What You Need To Know About Notre Dame’s QBs Heading Into Spring Practice
Notre Dame will have a suspenseful and presumably elongated quarterback competition for the first time since 2015.
This is the first offseason since 2017 where the Irish didn't return an incumbent starter, but Brandon Wimbush was given the job early in that year's spring practice. That 2015 competition pitted two talented but inexperienced players against each other after Everett Golson transferred. This year's challengers are a veteran Big Ten starter and a host of players who have little high-leverage experience to their names.
BlueandGold.com’s preview of each Notre Dame position group heading into spring practice starts with the quarterbacks.
Adding Wisconsin grad transfer Jack Coan feels like a move meant to keep Notre Dame in College Football Playoff contention this season rather than one designed to help it win the national title. To win postseason games, it’s likely the Irish need an upgrade from one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in team history, among other things.
It sounds weird to say. But CFP winners and national champions have leaned on high-scoring, explosive offenses steered by first-round picks and first overall picks. Ian Book, for all he did, won’t be a first-rounder. If Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Mac Jones are taken in the opening 32 picks of the NFL Draft in late April as expected, that will mark five straight national champions who had a first-round quarterback at the helm in the title game.
Coan is a successful Power Five starter, a winner and someone who can keep the floor extremely high while still allowing the Irish to have realistic CFP goals. He’s the surest bet of Notre Dame’s bunch. He is not, though, a projected first-round pick.
That explains the fascination with Tyler Buchner, a top-150 recruit who will step onto the practice field to a soundtrack of optimal hoopla. He does, though, have loads of hurdles to clear, and not just the typical freshman roadblock of adjusting to the speed of the college game.
Only twice in Brian Kelly’s 11 prior seasons has a freshman quarterback not redshirted. Buchner also arrived with just 13 career high school starts — he missed his sophomore year due to a knee injury and didn’t have a senior season due to California’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Despite all of that, he has the most upside. His high school tape shows a dynamic runner, high-level athleticism and the ability to make plays off-platform and outside of structure. But it’s asking a lot to expect him to be ready to play in 2021.
Position Battle To Watch
This marks the first time Kelly and his staff on offense have brought in an outsider to compete for the quarterback job and provide much-needed experience.
Coan is an 18-game starter and piloted an efficient Badgers offense in 2019, helping his team go 10-4 and win the Big Ten West Division. He did not play in 2020 due to a foot injury. In his lone full season as a starter, he threw for 2,727 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He completed 69.6 percent of his passes and averaged 8.0 yards per attempt.
That’s a much longer résumé than any of the other contestants, and the main reason he is viewed as the early favorite to win the job in what will likely be his lone season in South Bend.
Ian Book: The three-year starter with the most career wins at the position is out the door after leading the Irish to a 30-5 record and two College Football Playoff appearances. He departs ranked No. 2 in school history in several career categories, including passing yards (8,948), passing touchdowns (72) and rushing yards by a quarterback (1,517).
Junior Brendon Clark: Injury issues involving the same knee on which he had ACL surgery in high school sidelined him for the second half of 2020. He played in one game, handling mop-up duty in Notre Dame’s win over Pittsburgh.
Sophomore Drew Pyne: The 2020 early enrollee freshman ended the year as the backup to Book. He played in four games and completed 2 of 3 throws for 12 yards. His only reps in non-garbage time were two snaps in the CFP matchup versus Alabama when Book briefly left due to injury.
By The Numbers
3 Years since Notre Dame has had a real spring quarterback competition. The last one took place in 2018, when incumbent Brandon Wimbush was getting pushed by Ian Book, who had rallied the Irish to victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Wimbush started the first three games in 2018, all wins, but Book was used in goal-line situations before taking over as the starter in the fourth game en route to the College Football Playoff. Wimbush opted to be a graduate transfer at UCF in 2019.
7 Combined college football pass attempts between Pyne, Clark, Buchner and early enrollee freshman Ron Powlus III. To further illustrate their inexperience, that quartet has more high school ACL injuries (two) than high-leverage appearances in a college game (one).
43 Notre Dame’s national pass efficiency rank in 2020 among the 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Since 2016, only five of the 20 College Football Playoff teams have finished outside the top 25 in pass efficiency: 2020 Notre Dame, 2018 Notre Dame (43rd), 2017 Clemson (62nd), 2016 Ohio State (44th) and 2016 Alabama (34th). The Crimson Tide were the only team of that group to win a CFP game.
Tommy Rees — fifth year: Despite the end-of-season sputtering, Notre Dame’s offense still finished 17th in the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) in his first season as coordinator, its highest since 2017. He is also in his fifth year as the quarterbacks coach for the Irish.
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