Senior College Football Columnist

For Irish to win, unheralded QB Golson needs game of his career


The most glamorous position in college sports has no swagger. Not this year. Not even in an undefeated season, with a national championship at stake.

That doesn't mean Everett Golson is some slappy or that Notre Dame will necessarily lose the BCS title game because of him. Hey, the Irish are here with the redshirt freshman at quarterback -- at least part of the time. It does mean Golson is a less-than-complete player, one who celebrated his 19th birthday on Wednesday as the No. 62-rated quarterback in pass efficiency.

It also means that deep down inside the Irish soul, Notre Dame knows it has no chance against Alabama unless Golson plays something close to the game of his 12-game career. What are the odds considering Golson's best days are ahead of him, just maybe not on the day of the national championship? Or consider Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway, the last freshman quarterback to win a national championship.

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That was 27 years ago.

"He looks comfortable," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "I don't know how comfortable he is on the inside."

Maybe that's the issue. Golson doesn't look the part of being the Notre Dame quarterback. Not yet, at least. Being the Irish quarterback usually pulls babes, draws raves and ignites jersey sales. Joe Theismann changed the pronunciation of his name to rhyme with a trophy. Joe Montana won a national championship on his way to becoming a Super Bowl legend. Tony Rice was the last ND championship quarterback, ending his career as the winningest Irish starter at the position in the last 50 years (.903 percentage). Even Jimmy Clausen played the part, rolling up in a limo during a campus visit and showing off four state championship rings.

This season's starter needed periodic confidence injections.

"It was just really a humbling experience for me," Golson said.

That would a summation of his roots as scout team quarterback a year ago. Golson thought he was ready as a true freshman arriving from Myrtle Beach, S.C., having thrown the sixth-most touchdowns in high-school history.

He was wrong.

"No one could hear him half the time," Martin said.

Then he was too loud, shouting at inappropriate times according to Martin.

"It's like conducting an orchestra. You don't yell at the trombone players," the coach said. "We flinched because we couldn't hear him. Then we flinched because he was yelling."

That's not a good look for any quarterback, particularly Notre Dame's. Brian Kelly needs Golson to pull off a reasonable imitation of Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M's dual-threat star who basically won the Heisman running through Alabama on Nov. 10.

"Texas A&M exploited us," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said.

There is the additional issue of Golson being pulled in three games -- because of injury or performance -- during this magic undefeated season. Golson and the Irish were bailed out by backup Tommy Rees.

"It hasn't been awkward at all," Golson said.

Naaah, not at all.

It's not a linear situation. In fact, it's quite contrarian. Notre Dame needs Golson to be the best he can be because they've already seen the worst. Rees had more turnovers last season (19) that one-third of FBS. An off-field dust up got him suspended for the season opener against Navy.

But Rees the turnover machine also saved the season with his relief work. Golson was shaky early but more solid in November, throwing for 763 yards in his final three games.

"He got thrown into the fire right away," Martin said. "He didn't ease into this thing like some young quarterbacks do."

Not with his career debut in Dublin, his first road game at Michigan State and the Michigan game in Week 4. That was Golson's September. The quarterback and the coordinator are an odd mix. A son of the South from the Palmetto State and a free-spirited Bears' fan from the Chicago suburbs who sprinkles his sentences with the word "dude." The majority of Martin's career has been spent on the defensive side of the ball. Kelly brought on his old Grand Valley State assistant as a secondary coach and recruiting coordinator in 2010 before elevating him to offensive coordinator this season.

Martin has had to coach Golson up as much as coach bad traits out.

"It doesn't matter what your resume looks like," Martin said. "They had success in high school and they're going to try it like they did in high school. You get to college and try to do some different things and they fight you and fight you. When they've exhausted their way and it stinks it's like, 'I know you've been saying this for weeks, but what were you saying is right.' "

Martin already has significant history coaching a redshirt freshman quarterback to a national championship. Grand Valley State's Cullen Finnerty did it in 2003, adding two more in his career.

"So we're hoping that history repeats itself," Martin said. "Everybody is worried about that next one. We're trying to make this the first of three, actually."

Most of Golson's struggles came in the first half of the season. He was pulled after two interceptions in the Michigan game basically won by the Irish defense, 13-6. Golson was made off limits to the media while Kelly himself probably wandered what he had.

"I definitely used that as motivation instead of letting it bring me down," Golson said. "Being taken out like that, it hurt. I'll be honest. I wanted to show I could come back and handle the adversity."

Kelly's days of game-planning around his quarterback are over. Golson has to be the man in the BCS title game. His legs give the Irish the best chance to win. Legs similar to Manziel's.

See where this is headed? Eager Everett is the best imitation of Johnny Football Bama has faced.

Sort of like a scout team quarterback.

"He's grown a lot," Smart said.

But enough to beat Bama? Check Everett's swag.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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