Tommy Rees is back as Notre Dame Football's starting quarterback and with that comes a long list of attributed stigmas and preconceived notions regarding his abilities to win football games. Some beliefs are rooted in hard-case evidence while others are often wild exaggerations. Rees seems to understand that scrutiny and overanalysis comes with the territory of any QB in South Bend. As the 2013 opener nears, its past time for the doubters among Irish fans to accept the book on Tommy Rees's efforts leading the ND offense remains unfinished. As he heads into his final year of an often brilliant but occasionally soul-crushing career - we can look ahead to the final Fall with realistic and still optimistic expectations from a player who possesses all that is necessary to put Notre Dame in the best position to win football games each and every week. Ladies & Gentlemen - your 2013 Notre Dame Quarterback Season Projections:
Last Year - This is the third installment of my projections and there have great improvements from Year 1 when Dayne Crist was the apple of Notre Dame's eye heading into an early season tune-up against South Florida. If you care to review the "bold" estimations of a player we all thought was primed to explode you can find it here. What I like to remember from that article is the projection of Everett Golson as the 2012 starter who would run wild and "be ND's first BCS Bowl winning QB". A year ago I crunched the numbers again and analyzed Brian Kelly's offensive tendencies as the head coach of Cincinnati with an agile QB. Here's what that research produced:
2012 Everett Golson Projections: 2,700 Pass Yards, 300 Rush Yards, 64% Completion, 25 Pass TD, 4 Rush TD, 7 INT, 28 Pass Attempts/Game
2012 Everett Golson Stats: 2,405 Pass Yards, 298 Rush Yards, 58.8% Completion, 12 Pass TD, 6 Rush TD, 6 INT, 26.5 Pass Attempts/Game
Outside a big miss forecasting Golson's Passing Touchdowns, I was right in the wheelhouse on nearly every educated guess. Brian Kelly's use of Zach Collaros in 2009 was a great preview of how Kelly would use Golson's talents to improve the team's rushing attack. Notre Dame averaged 200+ rushing yards in the regular season and Golson attempted just 26.5 passes per game which was nearly identical to Collaros 26/game in four 2009 starts. There's no time for lamenting on the loss of the talented playmaker - Everett Golson won't be running out the tunnel to improve on those fantastic numbers this fall.
Chuck Martin heads into his second season as the Notre Dame offensive coordinator and Brian Kelly has inferred that Martin will have more control over the offense than any Irish coordinator prior. Let's not pretend though that Kelly's fingerprints won't be all over the weekly game plan - they will. While the national championship game performance (just 32 Rushing Yards versus Alabama) dilutes the season averages, Notre Dame was still one of only 26 teams to average 189 Yards Rushing and over 200 yards passing per game - a pretty solid debut season for the former Irish safeties coach. Without the the dynamic Golson and 2012's biggest playmakers in Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, Roby Toma, and John Goodman - can we expect an increase in production through the air or on the ground? I say maybe.
I won't go too long into this area, but these projections take into account all aspects of the Irish offense and these opinions:
Over a 12 game schedule I believe the 2013 offensive line will prove to be a dominant and more versatile unit than 2012's. Nick Martin will be revelation at center.
The wide receiver position lacks experience and some savvy by 2012's standards but the increased level of the athletes will also prove to be an overall upgrade for Rees.
Troy Niklas will be good but he's not the security blanket Rees went to in 2010-12. The entire TE group won't approach Eifert's catch or yardage numbers from last fall.
A diverse running back stable will shine with the ball in their hands but hurt Rees 1-2 times per game on pass-blocking assignments.
This is the best supporting defense Tommy will have had as an every week starter.
