SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has picked senior Dayne Crist as the starting quarterback.
Irish coach Brian Kelly announced the decision on Tuesday and said it was a difficult choice between Crist and Tommy Rees, "but one I was excited to make." He said he expects Crist to start all 13 games.
"Both of those young men had a great battle for that starting position but Dayne will be our starter," Kelly said. "We have great confidence in his ability to lead our football team to a championship."
Crist didn't play as a freshman in 2008 and then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 2009 season as a backup. He made it back through arduous rehab, was able to practice in Kelly's first spring a year ago and emerged – as expected – as the No. 1 quarterback.
Then, last Oct. 30 against Tulsa, Crist suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee, creating a here-we-go-again scenario for a quarterback who had made great strides in Kelly's new spread offense but was still trying to learn its intricacies and avoid mistakes.
"Here's a young man that overcame a serious knee injury to start the season and then suffered another knee injury, a severe knee injury which required incredible rehab, had an infection that put him back ever further," Kelly said.
Crist didn't have a great spring practice but improved during summer workouts and then again in preseason camp.
"He is a much better football player, he is a much better quarterback. And I would say quite frankly and honestly, he's the kind of guy I want to coach," Kelly added.
"He's tougher mentally. He handles himself in that leadership position the way I want our quarterbacks to handle it. I didn't know Dayne very well last year. I can't tell you that I felt the same way about him last year. But I do now. ... You have to look at all those factors when making that decision."
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Crist has a stronger arm, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Rees has a nice touch and a quick release. The two quickly emerged as the favorites over Andrew Hendrix and freshman Everett Golson.
Crist started nine games last year before he was hurt. Rees, then a freshman, led the Irish on a four-game winning streak to close the season, including a Sun Bowl victory over Miami that gave the Irish an 8-5 record.
Crist completed 59 percent of his passes with 15 TD passes and seven interceptions a year ago. He hit 174 of 294 attempts for 2,033 yards. Rees was 100 of 164 (61 percent) for 1,106 yards with 12 TD throws and eight passes intercepted.
Kelly said last week that a statistical breakdown between the two was so close it made the decision even harder to make.
"They are both smart and are going to manage the game and execute. I don't know that one does something better than the other," Kelly said Tuesday. "I've said all along this is a very difficult decision, but one I'm excited to make because you know you've got two very good quarterbacks."
Rees has also showed great improvement from last season but not enough to beat out Crist.
"Tommy had that going for him, being 4-0 as a starter, but it's more about he's a better quarterback and made great progress," Kelly said. "Just at this point Dayne is in that position to be the starter."
Kelly met one-on-one with Crist and Rees on Monday to announce his decision.
"Obviously the guy who doesn't get the starting nod is disappointed and I wouldn't have wanted a response any other way than disappointment," Kelly said. "Tommy knows what he is capable of doing."
Kelly said he hadn't broken down who is third of fourth string between Hendrix and Golson but said all four quarterbacks would be prepared to play.
Kelly also announced that Chris Watt would start at left guard over Andrew Nuss, Dan Fox got the nod over Carlo Calabrese at inside linebacker and Jamoris Slaughter had the edge over Zeke Motta at safety.'