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Untested Golson takes over as Notre Dame's QB

On the ride before the wild ride, Everett Golson put on headphones and slept for most of Notre Dame's charter flight overseas. Later, he toured the team hotel grounds and played around on a giant chess board, in what the Irish hope is the one time he doesn't know what he's doing this weekend.

At a brief practice Thursday, the wind kicked up on the practice field behind Aviva Stadium and provided another in the cavalcade of teaching moments: Notre Dame's new starting quarterback didn't have the proper arm slot, and the ball hit the ground. Next snap, Golson smoothed the mechanics.

There will be plays like this, there will be days like this, because basically Notre Dame asked for it.

"He will make mistakes," Coach Brian Kelly said of Golson before the Irish left for their trip to face Navy on Saturday. "Let's make it clear: He will make mistakes."

It's a fiddly dynamic navigated by the Irish and several other high-profile programs entering 2012: Quarterback is the one position where mistakes can swell into all-out calamity, and teams are counting on relatively errorless play from the guy most likely to commit the errors they're trying to avoid.

Golson hasn't taken a snap in a college game. Neither has new Oregon starter Marcus Mariota. Nor Oklahoma State true freshman Wes Lunt, nor Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. There's a first time for everything, and anything and everything is expected from the first time.

"There will be mistakes, growing pains," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "We had them with Brandon Weeden, and he had been in practice and was obviously very mature. You understand we named (Lunt) the quarterback, and players realize that — he'll make mistakes just like any other young player, and you go with it and you keep playing."

There are standard generalities to each program's approach to the same issue: Create high-tempo, game-like situations in practice to whittle the element of surprise. Notre Dame has done this by revving up 11-on-11 periods for Golson's benefit.

They do this not because it is unfailing preventative medicine; they do this because what else can they do?

"When you have an inexperienced player," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said, "the only way to get experience is to play."

Golson and Mariota, actually, will be test cases for how much watching people play can help. Both sat out 2011 — so did Manziel, but he's in a new system with Sumlin — and what kind of view they had from the observation deck could offer perspective for this fall.

"When you're out and you're a student of the game, you make assessments and put yourself in the quarterback's shoes: What you would do in that situation," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He got in it, trying to figure out what the best answer is for the questions the defense presents."

Upon naming Golson the starter, Kelly emphasized that the Irish would tailor the game plan to his strengths and to a weakness: the fact he hasn't played yet.

Asked to assess Golson's predictability, Kelly cited his understanding of the routine and his discipline — and then cited a disclaimer.

"If he's not out of character on Saturday, I will safely say he will do a very good job of taking care of the football," Kelly said. "But that's why they play the game."

bchamilton@tribune.com

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