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Farmer: Kelly’s quarterback announcement doesn’t matter (Aug. 22)

Douglas Farmer | Monday, August 22, 2011

In less than 24 hours, Irish coach Brian Kelly will reveal who will take the first snap for Notre Dame against South Florida. About four minutes past noon, after undoubtedly praising both senior Dayne Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees extensively, Kelly will likely name Crist the starter.

Just like that, the biggest question of the Irish offseason will be answered, and Notre Dame fans everywhere will rush to online forums to shout with joy at Crist’s return. Or, if Kelly shocks the Irish faithful and deems Rees’ four-game winning streak the determining factor, the forums will be filled with needless fretting about Rees’ slight stature.

Either way, I don’t care. Nor should those fans. Nor should the team.

Both Crist and Rees are immensely talented, and each has skills the other lacks, but neither is the key to this version of the Irish. If the success of this season comes down to whom Kelly names Tuesday, this season is already doomed. Not because neither Crist nor Rees is up to the task, but because so much else already would have gone wrong.

Look at Bob Diaco’s defense. It returns eight starters, with both senior cornerback Robert Blanton and junior defensive tackle Sean Cwynar having seen significant playing time off the bench. Complementing junior linebacker Manti Te’o and senior defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson with top-of-the-line recruits such as linebacker Ishaq Williams and ends Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch will pose many problems to opposing offenses.

With this defense, Kelly’s starter should not face an 80-yard field very often.

Look at the receivers waiting for either Crist or Rees. Senior Michael Floyd’s return from suspension was inevitable and provides a security blanket for the quarterback even Linus would envy. Every time junior Theo Riddick touches the ball, he is a threat to score, and junior tight end Tyler Eifert only continues the Notre Dame tradition of stellar play from his position.

With that corps, points will come if Kelly’s quarterback can simply get the ball within a few feet of Floyd or Eifert, or to Riddick three yards past the line of scrimmage.

“We don’t even talk about [the quarterback competition],” receivers coach Tony Alford said. “If it’s thrown, go catch it.”

Even the Notre Dame kicking game, for the first time since Nick Setta’s heyday, does not bring anxiety with each field goal attempt. Few would be surprised if senior David Ruffer converted 20 consecutive field goal attempts.

With that red zone insurance, Kelly’s quarterback of choice will not face the pressure of an absolute necessity to make the highlight reel each time the Irish slip inside the 35-yard line.

From a physical standpoint, Tuesday’s designee should not have to do that much this season.

From a mental standpoint, Kelly has said throughout this entire competition, “mastering the offensive system” will resolve the two-man race. Both Crist and Rees got into Notre Dame on their own merits, and both are certainly capable of grasping the playbook, even if it is Kelly’s complicated encyclopedia.

Thus, why should I care who Kelly pegs as the starter? Why should I worry whether Dayne or Tommy would take a five-step drop? How much of this season will hinge on the differences between the two?

If this season comes down to Crist placing a few 40-yard bombs into a two-foot window, too much has already gone awry. Just find Floyd, Riddick and Eifert and let the defense take care of the rest.

In the end, Notre Dame fans need not worry about the quarterback, whoever it may be. Their time is better spent biting their fingernails over junior running back Cierre Wood’s future as a starter.