Notre Dame Football 2017 Better Or Worse: Quarterback

We like to take a look each year at all the positional groups and take stock in whether that group is improved, or gotten worse, from the previous season. Given last years dismal 4-8 record, it would be great if there were a lot more “betters” than “worse”. But, lets dive into it and it only makes sense to start with the quarterbacks because everything pretty much does in football.

1. Brandon WimbushJunior6'1"226
2. Ian BookSophomore6'0"205
2. Avery DavisFreshman5'11"192
4. Montgomery VanGorderSenior6'1"217



I think we all agree that last season’s quarterback battle was an unmitigated disaster that set the stage for the team to fall apart later in the year. It’s actually funny looking back, because the quarterback situation was referred to many times as a “good problem to have.” Apparently not.

Luckily, there are no such issues this season.

Wimbush is the clear starter and Book is the clear backup. Everyone understands their role, everyone knows the pecking order. The team is free to build around what Wimbush brings as both a player and leader, and Book is free to create his own niche on the team as the backup.

This makes for a healthy quarterback room, a healthy team dynamic, and gives the offense the best chance to reach its potential.

Scheme Fit

This isn’t to say DeShone Kizer was a bad fit for what Notre Dame wanted to do, he obviously fit very nicely, I just think Wimbush fits a little bit better.

First, the higher tempo Chip Long wants to play fits right into the type of player Wimbush is. The first time starter is by far the most dynamic quarterback Brian Kelly has had at Notre Dame. He’s a faster, bigger player than both Zaire and Golson, and more elusive than Kizer. This is the type of thing that can be exploited later in games or drives after the defense tires out. His mere presence out there puts pressure on the defense.

Second, this offense emphasizes down field throws to exploit defenders confusion on run/pass option plays. Wimbush showed the ability to execute such throws in the spring with accuracy and zip.



No matter who was playing quarterback for Notre Dame in 2016, we knew what we were getting, because both guys had played, and started, in meaningful games at Notre Dame. Kizer had started 11 and Zaire three. There is something to be said for that at quarterback, it’s reassuring for everyone.

Wimbush only played a handful of snaps in 2015 in mop-up time, and no snaps last season. This doesn’t preclude him from anything, of course, but it’s not something that can just be ignored. The guy hasn’t played in any meaningful games yet, and we don’t know how he’ll handle 3rd and 7 in a one score game in the 4th quarter. We saw Kizer in that spot, even Zaire was clutch at times against LSU and Virginia.


Not to knock Tommy Rees, who could do a good job as a first time quarterback coach, but the previous quarterback coach is now a head coach at a division 1 school. I think if we got to choose, we’d all rather it was Mike Sanford coaching Wimbush at this point. It’d be silly to say this isn’t a step down.



You would think this would fall into the “worse” category, which I initially slotted it into, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it is pretty much the same if not better now.

On the one hand you had Zaire as a backup last season and Ian Book this season. No-brainer right? Well, that turned out to be not a great situation, because once Zaire lost the starting job to Kizer following week 1 at Texas, he was checked out. He entered a number of games following his demotion and lets just say he wasn’t really into it. It might as well have been me out there.

Beyond Zaire was Wimbush, who Notre Dame wasn’t going to play, so it would have been Montgomery VanGorder. I think the same situation exists this year with Avery Davis a likely redshirt and VanGorder the third option behind Wimbush and Book.

As for Book, he is also an unknown as far as playing time, but not as far as what kind of effort he is likely to give. You know that if his number is called, he’ll be fully engaged and ready to go. Which wasn’t the case with Zaire last season.


If this was just one for one, in a vacuum, you’d have to say Notre Dame is worse this year, due to the loss of Kizer. DeShone Kizer was a damn good player and in my opinion the toxicity of the quarterback battle, plus the overall dysfunction of the program clouded how good of a prospect he was.

But, that’s the thing, the toxicity that killed the team last year is no longer an issue. The program feels new, with a different offense, a new person leading that offense, and a lot of the dysfunction that plagued them last season now eradicated.

Notre Dame is healthier at quarterback overall than at any point last season and are now being lead by the highest ranked recruit to start a game in the Kelly era.

Final Verdict: Better

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  1. 3rd quarter of the BC game, Wimbush just missed another critical throw. Still in his corner? Maybe he really is the best option, but it’d be nice to have one that can pass.

  2. I think it is a mistake to attribute so much to a single position. One thing that makes a great QB is great receivers that the QB works well with. Our receiving corps last year had very little experience. We lost a lot of offensive talent to the NFL. Kizer was working with young receivers-talented but not as experienced as the previous year. Of course the major problem was the impossibly complicated defence that also lost crucial experience. It is an understatement to say this was a distraction. It was disruptive for the entire team. It certainly could not have been more disastrous to have to attempt installing a revised defense after the third game. As usual, we have some very tough games ahead but I doubt this team will not be much more successful on all sides of the ball.

