College Football Odds: With QB Battle Settled, Can Notre Dame & Zaire Make it to the College Football Playoffs?

Matthew Jordan

Friday, May 8, 2015 6:12 PM GMT

Outside of Columbus, Ohio, arguably the most anticipated quarterback battle this spring and summer was at Notre Dame, which is sort of a high-profile school. However, that derby is over and it has nothing to do with what happened this spring.

Golson Decides To Leave
This is the lead of the Associated Press recap of the Irish's spring game on April 18 in South Bend: "Notre Dame's spring game did little to determine who will be the starting quarterback in the fall." The combatants were senior Everett Golson and redshirt sophomore Malik Zaire, but it's now Zaire's job after Golson announced this week he was transferring.

In the 2012 season, Golson was brilliant in leading Notre Dame to an unbeaten regular season before being kicked off the team for 2013 due to some alleged academic cheating. The Irish would finish that season 9-4 under Tommy Rees.

But Golson made good on what he had to do and opened the 2014 season as the unquestioned starter with Rees having graduated. Golson looked spectacular at times in leading Notre Dame to a 6-0 start and to No. 5 in the polls. He threw the game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Koyack in the driving rain on fourth-and-11 in the final  minute to beat Stanford, one of the nation's top defensive teams. The next week, the Irish rallied in the fourth quarter again in a 50-43 victory over North Carolina, the highest-scoring game in Notre Dame Stadium history. Golson threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. His 9-yard pass to Tarean Folston with 10:39 left in the fourth put the Irish up for good. Golson was a legitimate Heisman candidate.

Then came the game at No. 2 Florida State on Oct. 18. The Irish  lost 31-27 on a controversial offensive pass interference call on Notre Dame after Golson had appeared to throw the winning touchdown pass to Corey Robinson with 13 seconds left. Golson threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns but also two picks, and that loss seemed to start both his and the Irish's downfall.

Notre Dame would win just one more game in the regular season and Golson kept either throwing interceptions or fumbling the ball away. The final straw for Coach Brian Kelly came in the regular-season finale blowout loss at USC. He benched Golson late in the first half with the Irish already down 35. Zaire came in for his first action and threw for 170 yards and rushed for a score.

Apparently that was enough for Kelly to see as he gave Zaire his first career start in the Music City Bowl, a 31-28 upset of LSU. Zaire was 12-for-15 for 96 yards and a touchdown, rushed 22 times for 96 yards and a score and led the game-winning field goal drive. Golson didn't play  nearly as much and was 6-for-11 for 90 yards and rushed once for six yards. After the game, Kelly said those two would battle through the spring and summer for the 2015 job, but apparently Golson (who had 22 total turnovers in 2014) saw the writing on the wall. Having already graduated, he will be able to play immediately next season, with many pointing toward a handful of SEC schools because Golson is from South Carolina. Although there would be some red tape for him to be admitted to an SEC school because of his academic suspension from Notre Dame.

If you want to count Zaire as a returning starter, the Irish are projected to have nine back on offense and 10 on defense. That total of 19 returning starters is tied for second in college football. I'm not sure you can really count Zaire as one but for these purposes let's do so. The Irish were one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation last year and will now be one of the most experienced. Zaire has some major work to do as a passer, but he's already a great runner. The Irish better hope he stays healthy because there's zero experience behind him now.

Don't Forget to Visit SBR's Free NCAA Football Picks for More

2015 Schedule/Futures Odds
As usual, it's one of the toughest schedules in the country. Notre Dame opens on Sept. 5 against Texas, which has been rumored as a possible destination for Golson. How interesting would that be? The Irish are 12.5-point favorites according to the college football odds at 5Dimes. Then it's a visit to an improving Virginia team (I think so at least), a home game against Georgia Tech, which stomped Mississippi State in last season's Orange Bowl, before a breather in South Bend against UMass to close September.

October features a trip to Clemson, possibly the ACC's best team this season, home games against Navy and a stacked USC team that brings back star QB Cody Kessler, and a visit to Temple. November: at Pittsburgh, vs. Wake Forest, vs. Boston College (Fenway Park) and closing at Stanford.

The Irish are +1800 to win the national title.

NCAAF Free Picks: A major bowl is a possibility but I see three losses: Clemson, USC and Stanford. That won't get the Irish into the College Football Playoff. As for where Golson lands? I know he'd like to go to South Carolina but it depends on getting a waiver from the SEC. Georgia is considered the other favorite.