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QB1: Irish Fans Road to Perdition

Photo Credit: NBC Sports

What was once a nice pickup to help augment the quarterback room and provide mop up duty potential for Malik Zaire, Brandon Wimbush and/or Deshon Kizer, Ian Book instead became a quarterback with the most wins in Notre Dame history. I can discuss the reasons for this (and there are plenty, many of which rest on ACC scheduling and a lack of great teams outside Clemson) but any Irish fan would be remiss if you didn't give Book credit for being a solid college quarterback. Solid is great if you want to win the Citrus Bowl and escape Vanderbilt at home, but it doesn't win you national championships. This, more than any other, is Notre Dame's biggest failure in recruiting over the past 25 years.

Funny enough, it's not as though there aren't "great" quarterbacks that have been recruited over the years; however, a majority of them simply haven't panned out for a multitude of reasons. Let's go as far back as Jimmy Clausen, since he was supposed to be the savior of Notre Dame football and view all quarterbacks recruited between now and then. I've also provided 24/7 Sports recruiting rankings and my ranking for each (Generational/Above Average, Average, Below Average, N/A if they transferred or didn't play):

  • 2007 - Jimmy Clausen/#1 Pro QB/Above Average

  • 2008 - Dayne Crist/#1 Pro QB/Average to Below Average

  • 2010 - Andrew Hendrix/#11 Pro QB/Below Average

  • 2011 - Everett Golson/#5 Pro QB/Above Average

  • 2012 - Gunner Kiel/#1 Pro QB/N/A

  • 2013 - Malik Zaire/#3 Dual/N/A

  • 2014 - DeShone Kizer/#14 Pro/Above Average

  • 2015 - Brandon Wimbush/#3 Pro/Average

  • 2016 - Ian Book/#20 Pro/Above Average

  • 2017 - Avery Davis/#8 Dual/N/A

  • 2018 - Phil Jurkovec/#4 Dual/N/A

  • 2019 - Brendan Clark/#21 Pro/N/A

  • 2020 - Drew Pyne/#8 Pro/Average

  • 2021 - Tyler Buckner/#11 Dual/N/A

  • 2022 - Steve Angeli/#21 Pro/N/A

If you're following along, I listed 4 quarterbacks in a 15 year span as being above average (Clausen, Golson, Kizer and Book). You can argue with me about Golson given his propensity to throw picks at the tail end of his career; however, when he was great, he had a cannon for an arm (remember the throw to John Goodson on the roll out in the Michigan State game)? He also captained the 2012 team to the National Championship game as a freshman, I liken his career to Maurice Clarett in many ways, great as a freshman then a train wreck after. Note how none of the QBs listed received the "Generational" tag. If you're wondering, Clemson had two of them back to back (Watson & Lawrence), LSU had one (Joe Burrow) and Alabama has had one (Tua). There are others of course but these are the obvious ones that come to mind. There's a reason they're defined as "Generational" because they're hard to come by and you'll most likely only see them once in your lifetime. I don't believe Notre Dame needs a generational quarterback to win the national championship, but, they need more than 1 above average quarterback on the roster who can be counted on to come in and win a game.

Look at the list again. Notre Dame had the two best quarterback recruits in the country in Clausen and Crist, on their team, at the same time. That's Alabama or Georgia level recruiting right there. Clausen is beloved by most Notre Dame fans but, if we're being honest with ourselves, his best game in an Irish uniform was against a 6-7 Hawaii team in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl (still a favorite of mine given Clausen's bravado during the game). Crist showed signs of being the next guy to step in but will be forever remembered for his fumble on the goal line against Southern Cal for a 99 yard scoop and score. My point is, there are no sure things when it comes to the quarterback position but 3-9, 6-6, 6-6 for Clausen and an eventual transfer to Kansas for Crist should be considered epic failures for different reasons.

Gunner Kiel transferred after one year and had modest success at Cincinnati before being benched. Andrew Hendrix played sparingly and apparently had no idea how to pass, as many of his throws went directly into the turf no matter the distance. He had better success at Miami (OH) after he transferred. Malik Zaire was otherworldly against Texas then looked beatable against Virginia before being hurt and losing his starting job to DeShone Kizer, never to regain it before transferring to Florida. Kizer was good to great at times, but lost two of the biggest games of his career at Clemson and against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. He also quarterbacked the 4-8 2016 team so that has to be factored in. Wimbush has incredible athleticism and a great arm, but his accuracy and decision making became a big issue, making way for Ian Book.

Ian Book, what to do with him? All the guy did was win games and played very consistent football during his time in an Irish uniform. Trouble is, he could never "win the big game" or propel Notre Dame to a victory in a playoff game. Although he had great decision making and provided sneaky mobility to the position, the difference between him and Trevor Lawrence when they matched up against one another was cavernous. Is this his fault? Of course not. The guy played well above his weight class and, arguably, shouldn't have been the starter in the first place. But the starter he was and no matter how much fans clamored for Wimbush or Jurkovec, he outlasted them both and etched his name in the Notre Dame record books, although not enough to have a statue outside the stadium, more like a figurine inside the bookstore.

Photo Credit: The Herald Journal

How about Drew Pyne, our current starting quarterback? Whether it be due to transfer (Clark & Jurkovec), injury (Buckner) or a decision to not bring in a grad transfer this season, he became the guy off the bench. A four star recruit, he matches up pretty well with the other names on this list (on paper at least). It's interesting because he can make many of the throws you don't think are possible (the Jayden Thomas sideline throw against Clemson comes to mind) but then he doesn't appear to have the ability to throw more than 30-40 yards downfield, which is an obvious issue. I watch him play and think to myself, "how is this guy the starting quarterback for Notre Dame?" This is not what you want to be thinking as a fan. But, there's also a reason the guy was a backup and played sparingly until he was needed to come off the bench. We need only look to this past weekend with Caleb Williams and his theatrics to see what a game changer at quarterback can do to elevate the overall play of a team. All things considered, we should all be thankful Pyne didn't throw more interceptions and was able to move the ball down the field, resulting in an 8-4 season that could've been much worse.

As I've already established, generational quarterbacks are hard to come by, hence the name. Notre Dame can and will continue to recruit average to above average quarterbacks, as do most teams. The key is, will one of these guys be "the guy" who can bring them over the top and also help to recruit difference makers at the wide receiver position. If a national championship is ever going to happen again, this is essential. Although the annual trips to Orlando as of late are a welcome change to Clausen trash talking on Christmas Eve to Hawaii, I'd much rather have CJ Carr smiling ear to ear while drinking a Dr Pepper as he hoists the national championship trophy.


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