It's the obvious question, but it's one that won't soon go away in South Bend: Who's the quarterback?
Brian Kelly begins his third season with the talk around the Fighting Irish centered on who will take the first snap against Navy in Dublin, Ireland, Sept. 1.
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Tommy Rees, now a junior, ranks as the incumbent, but he was suspended for the season opener and will not even travel to Ireland with the team next month.
Rees might still factor in the competition, but he has more than off-field hurdles to clear. Inconsistency is becoming legendary around the program and he hasn't done himself any favors with the season-opening suspension -- the penance for his offseason arrest after a physical encounter with police while fleeing a party. He faced four misdemeanor charges, pled guilty to two and the others were dropped. Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese, who got into trouble with Rees, were informed they would be suspended for the Navy game by Kelly on July 31.
"I apologize to my family, friends, the Notre Dame community, Fighting Irish fans and the South Bend Police Department for my actions this spring," Rees said in a statement released through the school. "I made a poor decision and I accept full responsibility.
"I learned a valuable lesson and witnessed first-hand that actions have consequences. This experience will make me a better person and I will focus on being a positive role model and citizen. To those who supported me during this difficult time, I offer my sincerest thanks. To the people I disappointed, I am dedicated to winning back your trust and confidence."
And now, he has to get back to trying to be the starting quarterback, with junior Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson and touted freshman Gunner Kiel ready to take the job away.
Regardless of who begins the season as the starter, and with the world knowing the position could be fluid all season, the Irish face their usual tough schedule as they try to get past the eight-win mark for the first time in Kelly's three seasons.
Rees is scheduled to appear at a court hearing Aug. 20 to learn whether he'll also owe restitution stemming from the arrest.
HEAD COACH: Brian Kelly, third year at Notre Dame, 16-10 record at Notre Dame, 69-32 as a head coach
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB Manti Te'o -- We're not going with the quarterback here because the Fighting Irish are still looking for a starter. Te'o, who could have left early for the NFL Draft, decided to come back and should be an All-American and the leader of the defense. Last year, he led the team with 128 tackles, including five sacks and 13½ for loss.
BREAKOUT STAR: WR T.J. Jones -- Playing in Michael Floyd's shadow, he caught 27 passes last year. Now it's Jones' turn, and with a tight end like Tyler Eifert a key cog in the offense, there should be room for Jones to operate outside.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Davonte' Neal -- A key recruit added late by Notre Dame, this is a two-time Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year. With Theo Riddick moving back to running back, there should be playing time available for the freshman.
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KEYS TO SUCCESS: Kelly has to come up with an answer to his QB situation. The old adage about having two No. 1's means you don't have a No. 1 is doubled here as Kelly has four players fighting for the starting spot. It can't be a good thing if the situation is fluid heading into the season. The schedule is difficult and Notre Dame has to rebound from losing the final two games of last season following a four-game winning streak that completed the rise back from an 0-2 start. Riddick moves back from wide receiver to running back and he and Cierre Wood should be a formidable 1-2 punch.
AREAS OF CONCERN: Again, we go back to quarterback. If Kelly had a true No. 1, there would no continuing battle for the spot, a situation amplified even more by Rees' suspension. The schedule is a concern, with ND having to come home from Ireland to play a game the following Saturday at the start of a run that continues with Michigan State and Michigan.
-- Te'o was named to the watch lists for both the Rotary Lombardi (top lineman) and Butkus (top linebacker) awards. Offensive tackle Zack Martin and tight end Tyler Eifert were also on the Lombardi list while wide receiver T.J. Jones made the list for the Biletnikoff, which goes to the nation's top receiver. The announcements continued to grow the list of Irish players on the various watch lists.
-- Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class grew to 18 in late July when Texas running back Jamel James tweeted that he would be coming to South Bend.
-- Sophomore-to-be running back Amir Carlisle suffered a broken ankle before the start of spring ball and should be ready for the fall.
-- Rees has started more games as a freshman and sophomore than any quarterback in Notre Dame history other than Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen.
-- Kiel is a true freshman but has the benefit of starting school early, thus joining the QB battle. "When you talk about Gunner, first of all, I think you have to appreciate the fact that he comes from a family of quarterbacks," said coach Brian Kelly. "They grew up playin' the game of football."
-- RB George Atkinson III made a name for himself as a dynamic freshman kick returner (two for touchdowns) and should be able to add depth to the offense.
-- Rashad Kinslaw, an "athlete" who has committed to Notre Dame for next season, underwent right leg surgery in July after suffering an injury in an under-19 all-star game in Texas.