    1. Just to clarify my awkward rasing in the last two sentences of my comment, i mean to say this team will be much more successful than last year

  3. Remember last year when the opposition’s officials allowed the opposition’s defense to late hit Kizer and “target” him at will with no penalties? 2017 opponents will see these films and realize they can do this also. Wimbush may not last past the mid point of the season. Or Wimbush may just decide to get rid of the ball quickly to get out of the way and never become the QB everyone thinks he will become I still think Kizer and Zaire left ND because they didn’t want to get injured due to the biased officiating.

    1. I hadn’t noticed that myself, although it did seem that targeting was one thing for Notre Dame players and quite another for their opponents in general. I can’t see how the hit on Torii Hunter at Texas wasn’t targeting. Based on that hit alone, a lot the calls against Notre Dame over the last two seasons look pretty thin.

    2. As I said at the time last year, some referees were trying to make a statement on national TV that they did not like the targeting rules. What better way could they do this than against Notre Dame and BYU – who do not belong to a conference but are still big time football schools on national TV. This crap may end this year. Hopefully it does. If it does not, we simply need to get with the three other independents and get independent referees, like we used to have back in the day. Then it WILL end.

      Bruce G. Curme
      Lacrosse, Indiana

  4. Last year’s QB battle certainly was an unmitigated disaster. The snaps Zaire took cost us wins against Texas and Stanford. Bowl eligible with wins at Texas and against Stanford doesn’t redeem last season, but it sure makes it look a lot better! Although would that have been enough to keep the VanGorder project going at ND? If so, I’ll take the two losses to have the coaching staff overhaul we did.

  5. I certainly think Wimbush has the skills to be a dynamic QB. My concern is if injury rears its ugly head, how much a divide there really is between BW and IB if Book has to be the starter. With that said, I will digress to what again I think is the bigger issue and has been for 20 years. DEFENSE! If one scores in excess of 35 points, typically you should be winning that game. Unless you are Notre Dame the last 20 years ( I will grant you 2012’s D was pretty good but not great). There are not a lot of players on this year’s D that scare the Be jeez us out of opponents. Elko is good hire and it looks like there is an upgrade on D recruiting, but that won’t be seen until 2 years away. Tough schedule this year. The D is going to dictate how well ND’s season will turn out.

    1. Storespook,

      2012s D was pretty good but not great!? What on earth is your definition of great!? That was the greatest defense I’ve seen since Willingham’s year with Shane Walton and team. Wasn’t 2012 an ND record setting defense and #1 in the country in scoring?

      Agree with you though that this season’s outcome is going to be on what the defense brings. Our offense will be good.

      1. Well, close. Notre Dame was No. 2 in scoring in 2012, behind Alabama. If you don’t count their game together, then yeah, ND averaged 10.33 ppg and Alabama averaged 10.69. So you could say that they held the regular-season scoring record. But, after all, they did play that game…

      2. Chris I opine about 2012 D unit that when they played the team where it counted most, they were exposed in that game against a top caliber opponent . It wasn’t even close. Yes, they had a pretty good D but not great. If that D would have been great, they would have kept that game closer with Bama and would not have gotten rolled over by Alabama’s offense in the manner they did. But, that was 5 years ago and now it’s history. However, inferior D has plagued this program for 20 years. I am hoping Elko can recruit better on that side of the ball. I would love to see a tough nosed D. Jimbo Fisher said last year Wake Forest was one of the toughest D’s FSU played, a testimony to Elko who didn’t have superstuds on that D.Hope he can do something in South Bend.

  6. I think the fact that Brandon Wimbush is entering his third year and could no longer be kept on the shelf, had a lot to do with Kizer’s decision to turn pro, and Zaire’s decision to transfer. Wimbush appears to be a better quarterback talent than either, and neither wanted to loose the quarterback competition this fall. That said, now we all have to hope Brandon lives up to his recruiting ratings and has the arm Kizer said he did. He is faster and quicker than the two (3) previous quarterbacks, and the offense is supposed to be geared to his skill set. So I agree: BETTER!!!

  7. Speaking very simply, (and apropos to the situation!) The B-man (Wimbush) is a better college-style quarterback than Van Goober tried to use. Or sorry – Van GoRDER. VanGoober tried to scheme wins. DeShone Kizer was left trying to play pro-style football. That doesn’t work in college football, no matter how skilled the players are. It’s a different game. And if you want to win the game, you have to play the same game as the opponent. Play the game to win.

