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Rules of Engagement: Golson grows into QB Notre Dame can count on


Notre Dame QB Everett Golson dives for a 2-point conversion against Pitt, a display of his athletic ability. (AP)  
Notre Dame QB Everett Golson dives for a 2-point conversion against Pitt, a display of his athletic ability. (AP)  

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- This week the Rules Committee takes to Notre Dame, where quarterback play might actually be a team strength for the top-ranked Irish entering Saturday's game with USC.

Rule No. 4,638: This isn't high school anymore. Everett Golson remembers thinking that from the cold sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium -- well, it was in the high 50s that September night, but frigid for Golson -- after being pulled in favor of Tommy Rees against Purdue. The Irish drove for the game-winning field goal. Golson watched it all happen.

Less than 900 miles away, Golson used to do whatever he wanted at Myrtle Beach (S.C) High, where he accounted for nearly 130 touchdowns even before his senior season. That night against the Boilermakers left him trying to figure out what the heck just happened.

It's been two months since then, and Golson sees clearly now. He knows exactly what happened.

"That was me being young and not understanding what they wanted me to do," Golson said of the rough start to the year despite his serious wheels and arm strength. "I think it was honestly me probably just thinking of myself a little bit. Now it’s different because I see the end result."

And the Irish see a difference in Golson, whose confidence is mushrooming at just the right time -- to the relief of coach Brian Kelly.

Not many first-year starting quarterbacks have seen more than Golson. He has endured the quarterback trifecta: benching, concussion and violation of team rules. He has played in five games decided by seven points or less, including a three-overtime game against Pitt.

He's heard the whispers -- no, the screams -- that Notre Dame is winning in spite of the quarterback play, which is something he says "you hate to see" because he desperately wants to do his part.

He'll counter three breathtaking plays with three plays that make play-callers cringe. It's quite the ride, actually, considering the way Notre Dame's season has gone down and Kelly’s reputation as a quarterback guru.

Somehow the nation's 80th-ranked passing offense keeps winning. But that ranking was in the 90s for awhile. Slowly, progress has been made. In a 38-0 pounding of Wake Forest last week, Golson did whatever he wanted -- from the pocket or on the run.

Twelve of his first 14 completions were for first downs. Wake coach Jim Grobe praised his accuracy (20-of-30 for 346 yards, three scores), calling his out routes "money."

On his lone mistake, a long toss into the corner of the end zone that was intercepted, he walked calmly to the sideline, paced for awhile, looking straight ahead, not saying a word to himself or others for at least a minute.

He slowly put the headset on and took the heat from coaches.

He's seen too much this year to be worried about one pick. The difference now, Golson says, is that he listens to the coaches, But teammates know there's more to it than that.

Wide receiver John Goodman sees a quarterback who wasn't ready for the moment in the spring. Not even close. Golson admits early in his career he had trouble with the play clock and only knew a few routes.

Golson's recent ascension has resonated in the locker room.

"It just all came to him at the right time," Goodman said. "He knows when to step up in the pocket, he knows where to go with the ball. He never got down on himself."

For Notre Dame, it was about maximizing a skill set. Golson is probably at his best when a play breaks down, but he shouldn't be limited by his athleticism. Golson can operate from the pocket, too. He has worked on his check-down options and expanding his knowledge of Kelly's playbook, which was simplified early on to accommodate a young quarterback.

Golson said he recently made Kelly proud by "looking up and down the line" and reading the defense properly during practices.

"He's definitely on the path to providing what we need," Kelly said. "He sees the field better."

This is modest praise from Kelly. But it's also progress from a quarterback that looked lost early in the year.

“My teammates got me through some rough times,” Golson said. “They were always telling me it would be all right. Now it is.”

Rule No. 60,014: If there’s one weekend to establish an absurdly late picks section, rivalry weekend is it.

TCU at Texas: The Longhorns didn't look like a potential 10-win team after that Cotton Bowl drubbing in October, but here they are at 8-2 and riding a four-game winning streak. TCU has given up 38.3 points per game in its last four games, a 1-3 stretch. Texas 37, TCU 24

Michigan at Ohio State: The Buckeyes might be catching Michigan at the wrong time. Devin Gardner has sparked the Wolverines, accounting for at least three scores in each of his three starts. And the Wolverines still have a chance at the Big Ten title game. Braxton Miller will keep it close but Michigan makes OSU feel even more bowl-ineligible. Michigan 24, Ohio State 17

Oregon at Oregon State: Oregon should be salty after Stanford's athletic, versatile front seven thwarted the Ducks' usually potent rushing attack. The defense will need to play that way against Oregon State's receiver tandem of Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, which has combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. Love what the Beavers have done this year, but Oregon's offense is too well-oiled to strike out two weeks in a row. Oregon 41, Oregon State 32

Florida at Florida State: Expect Florida's offense to improve after a few off weeks. The Gators have been focused on controlling the clock and minimizing mistakes but could open it up in Doak Campbell. But FSU’s talent can match Florida's, and as long as the Seminoles don't play soft (a problem in the past), E.J. Manuel will be poised in the fourth. Florida State 30, Florida 24

South Carolina at Clemson: Don't be surprised if Clemson's effective deep passing attack looks to test South Carolina's erratic secondary early and often. South Carolina has enough standout talent to break the game open -- Ace Sanders (333 punt return yards), Andre Ellington (approaching a second straight 1,000-yard season) and Jadeveon Clowney (9.5 sacks). But Clemson will have a more balanced attack. Clemson 45 South Carolina 38

Stanford at UCLA: One of the week's most fascinating matchups -- two teams with a chance at a Pac-12 title, a 10-win season and the right to unseat Oregon as the conference's best. The battle to watch is Stanford's physical defensive front vs. UCLA's fast, shifty offense trying to get on the edge. The Bruins' resurgence under Jim Mora is impressive, but Stanford is peaking at the right time. Stanford 17, UCLA 13

Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.

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