Tue Aug 23 12:13pm EDT
In the battle of Potential vs. Momentum, the Fighting Irish are casting their lot with "Potential": For the second year in a row, senior Dayne Crist is taking the gold-flecked reins as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. Sophomore Tommy Rees will back him up.
No surprises there. Frankly, to look at them side by side, it never seemed like much of a debate in the first place. Crist is a former blue-chip who's had "NFL prospect" written all over him from the moment he arrived from California in 2008 standing all of 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Rees was a relatively middling three-star recruit who will never bowl scouts over with his size, speed or arm. If you were casting "Notre Dame's Starting Quarterback" in a movie, that part goes to Crist every time. Rees gets typecast as Rudy.
In fact, though, Notre Dame's turnaround with a true freshman at the controls last November was almost as miraculous as the ending of a Hollywood script. When Rees took over as the starter, Crist was out for the season with a knee injury, the Irish had just dropped back-to-back games to Navy and Tulsa to fall to 4-5 and the seniors bore the burden of a new school record for losses in a four-year span. From that point, Rees captained four straight wins to close the year, including Notre Dame's first victory over a ranked opponent in more than four years, its first victory over USC since 2001 and a one-sided rout over Miami in the bowl game, in which Rees connected on two touchdown passes.
Still, on closer inspection, the surge had a lot less to do with Rees' unlikely emergence than it did with a defense on a mission after being embarrassed in the losses to Navy and Tulsa. High-scoring Utah managed all of three points in South Bend, as did Army a week later in Yankee Stadium; USC's only touchdown in the regular season finale came on a four-yard "drive" following a Rees fumble. In the same game, the Trojans came away with just three field goals on drives beginning deep in Notre Dame territory, all set up by Rees turnovers, and the Irish covered the vast majority of a 7-play, 77-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown on the ground. Miami's only touchdowns in the bowl game came in the fourth quarter, long after the door had been shut on a serious comeback bid.
In the final 16 quarters of the season, then, the Fighting Irish defense allowed one meaningful touchdown, on a fourth-down quarterback sneak that capped a four-play, four-yard march on the heels of a turnover. Give him a full season of that and a healthy Michael Floyd at wide receiver, and it may not matter who the quarterback is.