Following a 4-8 season that saw Notre Dame use a dual-quarterback system that proved to be ineffective, head coach Brian Kelly and new offensive coordinator Chip Long are focused in 2017 on one signal caller to handle those duties. Unless an injury occurs, that’s going to be sophomore Brandon Wimbush, who saw limited action as a true freshman two years ago before being redshirted during the 2016 campaign.
Firmly entrenched as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback though, Wimbush is ready to become a star. Today our series of breakout stars for Notre Dame in 2017 rolls on with Brandon Wimbush.
Pedigree & Career to Date
Coming out of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, Wimbush was ranked among the top five quarterbacks in the nation within his recruiting class. The reason stemmed from his ability to combine solid passing skills with mobility, throwing for nearly 3,200 yards while also connecting on 37 touchdown passes as a senior. In addition, he ran for over 700 yards and scored five times on the ground.
The 6-2, 225-pound Wimbush was originally destined to play at Penn State, but he changed his mind in October 2014 and found Kelly and his staff ready to scoop him up. That was despite the Irish not being on the list of his other four original options of Boston College, Miami, Ohio State and Virginia Tech.
During his freshman season the following year, Wimbush saw action in two games and gave a hint of his potential in mop-up duty against Massachusetts. He connected on three of five passes for 17 yards while rushing for 92 yards, one of those a 58-yard scoring run.
Despite not taking the field last year, Kelly was impressed by Wimbush’s maturity concerning his status and his development in the all-important role as team leader. During spring practice, Wimbush got the majority of snaps and was handed the reins for the upcoming year. In the Blue and Gold game, he threw for 302 yards on 22-of-32, though he did fall victim to a pair of picks.
Why Brandon Wimbush Will Breakout
Wimbush’s versatility and the aforementioned maturity will help invigorate an offense that struggled to find its way on a regular basis last year. The fact that he’s actually seen time on the field, even if it was during garbage time, should avoid the risk of being awestruck in taking over behind center.
Even though Wimbush has been the odds-on favorite to start ever since DeShone Kizer announced he was headed to the NFL, he continues to look for ways to improve his overall abilities. During his spring break, he traveled to San Diego for one specific reason. It wasn’t to party, it was to work with noted quarterback coach George Whitfield.
Another factor that lends itself to Wimbush breaking through is the knowledge that Chip Long’s embracing of run-pass option plays is something that he handled during his high school career. The fact that he’s shown himself to be a quick study gives rise to the hope that he’ll quickly take advantage of that experience in the early part of the season.
Finally, the Irish offensive line is expected to be much improved from last season, which should keep Wimbush away from a high level of defensive harassment. Headed by tackle Mike McGlinchey, this unit has four starters back and also has offensive line coach Harry Hiestand back. He’s produced a bevy of talented lineman in the past, with 2016 likely having been an aberration.
Why Brandon Wimbush Might Not Breakout
The Notre Dame schedule for 2017 has a number of challenges, including matchups against teams like Georgia, Southern Cal and Stanford. That’s an imposing series of roadblocks, even for an experienced quarterback. For someone who’s seen next to no action, it might end up undercutting any real chance he has to make an impact.
If the offensive line doesn’t have a resurgence, it might be a rerun of last year’s misery. Right tackle is the spot to keep an eye on, given the simple fact that this will be where the lone newcomer takes up residence. If Tommy Kraemer or Liam Eichenberg doesn’t come through, then Wimbush could be under siege.
Even if Wimbush has immersed himself in Long’s new offense, there’s no guarantee that it leads to victories across the board. If there are stumbles during the season, it can stagnate the quarterback’s development and given that the room for error in South Bend this season is slim, that could be deadly.
As adept as Wimbush can be when he runs, his footwork is still open to further improvement. The hope is that the offseason and training camp will help work out the kinks so that the Irish offense won’t have to be over-reliant on the running game. If it is, that might end up costing Kelly and his coaches at the end of the season.
Talented players regularly find their way to South Bend, with this year’s edition of the Notre Dame offense no stranger to that phenomenon. The good thing for Wimbush is that he has quality in the backfield with Josh Adams and among his receiving corps with wideouts like Equanimeous St. Brown and the expected return of tight end Alize Mack. Equally important is the fact that he has a veteran offensive line.
Wimbush has the smarts to pick up reads, though it’s important to remember that his body of work in college football is microscopic. That means that growing pains are inevitable during the course of the year, though the expectation is that his learning curve will be a short one.
Considering the fanfare that came with the arrival of Wimbush two years ago, setting a high bar isn’t out of the question when it comes to this year’s prospects. If he comes anywhere close to that level, the Irish comeback will commence and Wimbush will be the one at the controls.