SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Everett Golson is Notre Dame's starting quarterback again.
The senior has reclaimed the post he held while leading the Fighting Irish to the national championship game two years ago, and before being suspended last season for academic impropriety.
The move was widely expected even though coach Brian Kelly said repeatedly that sophomore Malik Zaire was competing for the job. Kelly said Wednesday that Golson won the position because of his overall understanding of the offense, how he's handled himself with the team and his leadership.
"He's put himself in that position to get that opportunity to be our starter against Rice," Kelly said. "There was competition and there will be competition. Everett's the starter for Rice and we hope he's the starter for the entire year. But we're all in this merit-based situation. We've got to win."
The Irish did that with Golson in 2012, posting their first undefeated regular season since winning the national championship in 1988 and being ranked No. 1 for the first time in 19 years. But defense, not offense, was the impetus behind that team. Kelly even spoke of that two weeks ago when he said "I would argue that Everett rode the bus to the championship."
With a young, inexperienced defense, Kelly has said the Irish need to put up more points this season. He's hoping Golson's running ability will help the Irish to do that, something they were missing last season with Tommy Rees at quarterback. Kelly said the Irish won't have to switch plays as often along the line of scrimmage with Golson at quarterback.
"Tommy needed to check a lot of plays. We won't have to block that end for Everett on every play. We had to for Tommy. He wasn't going to make the end miss," Kelly said.
Golson said he didn't feel a sense of relief when Kelly gave him the news.
"I think it's a heightened responsibility on my part now that everything is pretty set. It's my job to get these guys right and just try to lead this team," he said.
Golson was 187 of 318 passing in 2012, a 58.8 completion rate, with 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He had a pass efficiency rating of 131.01, placing him 62nd among quarterbacks nationwide. He also ran for 298 yards on 94 carries.
Golson said he struggled a bit in the spring with a new quarterbacks coach and facing a Notre Dame defense that is playing a more aggressive style. He said it all started coming together after spring practice was over.
"I think now I'm in a position to hold everyone else responsible because I'm comfortable with what I'm supposed to do," he said.
Asked if he ever doubted he'd be the starter, Golson said: "I don't think I prepared like a backup."
He said he has been focusing on trying to take control of the offense, which he struggled with at times in 2012. He was replaced by Rees for the final game-winning drive against Purdue in the second game and was pulled for poor play two weeks later against Michigan. But his play improved steadily as the season wore on.
The Irish finished that season ranked 71st in the nation in passing at 223 yards a game, their lowest ranking since finishing 110th at 167 yards a game in 2007, when Notre Dame finished 3-9.
Golson said he is better prepared this time.
"I understand the job and the task at hand and what I have to do next," he said.
Kelly said he was pleased how Zaire reacted to finding out Golson is the starter.
"He wasn't happy. If he gave me a hug, I'd be disappointed," Kelly said. "He went out and practiced well. He wants to be the starter and he's going to keep working to be the starter."