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Stories of the Year: Part III

This is the third and final installment of our series reviewing the most memorable story lines from the previous academic year. Stories 4-10 can be found here and here.

The quarterback controversy has been one of the biggest stories at Notre Dame during the past 12 months.

The past 12 months were filled with an unprecedented amount of change in the typically static landscape of college sports. New affiliations, new rules, new scandals, new uniforms, a new playoff system — and that’s just football.

Despite the tidal wave of momentum, Notre Dame finds itself in an almost identical position as a year ago. The Irish football team enters the new academic year with a quarterback controversy and an 8-5 record hanging behind them. The basketball court hosts a national runner-up and a group of overachievers who once again underachieved in the madness of March. The athletic department as a whole is stuck in its own perpetual state of madness, sorting through the constant stream of realignment rumors and dodging the pressure to surrender its football independence.

Our top three stories provided plenty of excitement during the previous academic year despite the fact that the same questions that dominated conversation a year ago still remain.

3. Doing More With Less
The harder things get for Irish basketball coach Mike Brey, the more success he finds. Notre Dame lost Tim Abromaitis, its top returning scorer, in late November and was left with an inexperienced and undersized group that struggled to hold its own in the out of conference schedule.

Against strong odds, Brey and his scrappy group of emerging leaders shocked the Big East by finding new and exciting ways to win almost every time they took the court in the second half of the season, including a win over No. 1 Syracuse at the Purcell Pavilion.

“I don’t know if I’ve had more fun with a group,Brey said late in the season. “The students that they were, and that they let us teach back in November and December when we weren’t very good, was really a key.”

Notre Dame’s postseason ghosts continued to haunt them with another first round exit in the NCAA Tournament, but Brey has time now to fix that. Notre Dame rewarded his surprising season with a 10-year contract extension this summer.

2. Quarterback Questions Persist
The quarterback competition at Notre Dame is headed into its 20th month in August and while the candidates have changed slightly the outcome remains as murky as it has ever been.

The debate between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees in January 2011, the day after Rees capped a 4-0 freshman season. Crist won the starting job in training camp only to have it yanked away after two subpar quarters in the season opener. Rees took the reins for the rest of the season, but never separated himself definitively from sophomore Andrew Hendrix during the season.

The competition continued to monopolize headlines throughout the offseason and into the spring when Irish head coach Brian Kelly declared a wide open competition between Rees, Hendrix, freshman Everett Golson and early enrollee Gunner Kiel. The biggest question facing Kelly and the Irish this year at the start of camp remains who will be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame?

1. Board Room Business
The college football news cycle didn’t take a day off this year. The reshuffling of conference affiliations moved the media coverage from the locker room to the boardroom this offseason. The monster television deals and overall unrest gave the idea of a college football playoff the last shove it needed to become a reality, which kept the cameras aimed at commissioners’ meetings throughout the spring. With each new move or rumor, Notre Dame’s unique status as a powerful Independent team was called into question.

"I certainly have been taught enough times now not to claim there's any calmness emerging," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbick said in an October interview. "Every time I declare it someone proves me wrong. So our assumption is it's not. Certainly the factors that have contributed to the larger conference realignment continue to exist and we're doing the same thing we've done throughout: monitoring it closely and hoping that the Big East stays a vibrant and successful partner for us."

The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12 Conference were often mentioned as possible landing spots for the Irish if the Big East dissipated after losing Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh in the near future. The new four-team playoff format strengthened Notre Dame’s chances of remaining independent by placing more emphasis on strength of schedule and none on winning a conference championship. Still, the debate and rumors about the school moving to a new conference will persist in the coming year.

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