      1. You didn’t know he was coaching the QBs as well as the Defense? What kind of fan are you? Every thing must be blamed on BVG or else there is no logical explanation for last year.

      2. Forgive me. Seems pretty stupid to criticize something that never happened. It’s just the who VanGoober business got to me.

    1. Surprised to not see Burgundy back ripping this post apart so I’ll call it out for him…

      Kevhurls, I’m pretty sure “Van Goober” was our defensive coach, so…

  8. I was one of those that thought ND may have had a good things with Kizer and Zaire at QB. I thought we had two tested QB’s. But it didn’t turn out so well. We now know there is a very good reason why most teams (CFB and NFL) try to start a season with one go to QB. It was a mess, and I agree with Greg that it appeared Zaire wasn’t really engaged anymore once it became clear Kizer was the go-to guy.

    QB is a concern. I agree with Greg that on the one hand, Wimbush is largely untested. He’s not totally inexperienced, he was put in some mop up duty 2 years ago, so he’s not totally unfamiliar with being on the field. And if I remember correctly he was even given a chance to make some passes. But that’s not the same as being put in a decisive game.

    But I also agree that the overall situation is better. Everyone knows Wimbush is the starter. There are no questions. I liked that he didn’t take anything for granted, but barring something catastrophic he was always going to be the starter. After last year, I think that’s a big deal.

    As far as Mike Sanford vs. Tommy Rees…well I guess we’ll see about that. Rees was a fighter when he played. I think he laid it all out on the line (even when the result wasn’t always what we would have liked–I don’t think anyone can deny Rees had that toughness), and that can be a good teacher for Wimbush. And he played under BK which gives him some insights he can help him with.

  9. Greg , totally disagree with your article and your opinions on ND QB’s. “We” would all rather have Mike Sanford than Tommy Rees as QB coach.” Who are the “We’s” you refer to. Cop out to place any blame on Kizer for any responsibility of a 4-8 season—when ND had worst D in their history. Kizer is now getting plenty of snaps on 1st team practices of Cleveland Browns scrimmages. He’s outperforming the other QB’s on roster at this stage. As far as Wimbush — hopefully he can do what Kizer did in that 2015 season.

    1. What? Did you even read the article? The ‘we’ he’s referring to is him and the readers. I don’t see where he placed the blame on Kizer. “DeShone Kizer was a damn good player and in my opinion the toxicity of the quarterback battle, plus the overall dysfunction of the program clouded how good of a prospect he was.”

    2. Damian , nothing wrong with ND QB’s vying for starting positions. Why would this be disruptive in the over-all process—or why even have spring practice , Blue/Gold game , fall practice. Perhaps the coaches should just name the QB starter in January — this way no worries on QB’s fighting it out come spring. I can’t imagine any new QB recruits wanting to come to ND under this scenario. Sure , Wimbush is supposedly the starter—but not yet said so by coaching staff. The other QB’s on roster are fighting like the dickens to have a say in that. To tell them — they are nothing but back ups—means — why have competition. No way was a Kizer/Zaire competition for starter lead to a demise in 4-8 season. But there are some that have their favorites whether Zaire or Kizer at the QB helm. Damian , I hope your right that Wimbush –as the only logical choice at starter –without any competition will lead Irish to a great season.

      1. I think it would be more the decision to not name a starting QB and allow the competition to continue into the season. This would , in my opinion be the moment the competition soured. That and the fact that Zaire, though an asset when we were winning, did not comport himself very well after losing the starting position to Kizer.

      2. The real problem with the Kizer/Zaire thing was not that we intended to use both of them…it was that we had no real package for Zaire. Texas used two QB’s very successfully all year long. If we had Zaire come into a single wing formation (that is, an unbalanced line with a jumbo package…three TE’s or three tackles…he might have been quite effective). But when he came in, there seemed to be no real purpose or plan for him. So the wheels always seemed to come off. I’m sorry for how it turned out for both of them.

        At any rate, Wimbush is the man now…and I’m sure that Coach Long is glad to see him!

        Bruce G. Curme
        La Crosse, Indiana

      3. I think it was more the attitude that Zaire had when he lost the job. Making comments like he played badly last year because the offense was more tailored to Kizer just isn’t a good look, even if it’s true.

      4. I agree that all things being equal a good QB competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just seems for the last few years there’s been some QB controversy at ND. For once, it’s just nice to start a year knowing who the QB is. ND needs to fix a lot of problems, it’s just good that figuring out who QB isn’t one of them.

    3. I’m not reading where the writer suggested that Kizer was to blame for the season, either. I’m reading that the general dysfunction of the team made Kizer look rather worse than he actually was. Which is great for the Browns…

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