 campaign, a comment borne out of coachspeak and one in deference to a defense that was loaded with future pros. But Golson had taken on much greater responsibility down the stretch then, leading a late comeback against Pitt and executing the game plan to a T at rival USC. He has taken almost all of the responsibility now, for better and for worse.

He remains on practically every Heisman short list, but he has turned the ball over nine times over the past three games, with the Irish surviving the last two by the skin of their teeth -- and, of course, because of late plays from their quarterback.

"I'm going to do a better job, for sure," Golson said. "I come in here every week for the last couple of weeks saying I have to do a better job. Right now, it's time for me to stop saying that and time for me to put my words into action and actually do that."

Kelly said this week he is more concerned with "self-inflicted wounds" than he is with the chaos a hostile environment in Tallahassee will present. He did not mention his quarterback -- or anyone, for that matter -- but he no longer needs to.

"Just it goes back to me," Golson said after his last win. "I just got to prepare. I think the game is big, but this week is going to be big in how we prepare and how we kind of take care of our business."

For Golson, that means winning football games. Business has been good. Only one person is doing better. Golson gets a chance to change that in the only state he has left unfulfilled.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Nearly two years ago, three days before the biggest game of his life, the BCS National Championship against Alabama, Everett Golson let the nation in on a little secret.

"Obviously basketball is my love, that's what I love," Golson said down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, "But my primary right now is football. I'd like to say I would like to have the chance of playing basketball someday [in South Bend]. But like I said, football is my primary, and what I'm focused on right now is the national championship."

"He's pretty good at his hobby, this being his hobby," then-Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin added. "Primary love basketball is just what he does on the side, he's actually pretty decent at."

Everett Golson
Courtesy of DeAndre' ScottEverett Golson (shooting) played point guard in high school, helping his squad at Myrtle Beach High win an AAA state title.
How decent? Golson was at the very least a Division I talent, according to those who coached him at the prep level. Notre Dame's redshirt junior quarterback is on the Heisman Trophy short list as he readies the No. 6 Irish for a date Saturday with North Carolina. A Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, native, Golson had initially pledged to the Tar Heels' basketball program in February 2010. He had spoken with legendary coach Roy Williams, and there was a strong possibility that he would have spent his winters in Chapel Hill on the hardwood, before the football team's NCAA investigation and a trip to Notre Dame eventually forced him to flip his commitment.

Hoops aspirations never materialized with the Irish, though things have worked out pretty well for the man who, with a 15-1 career record as a starter, boasts the highest win percentage of any quarterback in Irish history (.9375).

"If he was doing something else right now other than quarterbacking a top-[six] team, I probably would have been disappointed, just because the kid was so, so talented, such a good athlete at basketball. I knew he could've been a Division I kid," former Myrtle Beach High hoops coach DeAndre Scott said. "But to see him be able to do the things he's doing at football -- which at the time, I'll be honest with you, when he was a freshman or sophomore, he was a kid that really didn't like football nearly as much. But people who were around knew the things he could do on the football field were just unreal in comparison to where he was as a basketball player at that time."

Golson was, naturally, a point guard. He began with a suspect jump shot, Scott said, and the perfectionist in the player made for some early growing pains, as he would get too down on himself after misses. Still, as a freshman he rose to a starting role down the season's stretch, helping lift Myrtle Beach to a state title. He played one more season for Scott, then another for new coach Craig Martin, before his early enrollment at Notre Dame cost him his senior hoops season.

"He was a really talented kid, good athlete," Scott said. "I always thought he was more of a pass-first point guard, a guy who can really see the floor. He liked getting other guys involved, but he was such a good athlete. He could still score the basketball for you."

During the Beach Ball Classic during Golson's sophomore year, he scored 16 in an eight-point loss to a Martin Luther King (Calif.) team that was led by Kawhi Leonard, the MVP of this past June's NBA Finals. The summer before his senior year, Golson traveled around the country to various quarterback camps before returning to point guard on his AAU team, the South Carolina Ravens, all the way to the 17 and under national title game, before falling to the Arkansas Wings.

The Ravens' roster featured starters such as South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams and Clemson hoops guard Damarcus Harrison, and it had UNC forward Brice Johnson and Seton Hall forward Rashed Anthony coming off the bench.

"I probably had the best NFL team that was playing basketball," Ravens founder and coach Dion Bethea quipped.

While Golson was on a redshirt his first year at Notre Dame, the basketball bug bit, and coach Brian Kelly said that the staff had to rein that itch in.

"I think that he still has a love for the game," Kelly said Tuesday. "But I think that now has changed because of his focus on being the quarterback here. But no, in his first year here, he was a handful. He always wanted to go out and play a little basketball."

Golson has said that he would at times decompress by shooting around some with Martin, his position coach, who is now the head coach at Miami (Ohio).
His hoops exploits may be a thing of the past, but the stories still carry some weight around campus and in his locker room.

"I haven't played basketball with him yet but I've heard myths, legends," said Irish receiver Corey Robinson, the son of Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson. "He's an incredible basketball player, from my understanding. But I've never played with him. I'm not good enough. He's on another level."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Ninth-ranked Notre Dame topped No. 14 Stanford 17-14 on Saturday. Here's how it went down:

How the game was won: Ben Koyack caught a wide-open 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-11 with 1:01 left to give the Irish a 17-14 lead. A game in which points were hard to come by featured two touchdowns in the final 3:01, with Everett Golson directing the winning drive.

Game ball goes to: Cole Luke had two interceptions, becoming the first Irish player with two picks in a game since Manti Te'o did against Michigan two years ago. The sophomore also forced a fumble and has been a huge piece for the Irish in KeiVarae Russell's absence.

