What could have been for Notre Dame at QB

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

Four years ago at this time, Brian Kelly was still in the infancy of his Notre Dame coaching career, the honeymoon stage quickly halted with a three-game September losing skid following an opening victory over Purdue.

The roster, in hindsight, included some talent remaining from the Charlie Weis Era. But in terms of quarterback in the up-tempo offense Kelly was attempting to implement after a successful run at Cincinnati, there were fits, but not exactly perfect fits.

Dayne Crist, in his first year as a starter after the Jimmy Clausen years, was an accomplished passer and decent runner, but injuries would curtail his career. Nate Montana was a former walk-on who didn’t have the skills to play high-Division-I football. Tommy Rees had brains and decent passing skills, but his lack of running skills put the brakes on the offense. Fellow freshmen Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa, particularly Hendrix, had promise, but were young and not ready.

So the Irish staff went looking for a quarterback to sign in the 2011 class, a dual-threat guy who could scare opposing coordinators with his arm and feet. Some they took enormous swings at and missed. Others they took more of a check swing at and missed before finally landing a North Carolina two-sport star in Everett Golson, who also had designs on playing basketball in college.

With help from Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network and Pete Sampson from IrishIllustrated.com, the following are some of the quarterbacks ND showed interest in during that cycle.

Bubba Starling: Starling, listed as an athlete by Rivals.com, was all-state in three sports in Kansas, and the question during his recruitment was whether he would play quarterback in college or take the money from being a high MLB Draft pick.

Starling committed to Nebraska in October 2010 but ultimately became the fifth pick in the 2011 baseball draft. He signed a $7.5 million contract to join the Kansas City Royals organization but is still toiling in the minors.

The right-handed center fielder hit .218 with nine homers and 54 RBIs this season at high Single-A. In three seasons, he’s hit a combined .237 with 32 homers and 150 RBIs.

Braxton Miller: Considered the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback, Miller committed to Ohio State, his homestate school, in June 2010.

Miller was named OSU’s starter in Week 4 of his first season and has excelled when healthy. He’s had periodic health problems, and a preseason shoulder injury wiped out his 2014 season. Miller has said he will be back for a fifth year in 2015.

Jacoby Brissett: The No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country signed with Florida and started against top-ranked LSU and No. 24 Auburn as a true freshman. Brissett eventually was overtaken by classmate Jeff Driskel and, following the 2012 season, transferred to North Carolina State. In three games this season, Brissett has thrown for 810 yards, seven touchdown and one interception.

Kiehl Frazier: Frazier, the No. 5 dual-threat QB per Rivals, was named Auburn’s starter in 2012 but was benched after five starts. He later switched to safety and also dabbled at wide receiver. He has since transferred to Ouachita Baptist, a Division-II school in Arkansas.

Marquise Williams: This guy may have had as much to do with Golson landing at Notre Dame as any other player.

Golson committed to North Carolina on signing day of his junior year, but a lot happened between then and when he landed at Notre Dame. Williams picked the Tar Heels in July 2010, and the school later faced NCAA problems. Golson began looking elsewhere and committed to ND in December, a month before he enrolled in classes.

Williams, like Golson, redshirted in 2011, appeared in nine games in 2012, and started six games a year ago. Williams is the starter for the 2-0 Tar Heels this season, and he leads the team in rushing at 6.4 yards per carry. He’s completed 39 of 58 passes for four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Golson and Williams will square off on Oct. 11 when Notre Dame hosts North Carolina.

Kevin Sousa: Sousa wasn’t a huge name, ranking as the No. 23 dual-threat QB, but he was at one time committed to Michigan before landing at Wake Forest.

Sousa has yet to throw a pass in college and has toggled between QB and wide receiver. Sousa last week was suspended indefinitely by the team for a violation of team rules.

Jeff Driskel: Driskel has been described as an underachiever at Florida, although he’s off to a decent start this season after missing most of last year with a broken leg. Driskel was in the same class as Brissett at Florida and ultimately won the job. He’s completed 56 of 88 passes this year with four touchdowns and one interception.

Max Wittek: Wittek comes from the same school as former USC greats Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley, but his Trojan career never took off. With Barkley injured at the end of the 2012 season, Wittek started against ND in the game that clinched a spot in the BCS National Championship Game for the Irish.

Wittek was beaten out by classmate Cody Kessler and shopped around for a new school over the summer. He finally found a spot at Hawaii, where he’ll have one year of eligibility remaining in 2015. Wittek, however, likely projects as a backup for former SC offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

Christian LeMay: LeMay was rated by Rivals as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in his class. He was suspended from his high school during his senior year and did not play that season. He still signed with Georgia and spent three years with the Bulldogs but attempted just two passes.

LeMay transferred to Jacksonville State this past offseason and has played in one game, completing 3 of 6 passes.

Phillip Ely: Ely, who played with uber-recruit running back James Wilder Jr. in high school, signed with Alabama and was on the sideline when the Crimson Tide routed ND for the 2012 national championship.

Ely was stuck behind AJ McCarron and transferred to Toledo, where he became eligible this year. Ely, however, suffered a knee injury in the Rockets' opener and is out for the season.

There were other names in that class that ND did not pursue, namely a plucky kid from Texas by the name of Johnny Manziel, current Minnesota Viking Teddy Bridgewater, UCLA starter Brett Hundley, and a kid Oregon lured from Hawaii — Marcus Mariota.

Mariota was ranked by Rivals as the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback, Manziel No. 14 and Golson 16th. All three of them were ranked three-star prospects, and played above that. Manziel won the Heisman Trophy two years ago, and Mariota and Golson are among the early contenders for this year’s award.

Everett Golson originally committed to North Carolina before flipping to Notre Dame late in the recruiting cycle. (Photo provided)