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Behind Wimbush, Irish Poised for 2017 Bounceback

If history repeats itself, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is in for a pretty good 2017 campaign.

One major criticism of Head Coach Brian Kelly is his decision-making (or lack thereof). At the start of the 2016 season, Kelly had to make a decision at the quarterback position. Kelly opted to play both quarterbacks in the opener against Texas, possibly playing a role in his team’s loss in the game. It was another decision that would be scrutinized for weeks to come.

No such decision will be necessary in 2017. Brandon Wimbush, a 6-foot-1-inch quarterback from New Jersey, will step in to the spotlight for the Irish. Wimbush saw limited time in his freshman season backing up DeShone Kizer and did not play in 2016 once Malik Zaire returned from injury. Despite his lack of experience, Wimbush is now the face of a new era of Notre Dame football, and he’s in good hands with Coach Kelly.

It is not the first time at Notre Dame that Kelly will be going with an inexperienced quarterback to start the season.

In 2012, Everett Golson won the starting quarterback job over Tommy Rees. Coming off a freshman year that saw him redshirted, Golson was in his second year in South Bend. He was the type of dual-threat quarterback Brian Kelly craved. He was the type of guy who could extend plays, run the read option, and make something out of nothing. A raw talent, Golson’s development under Kelly was clear as the year went on. Together, Golson and Kelly lead the Irish to a BCS National Championship berth.

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18: Everett Golson #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish warms up before their game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
TALLAHASSEE, FL – OCTOBER 18: Everett Golson #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish warms up before their game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

But things went south for Golson. His suspension from the university for academic fraud severely hindered his development. With his suspension, the program lost much of the momentum it gained following 2012’s success. Golson returned for the 2014 season, but never panned out. After Notre Dame started the season 6-0, it faltered in the second half of the season, going just 1 of its final 6 games in the regular season. During that time, Golson looked flustered, discouraged, and at times disinterested. It was time to cut the cord and start over.

After Golson transferred to Florida State, Zaire took the reigns heading in to 2015. Unfortunately, his tenure as Irish quarterback was limited due to a broken ankle. To the disbelief of many, Kizer lead the Irish to a come-from-behind win over Virginia. He then went on to post an 8-2 record as a starter and nearly played them into a College Football Playoff berth, had it not been for a defensive collapse that allowed Stanford to kick a field goal on the final play of Notre Dame’s regular season.

Amid calls for his job, the one thing Kelly has going for him is his success in managing quarterbacks. Kelly’s success with Golson 2012 and Kizer in 2015 shows his skill in managing inexperience.

Even more so than Kizer, Wimbush fits the mold of a Brian Kelly quarterback better than any other quarterback Kelly has had at Notre Dame. From a physical tools standpoint, he is as good as it gets. Wimbush will also benefit from an experienced supporting cast: Notre Dame returns virtually every starter on offense outside of the quarterback position. Even before his time at Notre Dame, Wimbush was impressing scouts with his arms strength, as demonstrated in the video below, where delivers a pass 65 yards on a dime to his receiver:

He has also shown his skill as a runner in his time at Notre Dame:

With 2012 and 2015 as evidence, Kelly has done well with an offense tailored to the strengths of an inexperienced quarterback. His success with the position is certainly one major reason Kelly was able to keep his job following a 4-8 season. With Kelly and Wimbush, the offense is in good hands as they look forward to 2017. If the rest of the team follows suit, Notre Dame could be the beneficiary of a quick rebound after 2016’s disappointment.