Vanderbilt lost their prospective starting quarterback when Patton Robinette decided to chase a future where he repairs ACLs rather than tearing them. That left an unproven cache of young passers to take his spot at the top of the Commodore depth chart. Johnny McCrary, Wade Freebeck, Shawn Stankavage, and Kyle Shurmur will battle for the opportunity to be the solution to Vandy's offensive problems this summer.
Should head coach Derek Mason look outside the program to keep this team afloat in 2015? There's a lot of talent between those four passers, but this team's experiences in 2014 and in March's Black and Gold Game suggest that none of players on this Commodore roster have yet grown enough to read and exploit SEC defenses on a weekly basis. That could all change over the summer, especially with new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig in tow, but it is clear that Vanderbilt is going to need to see significant development from their passers to return to a bowl game next winter.
What this team may really need is more time. The best trait the Vandy QB battle has going for it is the youth of its participants. Those four players have burned only two seasons of NCAA eligibility and have plenty of time to continue growing into the position. What Derek Mason could really use is a short-term starter who can bridge the gap between Vanderbilt's rudder-less present and their potential-laden future. A strip of gauze that can keep this team together for a season while their cache of highly-regarded passers sharpen each other and adjust to the speed of the SEC.
Fortunately, a high-profile band-aid just hit the market:
QB Everett Golson transferring from Notre Dame to play final season at another school, source told @ESPN— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) May 7, 2015
Golson has been tied to other SEC programs - most notably LSU - but his intent to transfer should set off alarm bells in Mason's office in Nashville. His availability presents a significant opportunity for the Vanderbilt coach. The seasoned passer gives the 'Dores a win-now quarterback in a season that may decide the second-year coach's fate in Nashville. He would have the opportunity to play for an experienced offensive coordinator in Ludwig, be protected by an offensive line that lost just one starter for 2015, and have all-conference candidates at tailback (Ralph Webb, 907 yards as a freshman) and tight end (Steven Scheu, 525 yards in '14) to lighten his load.
Landing an impact passer who started his college career elsewhere isn't foreign for the Commodores. Vanderbilt was able to land a trio of moderately-known quarterback transfers in the past decade. Jordan Rodgers wasn't a transfer in the classic sense, but he came to Nashville after two years of junior college when he chose the 'Dores in 2010. Austyn Carta-Samuels was the 2009 Mountain West Freshman of the Year at Wyoming before taking the reins at Dudley Field in 2013. Stephen Rivers attempted two passes for LSU before playing a graduate year at Vandy last season.
Golson would be a bigger addition than any of those players were. The senior passed for 3,445 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2014 and led the Fighting Irish to the National Championship Game in 2012. His presence may not earn a warm reception from the rest of the QBs on the roster, but Mason, Ludwig, and the team's receivers would be happy to have him.
The veteran quarterback has his baggage. He missed the entire 2013 season in South Bend for academic reasons after cheating on a test. He would be able to play in 2015 after graduating from Notre Dame, but thanks his issues he would have to get a special waiver from the SEC main office in order to play in the conference. On the field, his performance fell off towards the end of the year while the Irish stumbled to a 2-5 finish. He completed only 13 passes in his final two games.
Even so, he's the kind of player that can bring some stability behind center while a young corps of quarterbacks develop into the future of the Commodore offense. He's looking for a new home, and while Vanderbilt is not the destination it was two seasons ago, Mason can offer Golson the opportunity to lead this team back to relevance. The Commodores can sell a veteran offensive line, dynamic tailback, and developing receiving game when it's time to make their pitch.
Unfortunately, that's still a tough bargain to drive when the veteran QB can just bring up clips of last year's offense or compare rosters with the other SEC and Big 5 programs that are vying for his services. Bringing Everett Golson to Vanderbilt would be more than just a process - it's a fingers-crossed longshot that may not work out even if it happens. Mason will have to sell the quarterback, his roster, and the SEC on a new, shiny passer. If the coach decides to gamble and wins on his one-year QB rental, he'll out himself as a much smoother talker than Vandy fans have ever given him credit for.