What it means: Notre Dame's perfect season is alive at 5-0, as the Irish survived their first true test of the season against the nation's No. 1 defense. The Irish's young defense continued to impress and will only get better as the season moves along.

Playoff implication: At 5-0, Notre Dame's College Football Playoff hopes remain alive, with a huge test awaiting in two weeks at reigning national champion Florida State. Two-loss Stanford isn't completely eliminated, as this was a nonconference game, but the Cardinal essentially need to win out to have a chance, something that looked more possible with Oregon's struggles Thursday but less possible with Stanford's offensive ineptitude Saturday.

What's next: Notre Dame has what is essentially a tuneup for Florida State as it takes on reeling North Carolina next Saturday. Stanford hosts Washington State on Friday before it travels to Arizona State for a Pac-12 title game rematch on Oct. 18.
It's No. 14 Stanford and No. 9 Notre Dame. Will we be as spoiled as we were last time they met in South Bend?

How Stanford can win: The Cardinal need to capitalize on their offensive opportunities. For all of the talk of their struggles on that side of the ball, they really have not been that bad, averaging nearly 6.5 yards per play even without the luxury of a proven workhorse running back that they have been so used to having in recent years. Stanford simply needs to do better in the red zone, where they have come away empty in seven of 19 trips so far. Defensively, their front seven needs to make Everett Golson uncomfortable and hope its No. 1 passing defense lives up to its billing against a young, but talented group of Irish receivers.

How Notre Dame can win: Golson needs to be the player he was through most of the first four games (minus the turnovers last week), a strong order against a defense that is far better than any he has faced so far. This is not exactly the ideal game for the Irish to break out of their rushing rut, but if they can utilize the screen game again this week, they will keep Stanford's defenders honest. Notre Dame simply cannot afford to turn the ball over. The defense will have a different kind of challenge this week, though it is probably best served to make Kevin Hogan try to win the game with his arm.

Breakout player: Sheldon Day is a two-year starter and a captain, so "breakout" might not be the right term here, but this is a game in which the junior can help make a national name for himself. He will be counted upon heavily by the Irish defense, which will need to be at its best Saturday.

Prediction: Stanford 23, Notre Dame 20. This game will resemble the 2012 game in its backyard mentality, but the Cardinal are better suited for that kind of contest right now. A defensive touchdown proves to be the difference for the visitors.
Brian Kelly was greeted in the locker room after Saturday's game by the surest sign his voice was getting through.

Notre Dame turned the ball over five times in a sloppy performance against Syracuse. The Irish's decorated quarterback, Everett Golson, was responsible for four of those giveaways. They still won anyway, 31-15, to improve to 4-0.

So when Kelly met his players afterward, the environment was considerably toned down, for his players knew that their performance was not up to par.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsBrian Kelly and Notre Dame will have to overcome Stanford's stellar defense on Saturday in order to remain unbeaten.
"Well, it's what you build your program on is a level of expectation that you know that you don't have to go in and deliver the message that's already pretty clear," the fifth-year Irish coach said Sunday. "If they were in there giddy and happy, I'd be a little bit concerned. I want them to enjoy the win, but I also want them to know that there's better football that needs to be played, and they knew that."

Especially this Saturday, when they get their first true measuring stick of the season. No. 14 Stanford is coming to town, a program that has served as somewhat of a measuring stick for No. 9 Notre Dame in the Kelly era. The Irish know that they cannot perform anywhere near the way they did against the Orange and expect to beat the Cardinal, who have one loss to their name.

Football teams play bad games, even the best ones. Especially at the college level. That Notre Dame got its stinker out of the way against a Syracuse team seemingly with zero interest in taking advantage of Irish miscues is a tremendous burden off the program's shoulders, and one it can waste little time thinking about this week.

"They're a very tunedin group to my message," Kelly said. "I always start with, 'You need to be excited about winning.' It's hard to win in college football, especially when you're playing Power 5 teams. Winning is difficult. Just look across the landscape of college football. We start always with that premise because if you can't enjoy winning, it doesn't mean as much.

"Then we get to the heart of it, is that you can't win consistently by turning the football over. You can't win consistently if you don't compete for the ball in the air. And we know that. That was a given. That conversation took place, but I know that when I walked in that locker room, those kids had already had that passing through their mind."

So they move on to Stanford, which enters Notre Dame Stadium with the nation's No. 1 overall defense, No. 1 scoring defense and No. 1 passing defense. Two years ago, in a somewhat similar scenario, an undefeated Irish team stopped a one-loss Cardinal team in an overtime goal-line stand very much symbolic of how far the program had come in three short years under this regime.

This year's team took four games to figure out its offensive line situation, another area Notre Dame can be glad it sorted out against Syracuse, before Stanford. It would help if the fate of the Irish's five suspended players — and whatever other micro and macro fallouts come from that — is decided as well.

MetLife Stadium marked the finale of an early-season slate that Kelly had deemed before the season as "manageable." When it was all said and done in New Jersey, getting out of this stretch alive was, in some ways, as relieving as it was exhilarating.

"You know, five years into your program, I think you walk in the locker room and you expect the kind of locker room that I got," Kelly said. "In the first year you don't know what to expect, and so you have to make sure that that message is heard loud and clear. I was not shocked about the way our kids handled themselves after the game."

The players received Kelly's message without him having to deliver it. All that awaits now is the season's biggest test.


Weis Likely Done Coaching
Jake Trotter discusses former Notre Dame and Kansas coach Charlie Weis' comment that it's "highly doubtful" that he'll return to coaching.