Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football's Top 25 Most Important Players For 2021, No. 23: Quarterback Drew Pyne
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Notre Dame’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 23: Drew Pyne

Throughout July, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2021.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to help Irish reach that goal.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne
Pyne became Notre Dame's backup quarterback as a freshman last year. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.

Next in the countdown is sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne, who collected 27 points in our poll.

Why Pyne Is Ranked No. 23

Pyne might not be the odds-on favorite to beat out 18-game Big Ten starter Jack Coan for Notre Dame’s starting quarterback job, but the race is not over. Even if Coan wins it, there’s not quite the same amount of certainty around him as Notre Dame’s starter as there was with predecessor Ian Book.

If Coan falters and Notre Dame goes a different direction at quarterback, Pyne becomes as important as anyone on the roster because he would likely step into the starting role. At least, it appears that way in early July. That’s enough to land him a spot on the list. His growth this offseason adds to his case.

At the same time, though, it’s hard to see Coan not winning the job and doing it at level that helps Notre Dame move the ball. He’s an accurate, poised passer who led Wisconsin to a 10-win season and a Rose Bowl appearance in 2019.

There’s an opening for Pyne because Notre Dame is replacing its starter and transfer quarterbacks are never guaranteed hits, but at this point, it feels like a small one. That caps his ceiling in the top 25.

Pyne’s Status Entering The Season

As a freshman, Pyne became the No. 2 behind Book out of need. Then-sophomore Brendon Clark suffered a knee injury that ended his season, sliding Pyne to backup duties for the second half. He played 25 snaps, including three in the College Football Playoff when Book briefly left the game.

Heading into training camp, the feeling is much different. At worst, Pyne is a more capable backup than he was a year ago. He appears to be ahead of Clark, who is still working back from the injury, and freshman Tyler Buchner.

Pyne’s spring game stat line (11-for-23, 146 yards, one interception) was rather ordinary, but it had moments Notre Dame liked that illustrated his progress since last fall.

“When you recruit kids like that who have the right mental fortitude and competitiveness, they’re going to work for everything they want,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees told BlueandGold.com this summer. “The first thing we learned about Drew when he got here is this kid is here to compete, here to work. He won over his teammates immediately. There probably isn’t a more liked guy in that locker room.”

What Would Be A Successful Individual Season?

If Coan starts as expected and holds onto the role, Pyne’s offseason strides may prove to be more important than what he does in the fall. Notre Dame needed to find a capable No. 2 quarterback behind its starter, whoever that may be. The Irish didn’t have that behind Book a year ago.

Pyne exited spring having put himself in a position where Notre Dame could insert him as a backup (if he doesn’t usurp Coan) and feel confident its offense won’t crumble. There’s value in having that sense of security before the season starts, even if everyone involved hopes the opening-day starter is the only starter.

“He’s a naturally talented passer,” Rees said. “He’s accurate. He’s on time. He has built his body to a way that he’s now able to stretch the field horizontally and get the ball to all parts of the field. He’s a guy who’s naturally accurate and on time. He knows how to play the position the right way. He absolutely works his ass off to get there.”

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings:

Patrick Engel: Not ranked

Tyler Horka: 8

Mike Singer: Not ranked

Todd Burlage: 17

Steve Downey: Not ranked

Horka on his ranking: “Brian Kelly said it himself; he and the Notre Dame coaches and players would love to see Pyne as the starter. Now, if he meant at some point down the line rather than this year with Coan firmly in the conversation is open to interpretation. But if Coan ends up leaving a lot left to be desired, then all signs point to Pyne filling in quickly.

“Not every team in college football has the luxury of someone like Book starting every game in a season. Backup quarterbacks are important, and they’re used quite often. Pyne could be one of those thrown into the fire this season.”

Prior Top 25 Rankings

No. 25: Jonathan Doerer

No. 24: Marist Liufau

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