By Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — By the end of perhaps the longest press conference of the Brian Kelly Era, the third-year Notre Dame head football coach was being pushed deep into the hypothetical.
If No. 1 quarterback Everett Golson is not able to play Saturday for the fifth-ranked Irish (6-0) against BYU (4-3), Kelly admitted there probably still would be a tag-team approach at the QB position.
“We have to make sure that you have to defend a running quarterback,” Kelly said. “That's going to be part of the game plan.”
Golson was a spectator at Tuesday’s practice session after not being able to pass a computer-based cognitive test Monday. The sophomore suffered a concussion Saturday with 3:24 left in regulation of ND’s 20-13 overtime victory over Stanford.
“There are a number of different things,” Kelly explained. “First of all, there's a balance test, which he passed. There’s also just an exam that he's passed, and then there are symptoms — whether it's sensitivity, agitation, light sensitivity — all those things he's passed. Once he (passes the computer cognitive test), he'll be allowed to go back to practice.
“But there is a protocol. There are standards. They are independent of the head football coach. This is strictly on our medical staff. ... We are seeing great progress.”
Kelly said Golson had missed two Tuesday practices in recent weeks, one because of an achy throwing shoulder, and last week because of a turf toe injury. The coach said he is comfortable with going all the way to Thursday without Golson practicing before he would be pressed to go with plan B.
That would mean the 18th career start for Rees, with Hendrix playing the reliever. If Golson does draw the start, he’ll be trying to become the third ND quarterback in the past 30 years to win his first six starts. The other two are Matt LoVecchio (2000) and Kevin McDougal (1993).
“He's got to take care of the football,” Kelly said of Golson. “He's got to set his feet. He plays sloppy at times, but boy, he competed his butt off. I couldn't be more proud of the guy and the way he competed.”
BOWLFUL OF SPECULATION: If the season ended today, Notre Dame would be headed to a BCS bowl, and the selection order for at-large teams would go as follows: 1. Sugar, 2. Rose, 3. Fiesta, 4. Sugar, 5. Orange.
The Sugar and Rose jump to the front of the order, because they would each lose a conference tie-in team, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon, to the BCS National Championship Game.
In any other year, it would figure a fifth-ranked ND team would be the top choice of at-large teams, but New Orleans is a finalist to host the new Champions Bowl, matching the SEC and Big 12 champs beginning in 2014.
According to one bowl insider, there’s no way the Sugar Bowl would want to rankle anyone within the SEC at this juncture, so another SEC team would come off the board with the first pick.
“There will be the most politics ever involved in bowl selections this year,” the source said.
An SEC-ND matchup would still be possible, but the source said the Fiesta would probably grab ND to match up with the Big 12 champ before the Sugar Bowl could choose again.
The only compromise along those lines is if Oklahoma overtook Kansas State to win the Big 12, setting up an Irish-Sooners rematch, which wouldn’t be a desirable scenario. Then the Sugar would come into play.
The Rose would be expected to pick another Pac-12 team to replace Oregon. The Orange would probably love to match ND against the ACC champ, but wouldn’t likely get the chance.
Notre Dame needs to finish in the top eight of the BCS standings to be guaranteed a spot in the BCS lineup and in the top 14 to be considered.
STRIKING A BALANCE: With Notre Dame on fall break this week, ND coach Kelly could push the Irish beyond the NCAA 20-hour limit for the work week, but he won’t.
Nor is he going to give the players a mini-vacation while they’re away from classes for the week.
“We don't want to change the routine,” he said. “So we bring them in. We don't want them sleeping until 1 o'clock. We had brunch at 11 o'clock and then they had some captain-led film study today.
“We are keeping them around, but we don't want it turning into a situation where they have got to be here like an NFL. We want them to relax a little bit as well.”
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Kelly wanted to take them back.
Not that he’s in hot water with the NCAA or even trending on Twitter.
It’s the cheese factor.
When asked a recruiting question Tuesday about how ND has been able to attract defensive front-seven talent in such abundance, Kelly responded, “Well, if you can sell Avon, you can sell Notre Dame. You've got to knock on every door. You have got to ring every bell.”
And then after rambling on a couple of more minutes, he looked defeated.
“I can't believe I pulled that Avon analogy out,” Kelly said. “I don't know where that came from. Feeling a little weak on that one.”
QB envy? Maybe Notre Dame’s starter/reliever quarterback concept will become a trend?
Guess who has committed to playing two quarterbacks Saturday against 10th-ranked Oklahoma (4-1)?
Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, now the head coach at Kansas (1-5). Weis will tag-team former ND quarterback Dayne Crist, a fifth-year senior, with redshirt freshman Michael Cummings. The latter, in a relief appearance, nearly rallied the Jayhawks to an upset of Oklahoma State last Saturday (an eventual 20-14 KU loss).
For the season, Crist is 88-of-177 (.494) passing for 1,088 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Cummings is 7-of-14 for 87 yards and one TD and no picks.
MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICA: Notre Dame senior middle linebacker Manti Te’o made CBSSports.com’s Midseason All-America first team. Senior linebacker Tyler Eifert and sophomore defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt collected second-team honors.
Stanford tight end Zach Ertz was the only Irish opposing player, past or future this season, to make the first team.
BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy and USC’s Morgan Breslin are the second-teamers the Irish have yet to face this season. Other Irish opposing players to make the second team were Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short.
• Through six games, 39.1 percent of ND’s opponents’ drives have ended in three-and-outs. That’s the sixth-best figure among BCS automatic-qualifying schools. Alabama leads with a 50-percent rate in that category.
• Notre Dame has held five straight opponents to fewer than 300 yards in total offense. The last time the Irish cobbled together such a string started with the Fiesta Bowl to end the 1988 national title run along with the first four games of the 1989 season.
• Notre Dame has not allowed a rushing touchdown in eight straight games, dating back to last season. It’s the longest such streak at ND since an eight-game stretch in 1976-77.
• The Irish defense hasn’t given up a touchdown of any kind in 16 straight quarters. That’s the longest streak since the 1980 season.
• Saturday’s 20-13 overtime win over Stanford was just the eighth game in the 32 Kelly has coached at Notre Dame in which the Irish trailed at halftime. It marked the second time in those eight games in which they came from behind to win.
• The Irish will be playing as a Top 5 team Saturday for the first time since the 2006 season. Notre Dame is 57-7 at home all-time as a Top 5 team.
• BYU is 4-8 all-time against Top 5 teams, its last win coming in 2009 against No. 3 Oklahoma.
• There are 38 members of BYU’s football team currently serving Mormon missions in 17 countries around the world.