- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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So it turns out the decision by three Notre Dame players to transfer near the start of spring ball serves as the least notable headline in a Fighting Irish offseason that has brought one stunner after another.
From the flirtation of coach Brian Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles in the days after the title-game humiliation, to the tabloid-worthy Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax revelation, to quarterback Gunner Kiel and two sophomore receivers finding new homes, to the uncertainty surrounding prized recruit Eddie Vanderdoes, the Irish have had little to cheer about in 2013, though last year's success provided more than enough reason for optimism heading into the fall.
Golson is not the first Notre Dame player to get in trouble in what are supposed to be the quiet days after the school year is over -- he's not even the first Notre Dame quarterback to do so, as former starter Tommy Rees was arrested last May, earning himself a one-game suspension.
But for a coach and program that found a leader to take the offense where Kelly and the Irish want it, this news is a potential backbreaker, pending Golson's eventual status with the school.
Golson took advantage of Rees' being relegated to a glorified graduate assistant last August, assuming control of the offense as a redshirt freshman and leading Notre Dame to its first perfect regular season in 24 years.
By all accounts, Golson had made even bigger strides in 2013, including his respectable title-game performance against an Alabama team that turned most of his teammates into shells of themselves.
Golson added weight, communicated more effectively on the field and off, and absorbed so much of the playbook that he had to be told to slow down by the end of this spring.
All along, he was seen as the key to a spread offense that Kelly wants to be quarterback-driven. And with upward of 39 college starts remaining in Golson's career, Notre Dame appeared to finally have its long-term answer at the game's most important position.
Now that position is a huge question mark moving forward, however cold Rees' veins proved to be when rescuing the Irish time and time again in 2012. Andrew Hendrix has two years of eligibility left, and lefty blue-chipper Malik Zaire enrolled this spring.
None was groomed to carry the load this fall the way Golson had been, on an offense that features two new starting linemen, is down its top two running backs from last year, and has no sure answer to replace record-setter Tyler Eifert at tight end.
Keep in mind, too, that this unit finished just 54th in total offense and tied for 78th in scoring offense during last year's memorable run.
This was supposed to be a quiet spring at Notre Dame. And, unlike last year's, for the most part it was. The summer months before camp were supposed to be about closing the gap with Alabama, discovering the nuances that create a championship team.
Much of that was because of Notre Dame's quarterback. Without him, all of it is now in question.