Have we buried the lede far enough? In spite of glowing reviews by every set of eyes at Notre Dame's Fall Camp, the numbers of the very unaffectionately nicknamed "Tommy Turnover" don't lie - he throws WAY too many interceptions. A quick box score glance of his spot duty in 2012 is unsettling - his interception ratio did not improve. As a frosh in 2010 he averaged an INT every 20.5 throws. In 2011 this improved to a still unacceptable INT every 29.5 throws (during a season where he attempted 33 passes per game). With 2 interceptions in 2012 on only 59 attempts, his average held firm at at 2011's INT ratio with one every 29.5 throws. If Notre Dame is BCS or bust in 2013 - this area must see a monumental improvement over the course of 350+ Tommy Rees passes.
How many passes is Tommy Rees going to throw this fall? Same as I pointed out last year, Brian Kelly's QB deployment strategies varies greatly depending on personnel. With immobile QBs like Tony Pike & Tommy Rees, Kelly aired it out well over 30 times per game. Offenses fueled by athletes like Zack Collaros & Everett Golson used the run to set up the pass and threw much less. Fans may not want to hear it, but all signs point to Tommy Rees throwing the ball 31+ times per game at a minimum - 5 more attempts than Golson averaged last year. Here's the interception totals Rees would compile based on different ratios during a 32.5 Attempts per Game season for Rees:
13 Interceptions - If Rees maintains his 2011/12 INT ratio he'll approach 2011's miserable 14 INT campaign. This is 7-5 or 6-6 territory.
19 Interceptions - If Rees reverts to his average INT ratio from his freshman year, he'll toss 19 interceptions. Hard to imagine Rees lasting long enough at this average to throw this many INTs. If he does you're looking at a 5-7 team.
10 Interceptions - If Rees improves his ratio at the same rate in 2013 as he once did from 2010 (20.5) to 2011 (29.5) he'll average an INT every 38.5 attempts and still hit double digits in turnovers. 9-3 is likely in this range with an outside shot at 10-2.
6 Interceptions - If Rees matches Tony Pike's élite level of ball security in 2009 (INT every 62 attempts), he'll only throw 6 INTs ... the same number Everett Golson posted in 2012. We can dream. If Rees plays a full 12 games and throws six interceptions, then Notre Dame Stanford in Week 12 could be a National Semifinal for entrance to the BCS Championship Game.
Brian Kelly is the Head Coach at Notre Dame because he managed his players and their skills so masterfully at Cincinnati in 2009. He reinforced this strength in 2012 while keeping his personnel moves incredibly finely tuned to the pulse of the team and its needs. Tommy Rees isn't the prototype for ANY offense but he is above average at enough football intangibles that Kelly can foresee what the potential of the offense is with Rees and he likes it. At this point in his ND tenure, he is deserving of trust in this decision.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the final projections for Rees need to leave room for optimism. His average yards per attempt has increased each season from 6.7 in 2010 to 7.0 in 2011 and finally 7.4 in 2012. The practice videos cannot deny that Rees has filled out his once scrawny frame while adding a little more mobility outside the pocket than we've ever seen. He was already a guy who appeared much smaller on TV than he does in person. I can attest to this truth after passing him on the quad before 2012's spring football game. As a final kicker - Rees and staff have never, ever prepared an entire summer for an offense led by Rees. This is new ground for all involved. IF Rees's interception averages improve, his yards per attempt continues to improve, and he can occasionally extend a play just a second or two longer than he's done before then we can intelligently project a solid season for Rees in 2013. At my projected 32.5 passing attempts/game and an increase to 7.8 Yards/Attempt I think the Rees 12 game numbers land near here:
3,042 Yards Passing, 22 Passing TD, 30 Rushing Yards, 3 Rushing TD, 8 Interceptions, 69.3% Completion
Per Game Averages: 253 Yards Passing, 1.8 Passing TD, 2.5 Rushing Yards, 0.7 Interceptions
Are these the numbers of a 12-0 quarterback? Experience says no, but instincts say that they might be with the 2013 Irish defense holding court and a left side of the offensive line that could be starting in the NFL this season. Whether these predictions can hold water will be determined on September 8th in Michigan's Big House. When Michigan's defense stacks the box on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th play against ND and dares Rees to go over the top, THEN we'll know if the 3rd installment of the Rees Experiment can finally prove to work.