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The three most high pressure jobs in the United States are being the President, being the Mayor of New York City, and being the starting quarterback at Notre Dame and they’re not necessarily in that order.
At least that is how the saying went long ago.
There is certainly pressure on the position still with the Fighting Irish as among the biggest talent gaps between Notre Dame and the true elites in recent years has been the play of the signal callers. Jack Coan and Ian Book have played well in recent years, but neither was being confused for a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, either.
So what does 2022 look like at the quarterback position for a Notre Dame team that will almost certainly begin the year ranked in the top 10? Let’s take a look at what’s to come by first taking a quick look back at what was in 2021.
Replacing Jack Coan
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
[autotag]Jack Coan[/autotag] isn’t going to go down as a legendary Notre Dame quarterback by any means but he was the starter on a team that managed an 11-1 regular season mark and was within one more pin falling right during conference championship weekend in earning a College Football Playoff appearance. Coan’s heroics late against Virginia Tech set the stage for a second half of the season that saw Notre Dame dominate opponents as he totaled 3,150 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes, and seven interceptions on the year. For reference, Coan’s 8.2 yards per attempt last season were a higher average than [autotag]Ian Book[/autotag] put up his final two years at Notre Dame.
Coan won’t be impossible to replace by any means but the young man deserves his due as he wound up being a lot better over the course of 2021 than most thought he’d be after some early season struggles.
Projected Starter: Tyler Buchner
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QB1: [autotag]Tyler Buchner,[/autotag] No. 12, Sophomore, 6-1, 215-pounds, San Diego, Cal.
A lot of talk at Notre Dame this off-season has been about the future of the quarterback position as the Irish were heavily involved in the recruitment of five-star [autotag]Dante Moore[/autotag] who ultimately chose Oregon this cycle, and already have a commitment from 2024 five-star quarterback, [autotag]C. J. Carr.[/autotag]
As exciting as the future is, [autotag]Tyler Buchner[/autotag] was ranked just short of a five-star rating a short time ago when he entered Notre Dame. Buchner’s game experience last year felt like it was only in running situations (he ran the ball 46 times while attempting 35 passes) but if the Irish are to surprise the nation and compete for a CFP spot they’ll need him to grow up quickly.
If we know anything for certain about Buchner at this point in his football career its that for whatever reason he has trouble staying on the field. He missed significant time his sophomore year of high school due to a knee injury, he had the unfortunate luck of being a senior in the fall of 2020 only to see that season washed away due to the pandemic.
Heck, just days before the spring game this year he had a misstep at the Notre Dame football offices and spent that afternoon in a walking boot out of an abundance of caution instead of with the first team offense for the world to see.
How quickly Buchner can adjust to what we assume will be his starting job opening night at Ohio State will go a very long way in telling if Notre Dame can compete for a CFP spot or if they’ll be fortunate to compete for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Drew Pyne's much needed development
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QB2: [autotag]Drew Pyne[/autotag], No. 10, Junior, 5-11, 200-pounds, New Canaan, Conn.
There was a time in 2021 that it appeared it Notre Dame might just be Drew Pyne’s team. He relieved an injured Coan and helped the Irish to a victory over Wisconsin before coming off the bench to rally Notre Dame within striking distance of Cincinnati after a slow start stung the Irish chances. However, following that Cincinnati relief appearance we didn’t see Pyne take a single snap again in 2021.
Based off of all reports the gap between Buchner and Pyne didn’t close during spring camp and if anything, Buchner grew his lead in the race even without playing in the spring game. However, with the vulnerability to injury that Buchner has shown and his style of play, it’s safe to assume that Pyne hasn’t played anywhere near his last meaningful snaps at Notre Dame and his development will be key in not having a drop-off if and when he’s called upon in 2022.
True Freshman Alert
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QB3: [autotag]Steve Angeli[/autotag], No. 18, Freshman, 6-2, 210-pounds, Westfield, New Jersey
Incoming freshman quarterback Steve Angeli wasn’t the most heralded recruit in Notre Dame’s 2022 class but was the only quarterback included. His high school numbers hardly jump out but the three-star recruit (Rivals) did receive his first scholarship offer from Ohio State and last time I checked the Buckeyes seem to know a thing or two about quarterback play.
It will be interesting to hear about Angeli’s development in-season as he shouldn’t be expected to see much of the field even after his heroics in the Blue-Gold game this spring.
Image courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
QB4: [autotag]Ron Powlus III[/autotag], No. 11, Sophomore, 6-2, 215-pounds, Granger, Indiana
Powlus enters his sophomore year as the fourth man on the depth chart. As we all remember his father entered Notre Dame with perhaps the most hype of any Fighting Irish recruit ever and battled injuries essentially from day one.
I honestly wonder if Powlus thought Pyne was likely to transfer when he signed with Notre Dame in the 2021 class as he did have offers from several MAC programs as well as Kentucky. At this time I’d assume Angeli did enough in the spring to appear the third-string quarterback starting the year but perhaps Powlus can make some noise this fall and be third on the depth chart.
2022 Notre Dame Quarterback Outlook
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It’s hard to truly evaluate Notre Dame’s quarterback position entering 2022 without looking at what is known around the rest of the offense. The line should be significantly improved while Buchner, Pyne, or whoever will have the luxury of throwing to all-world tight end Michael Mayer. Lack of experience at the receiver position and injuries already piling up in the backfield certainly don’t seem to help in any of these regards.
I know the excitement shifts to the future when you hear about C. J. Carr being a five-star commitment in the 2024 class, but let’s not forget how highly rated Buchner was as a recruit. Now, can he put that together as he gets set to run an entire offense instead of the abbreviated version he ran in 2021, and can he stay on the field?
Perhaps what I’m most excited for with the quarterback position this year isn’t a single player but more so being able to see [autotag]Tommy Rees[/autotag] call an offense without the training wheels of Brian Kelly attached. How different might things look from a year ago with more freedom and a better offensive line? These are the kind of things that get me really excited in a hurry for this fall.
Back to the players though, as much as I hope it doesn’t happen I’d be shocked at this point if Pyne isn’t called upon to close out or get Notre Dame through a rough patch at some point this fall.
In regards to Buchner, I like him to be a very good Notre Dame quarterback and possibly do so by the end of this coming season. An opener at Ohio State is no cakewalk but relief comes quickly on the schedule after which offers a great chance for him to gain experience before an October clash with BYU and a huge one with Clemson to start November.
If Buchner is healthy and has shown significant growth by then, then you may be looking at a College Football Playoff berth after all.
But if he hasn’t and if Pyne doesn’t grow from where he was at the end of 2022, it could be hello mid-tier bowl game for the Irish come winter.