Tigers, Irish both face QB questions

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings and Everett Golson will both compete to start at quarterback for their respective teams in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The comparison between the two players essentially ends there.

LSU's Jennings and Notre Dame's Golson both struggled down the stretch, but they struggled in entirely different ways.

Quarterback is an essential playmaking position in Notre Dame's offense, and while Golson's yardage (3,355) and touchdown (29) totals are among the nation's best, he was a turnover dispenser in the second half of the season. Golson tossed 10 interceptions and lost three fumbles in the Fighting Irish's final six games -- a stretch where they won just once.

Notre Dame (7-5) coach Brian Kelly said Sunday that the team will hold open competition for playing time at all positions, including quarterback, after yanking Golson in the second quarter of a season-ending 49-14 loss at USC and going with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire once the Trojans took a 35-0 lead.

"There's a way I want that position to operate, and it's going to operate the way that I want it to operate," Kelly said. "If you operate it the way that I want it done, you'll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame."

Meanwhile, the quarterback position has typically been a playmaking afterthought this season at LSU (8-4), which has placed more of an emphasis on protecting the football than taking aggressive shots downfield. Jennings has been successful in that regard -- he tossed seven interceptions and lost two fumbles this fall -- but the Tigers' offense also went into deep lulls at times with Jennings at the helm.

LSU coach Les Miles said Sunday that bowl practice would be an important evaluation time as the season-long competition continues between sophomore Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris.

"Absolutely it is," Miles said. "It's that time that you continue to compete, you continue to press your quarterbacks to throw it, run it and do the things that we're going to ask them to do."

Miles said the competition was close on an almost weekly basis this season, yet it has largely taken place only on the practice field. Jennings started all but one of LSU's games -- a 41-7 loss at Auburn where Harris seemed overwhelmed by the moment -- and the freshman appeared in only two of the Tigers' final six games in the regular season.

True competition would be something entirely new for Notre Dame this season, however. Fourth-year junior Golson, who quarterbacked the Irish in its 2012 BCS championship loss to Alabama, was the obvious choice as the starter once he returned from a season-long academic suspension earlier this year.

He got off to a good start in 2014 before both he and his injury-riddled team began to struggle down the stretch. Only one FBS quarterback (New Mexico State's Tyler Rogers, who tossed 23 interceptions and lost six fumbles) turned it over more than Golson's 22 total giveaways this season. Now his talented young competitor -- Zaire was ESPN's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the 2013 recruiting class -- will get a chance to overtake him in what could be Golson's final game at Notre Dame.

Kelly said Sunday that Notre Dame submitted Golson's name to be evaluated as a possible early entrant into the NFL draft. Even if he returns, this could be a competition that extends through the offseason and into next fall.

"It may be eight practices [that the competition lasts], it may be a year," Kelly said. "But I'm going to have to see what I need to see from both of them."

The scenario at LSU might be similar. Beyond bowl practice, this will be a huge offseason for Jennings and Harris -- and they could have additional competition at the position next fall. Among the prospects LSU has expressed an interest in is ESPN's No. 1 junior college quarterback Chad Kelly, a former Clemson backup who passed for 434 yards and five touchdownsInsider on Sunday in leading East Mississippi Community College to the NJCAA national title.

But regardless of whether LSU signs an experienced quarterback to compete with the youngsters, the Tigers' bowl workouts and spring practices will be enormously important for Jennings and Harris.

LSU's grind-it-out offensive approach worked at times, but it was unable to keep up in high-scoring games. The Tigers need more from the position than they typically got in 2014, and this is the quarterbacks' final opportunity to prove that they can handle the job.

"If they have designs on being the leader of this team and being that quarterback, this will be a very competitive time even before the game," Miles said.