Even with competition, Kelly expects Golson to return in 2015

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As Malik Zaire helped the Irish pull off a critical win in the Music City Bowl, all eyes turned to the quarterback who wasn’t playing. After starting the season’s first 12 games, Everett Golson played a complementary role in the Irish victory, completed some clutch passes down the stretch during Notre Dame’s 31-28 victory.

As we shift into the offseason with Notre Dame’s offensive identity still in flux, rumors of Golson’s transfer — especially with the ability to leave after earning his degree in May — have started to churn.

There’s the rumor that Golson reached out to LSU. The quarterback took to Twitter to refute that. (The sentiment was echoed by personal QB coach George Whitfield, who has stayed close with both Golson and his family throughout this season.)

While appearing on SportsCenter today in the run up to the College Football Playoff’s championship game, Brian Kelly talked about Golson’s status with the team, and the conversations he’s had with his quarterback. While it’s not a surprise to hear this from the head coach, Kelly expects Golson to be back in South Bend next season.

“I’ve talked to Everett,” Kelly said on SportsCenter. “Everett needs to come back and go through spring ball. He’s ready to compete. And he will compete in the spring. He’s going to graduate this spring, and that’s going to allow him to keep his options open.

“But I expect him to be back and competing for the starting position. Both of them will have an opportunity. I’d love to see both of them on the field for us. I think we can play them both. Everett’s got a chance to win that starting position. I know he expects to be the starter in the fall, and he’ll have the opportunity to do that.”

While the stock answer was there for the taking, Kelly’s candor about the elephant in the room — Golson’s ability to essentially be a free agent after earning his degree — was refreshing. Also refreshing was the fact that Kelly’s been in communication with his quarterback. With school on break until next week and the team away from campus, that the two would connect and air things could while the rumors were swirling is important.

Just as important is the idea that Kelly is open to finding a system where both quarterbacks contribute. While Zaire’s running ability and performance in the Music City Bowl make him the flavor of the month, Golson is far too good to throw away after some sloppy play. (Remember, Jimmy Clausen was a turnover machine as a second-year player before putting together an elite junior season.)

For the health of the program, keeping the depth chart stocked with both Golson and Zaire will be critical to Notre Dame’s success in 2015. If Golson leaves, the Irish are back in a precarious offensive situation — a quarterback with six quarters of experience backed up by two young players who have never taken a snap. If that’s Zaire, it’s going to limit the abuse he can take as a runner, thus limiting his effectiveness as well.

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Per Irish 247, Kelly also made a stop on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show. The Irish head coach covered a variety of topic, including the big victories Midwestern schools (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Notre Dame) had over SEC powers.

“Look, the SEC has earned the reputation that they had, and has,” Kelly said. “But certainly, Notre Dame beating LSU, Ohio State beating Alabama, Wisconsin beating Auburn, I think all of those things are good for college football, because they bring a balance to this playoff, that you can win across the board from the Midwest to the South.

“And we were talking before we went on the air, kids want to play. And if they can’t get that starting position at Alabama, then maybe I can get it at Wisconsin, maybe I can get it at Ohio State or Notre Dame, and I think we’re starting to see with the playoff, and the notoriety you can get by being at one of these other schools, gives you the opportunity to play anybody.”