If you can’t beat ’em…

This article was concurrently published at NoCoastBias.com on June 6, 2015.

…join ’em? Everett Golson will compete for the starting QB job with the Florida State Seminoles in 2015 after playing two up-and-down seasons with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After dazzling in the previous year’s Blue and Gold spring game, Golson emerged as the starter for a Notre Dame team looking to turn the corner on back-to-back 8-5 seasons (and of course the infamous 3-9 in 2007). Bringing a dual-threat package that electrifies college football today, Everett Golson rejuvenated the Irish fan base with his strong arm and nimble footwork. Despite some close games at the beginning of the season, a victory over Michigan and overtime goal-line stand to defeat Stanford suddenly put Notre Dame on the national radar. The top-10 matchup against Oklahoma proved their mettle; the triple overtime game against Pittsburgh nearly ended in heartbreak; yet by the time Thanksgiving weekend rolled around, their last victory over rival USC capped off an undefeated regular season and a spot in the national championship game.

Months later, the terrible news spread around campus that Everett Golson, the hero of Notre Dame’s magical season, would be dismissed from the school and sitting out for Notre Dame’s 2013 campaign. Instead, the Irish fortune relied on the arm of the often-polarizing senior Tommy Rees, who put together a more-than-respectable 9-4 season, including a victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Everett Golson returned in 2014 amid the always high expectations from the Notre Dame fan base. After a year of workouts and self-professed personal growth, Golson was readmitted to Notre Dame and primed to return Notre Dame to the championship hunt. The Irish raced to a 6-0 record to open the season, setting up the primetime matchup with Florida State, both schools hoping to be in the top 4 in the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff. A close game throughout, Notre Dame was poised to hand the Seminoles their first loss in two seasons, and jump into the top-5. With seconds ticking away, the game-winning touchdown turned offensive pass interference shattered the dreams of Irish fans around the country (not to mention everyone else rooting against Florida State). The Seminoles once again dodged a near defeat, and Florida State would complete a second straight undefeated regular season and a berth in the playoff. Notre Dame, however, would follow a different path.

It was the flag that turned a season. Notre Dame closed out the year with four straight losses, complete with interceptions, injuries, and poor late-game execution. Golson struggled with turnovers through the second half of the season, hindering Notre Dame’s offense as they stumbled into the Music City Bowl (for which they would not have even been eligible if not for the early start to the season). Golson’s late-season trouble wore Coach Kelly’s patience thinly, so instead Malik Zaire started in the bowl game, a surprising victory over LSU. Golson, who did also play in the bowl game, was clearly the second choice, his starting job for next season now in jeopardy in the wake of the other dual threat quarterback in Zaire.

This season, Everett Golson will suit up for the Florida State Seminoles, the same team that he nearly knocked off the previous October. Ironically, had the final touchdown stood, a Notre Dame victory would have pushed them to 7-0 and a top 5 ranking. They may very well have carried the momentum through the end of the season and into title contention. Golson may have played better, kept his starting job, and never even considered transferring after all. Instead, the hero of the 12-0 season has now left South Bend for the second time. But now it’s different. He has officially graduated from Notre Dame, so he will be able to play without sitting out a season.

Everett Golson may not end up as an NFL starter; his time at ND is done, but he still has to win the starting job at FSU. He is still a great college football player, with one more year of eligibility and an opportunity that any number of high school standouts would love to have. Certainly he would have still been a valuable member of the Notre Dame team, and Brian Kelly would love to have the “problem” of choosing a starter from the two great QBs. But Golson also may have been stuck on the sideline watching the Irish play on without him. Golson has already had to watch an Irish season from afar. And his ND career has been anything but routine. He’s played in a national championship game; he’s been expelled for “poor academic judgment.” He’s led game winning drives and he’s forced a few too many turnovers. When he was suspended from Notre Dame, he easily could have left the school for good, but he chose to return to ND and take the field once again. He won some big games, lost some others. Now he is once again at a crossroads, and this time on his own terms. Golson has one more chance to play football on the national stage. And this time, he’s leaving with something far more valuable than game film for pro scouts or a championship ring: a degree from one of the best universities in the country. Now he just wants to play football. He’s paid his dues, and now he has once more chance on the field. Save the debate over the graduate transfer rule. Stop counting his interceptions or predicting what he will be able to contribute next year. Just let the kid play.

Meanwhile, at Notre Dame, the Malik Zaire era officially has begun.  AN

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