Kelly, who was not originally scheduled to meet the media after preseason practice No. 11, announced that the redshirt junior had beaten redshirt freshman Malik Zaire, a decision the coach arrived at Tuesday night.
"Generally when you look at making that decision, I'm using from January through right now as the basis of that decision, so winter workouts, how he handled himself with the team, our workouts, his spring practice and then his leadership in the summer and in camp here," Kelly said. "I think he's put himself in a position to get that opportunity to be our starter against Rice."
Golson, who had beaten out three other quarterbacks in 2012 to earn the starting job as a redshirt freshman, started 11 games two years ago, leading the Fighting Irish to the BCS national title game, where they lost to Alabama. Golson completed better than 58 percent of his passes in 2012 for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He added 298 rushing yards and six more scores.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Golson was suspended from school in the fall of 2013 for what he said was "poor academic judgment." The Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, native spent much of his exile in San Diego, training with quarterback specialist George Whitfield Jr.
Kelly said he delivered the verdict to both Golson and Zaire on Wednesday morning, with Zaire providing the "right" answer by not being happy about it.
Golson had little reaction, Kelly said, with the coach describing his starter's demeanor as: "matter of fact. 'OK, Coach.'"
When asked later in the day whether he had any doubt, Golson responded, "I don't think I prepared like a backup."
"I don't know if I'd call it relief. I think it's a heightened responsibility on my part," he added.
Notre Dame opens on Aug. 30 at home against Rice.