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How Did They Pan Out? A Transfer Quarterback Retrospective

Written by Owen O'Connor ⏐ Writer ⏐ Twitter/X: @Ocon54

Photo by The Irish Tribune


After reviewing our All-Time quarterback rankings, it's time to go more in-depth on the Fighting Irish signal callers who have been recruited in what used to be an unfamiliar fashion. In the last few seasons, transferring has become a more popular move amongst college football players due to more lenient eligibility rules set in place by the NCAA. This trend is one players have happily welcomed, as it brings more opportunities for playing time, or a fresh start to those who feel they need one. The revamped NCAA Transfer Portal, as well as NIL contracts, have also been a factor in the decision to transfer for a lot of young athletes. When tasked with finding the best opportunity for themselves, players can now field offers from another respected NCAA program with the hopes of finding the field, or a scheme more suited to their strengths.


In the past few seasons, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish adopted this approach with the hopes of finding a veteran signal-caller to lead them to the promised land. Although their hopes of a national championship have fallen short with these moves, there have still been some talented quarterbacks who have passed through South Bend by way of the portal. Recent starting quarterbacks such as Sam Hartman and Jack Coan have left a positive impact on the program with the weight of very high expectations. Let's look at how these players fared comparatively, and what the staff has done differently to set Riley Leonard up for success.


Jack Coan (2021)


2021 Stats: 11-2 record, 3,150 passing yards, 25 TDs, 7 INTs


Coan transferred to Notre Dame by way of the University of Wisconsin in January 2021, seeking a fresh start after an injury sidelined him during his final season with the Badgers. His arrival was timely for the Fighting Irish, who required an experienced quarterback following the departure of Ian Book to the NFL. Coan was a highly talented QB at Wisconsin who could never find his groove, but Notre Dame knew he had the skills to bring the offense to the next level in the passing game. The former Wisconsin Badger brought a stronger arm than Ian Book, which allowed for more explosive plays offensively. Coan's debut game against Florida State was a standout, where he threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns, helping Notre Dame secure a thrilling overtime victory. His performance earned him national recognition and set the tone for the rest season.


Throughout the year, Coan continued to exceed expectations. Many Fighting Irish fans and national reporters were concerned with Coan due to his injury history and partial struggles in his previous collegiate years. Many did not count on the program to live up to the standard of Notre Dame football in 2021. Luckily, with the help of Coan's big arm, the offense found a rhythm that was able to secure victories. An impressive 11-1 record was thanks to Coan and his fantastic leadership on the field, showing that a transfer portal Quarterback can come in and compete immediately. This sparked the viability of seeking out such an asset for the Irish in the future. Coan's success proved that leaning on experience in the transfer portal could yield favorable results, and it wouldn't be long before Notre Dame would attempt to replicate that result, only with a much bigger name.


Sam Hartman (2023)


2023 Stats: 9-3 record, 2,689 passing yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs


After a prolific career, and bringing Wake Forest back to national attention in 2022, Sam Hartman was ready to face a new challenge before heading to the NFL. In addition to holding the records for career passing attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns, Hartman left Wake Forest with the second-highest passing yards overall (12,967) and touchdown passes (110) in conference history. His total passing yards also rank in the top 20 in FBS history. When faced with the decision to head to the professional level, or try his luck in greener pastures, Hartman chose the Fighting Irish. Along with the opportunity to compete on a much bigger stage, this was a chance for Hartman to prove to NFL scouts he could exist outside of a slow mesh offense, which was the biggest knock on his resume. The expectations were very high for Hartman and Head Coach Marcus Freeman, who had arguably his best roster yet in 2023.


Hartman started all 12 regular season games for Notre Dame in a very competitive schedule. Despite the backlash he received from some fans, Hartman finished with a very impressive stat line, as well as only losing 3 games in his Notre Dame career. One of those games was against the Ohio State Buckeyes in an absolute nailbiter, which was difficult to put on Hartman or any one specific player. Hartman managed to achieve the title of 4th most passing TDs in FBS history after the conclusion of his 2023 season. Notre Dame managed to find a Quarterback who had more experience than almost anyone in the NCAA, and is a recruiting move that still paid dividends despite the lack of national success. Although Notre Dame did not earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs, Sam Hartman was still likely the best move Notre Dame could have made last offseason. Hartman had his ups and downs, but objectively speaking, he was not solely responsible for the offensive woes that Notre Dame experienced in 2023. New offensive coordinator, Gerad Parker, seemed to have his hands full at times in a role that was unfamiliar to him. On top of an inexperienced play caller, the Notre Dame wide receiving core had trouble gaining meaningful separation in the majority of big games during the season. As luck would have it, Marcus Freeman would address both of these issues before bringing in a third transfer quarterback for the 2024 season.


Riley Leonard (2024)


2022 Stats at Duke University: 9-4 record, 2,967 passing yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs

124 ATT, 699 yards (5.6 YPC), 13 TDs


Leonard transferred to the University of Notre Dame after a tumultuous career as a Duke Blue Devil. Before we dive into his very impressive 2022 season, it's important to note that he suffered an injury during 2023 which caused him to be sidelined for the better part of the year. This unfortunate turn of events took place against the Fighting Irish in last year's matchup. In his last full season as a starting Quarterback, he managed to put Duke back into the college football spotlight thanks to his play. In his first year as a collegiate starter, Leonard showcased his ability to be a dual-threat signal caller who can elevate an offense immediately. With experience, many analysts named the sophomore as a quarterback to watch for the upcoming NFL Draft. After a rocky start due to injuries, Leonard was never able to build off of his success in 2023. Now, he looks for a chance to compete on a larger stage and earn back the respect he was destined to have. Only this time, the staff has afforded Leonard with one of the best OC's in all of college football, and a completely revamped group of wide receivers.


At this point, it's probably safe to say Notre Dame values experience when it comes to the most important position in all of sports. Although they haven't quite been able to get over the hump with these acquisitions, it's certainly proven to be the "safe" move in retrospect, as Coan and Hartman have both put up respectable numbers in their lone seasons as Notre Dame quarterbacks. The poise of these individuals led to some key victories (FSU for Coan, Duke for Hartman) that would have otherwise been lost if not for their stellar play and calm demeanors. Leonard will look elevate what was thought to have been possible, as he brings along with him a dual-threat ability and one of the best offensive minds in the sport. If Marcus Freeman can continue to bring in experience while talent develops, while simultaneously elevating other position groups and the coaching staff, there are no heights that the Irish can't reach. This will likely be the last year of interim quarterback play should the development of some extremely talented underclassmen come to fruition. It's up to Riley Leonard to end the era with a bang.


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