Since the Stanford game when he benched Tommy Rees in favor of Andrew Hendrix for the 2nd half, Brian Kelly has stressed that Rees would start in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State but that Hendrix would also play.
Since then, the speculation has grown greatly over who should be the Irish quarterback. So does Kelly think it's overblown?
"No No. I don't think," Kelly said sarcastically. "Yes! There has been when you think about that."
"You know it's always going to be focused on the quarterback. That's the way it is. I understand that. There are other players that impact the game as well. We kind of know that going in that the quarterback at Florida State, the quarterback at Notre Dame, or the quarterback of whatever school that has that brand recognition is going to be under intense scrutiny and you've heard this cliche---he gets way too much credit when they win and he gets way too much credit when they lose. I think that cliche has stood the test of time because its true."
And while Thursday isn't exactly a tryout for next season, it can certainly go a long way in determining who becomes Notre Dame's quarterback in the future.
"Having a live game opportunity to play in--there's no better way to evaluate," Kelly explained. "You can look great in practice, but when the game starts---it's a whole different ball game. They'll both have an opportunity to get meaningful impact in the game, which should serve both of them well moving into next year."
Rees has handled all of it well but certainly getting benched against Stanford was not something that was easy.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a tough situation to be in," Rees says.
Hendrix came in his place and had his opportunity to play a full half for the first time. A big change playing just a drive or two.
"I have come a long way," Hendrix says. "I can tell in the practices right now--more comfortable. Being able to sustain drives in the Stanford game, I know what it takes--the consistency, and not just one or two play to do well. I know I have to be more consistent throughout the entire drive and what it takes to run this offense."
And through all of this, the Irish quarterbacks haven't had issues---the two sophomores have remained tight friends.
"Andrew and I--we came in together," Rees explains. "We have been close throughout everything. Right now i'm just trying to help him without a lot of stuff."
"We're still helping each other out," Hendrix says. "Any time he needs something, I'll help. If I look over and I don't know something, he'll signal to me."
And one thing everyone is trying to signal to Hendrix is to protect himself more. Number 12 has been known to go out there and play with reckless abandon. That's something Brian Kelly has certainly emphasized not to do.
"Yeah--he did," Hendrix said of the convo he had with Kelly. "He told me to start sliding. I think it comes from--when you are a package guy, you don't slide. If you slide when you go out there to go run, you are going to get an earful. So obviously in the 2nd half against Stanford to forget that you are not a package guy and slide to protect yourself."
Many are now saying that Hendrix should be the guy moving forward, that Rees can't get it done. But for Tommy, he doesn't look at the Champs Sports Bowl as an audition in anyway.
"You know i'm not in the business of trying to prove things," Rees says. "I just want to be the best quarterback I can be for the team--you know play better than I did against Stanford--that's the bottom line--do a better job of leading this team and preparing us to win."
Notre Dame and Stanford kickoff at 5:30 Thursday in the Champs Sports Bowl.