How Much Will Phil Jurkovec Play for Notre Dame in 2018?

When the new redshirt rule was announced for the 2018 season, one thing became immediately clear for Notre Dame football.  Freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec will play for Notre Dame this fall.  The question now is, just how much football with he play this fall?  Will the staff keep him within the limits of the new rule? Or will he simply be too good to keep off the field?

New Rule Opens New Opportunities

Here’s a quick summary for those unfamiliar with the new rule. The NCAA is now allowing freshmen to play in up to four games at any point in their true freshman seasons without losing a year of eligibility.  Previously, a true freshman was eligible to retain eligibility only if they didn’t play at all or if they played in the first four games and sustained an injury that caused them to miss the rest of the season. The latter applying to any player regardless of their year.

There was a good chance that Phil Jurkovec would have played in 2018 even without the new rule.  With it, there’s almost no way he doesn’t.

There are some who will be clamoring for him to start the second Brandon Wimbush throws his first interception this fall. Fans should have some patience here though.   Jurkovec’s Army All American Bowl performance showed that while he has an extremely high ceiling, he still has a lot of work to do.

[Related: Will Notre Dame have a 1,000 yard rusher in 2018?]

Still, there is some belief that Phil Jurkovec will be able to challenge Ian Book for the backup role this fall already.  Should Jurkovec win that backup role, the Notre Dame coaching staff will have an interesting decision to make.  Either play Jurkovec in any mop up duty, or be strategic in when/where they use him to try and preserve that year of eligibility.

While Notre Dame has a pretty rough schedule this year with the likes of Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and USC; they also have a number of games where the backup quarterback should play if the season goes as planned.  Ball State, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Navy, Syracuse, and Pitt are all games that a backup quarterback at Notre Dame should play in.  That alone is six games.

Last year Ian Book severed as the backup quarterback to Brandon Wimbush and played in 10 games with one start mixed in.  Book filled in for an injured Wimbush on the road against North Carolina.

Brandon Wimbush Holds the Answer to Jurkovec’s Playing Time

Speaking of Wimbush, his development will likely be one of the determining factors in how much Jurkovec plays this fall. If he takes the necessary steps forward as a passer this fall, nether Jurkovec of Book will be called upon for much more than mop up duty or filling in for injury.  That, however, is a very big if and is the number one question facing Notre Dame football this fall.

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If Wimbush is indeed a vastly improved passer actually, the need to preserve Jurkovec’s redshirt year becomes much more important.  Wimbush still has another year of eligibility left after this year.  Should he take a big step forward this year he would head into the 2019 season as the unquestioned starter. Again, a huge if right now but still a possibility.  Should that happen, Kelly and his staff will undoubtably want to preserve that year for Jurkovec.

What if Wimbush Doesn’t Improve?

Now the flip side outcome is also possible.  What if Wimbush doesn’t take the step forward?  What if the quarterback we saw against Stanford and Miami last November is the same quarterback that we see against Michigan and Stanford in September? If that’s the case, Kelly and staff will be forced to either turn to Book or Jurkovec.

Let’s say the worst case scenario for Notre Dame plays out.  Wimbush falters in September and Notre Dame has to turn to a backup and Jurkovec isn’t quite ready in October.  It will still be in Notre Dame’s best interest to get him as many snaps as possible to ready him for 2019.

What if Jurkovec Comes in and Lights it Up?

A year ago at this time, Jacob Eason was coming off an OK true freshman season for Georgia.  He then had to fight off a hot shot true freshman named Jake Fromme in camp.  He did just that through the summer.  His reign as starter was short lived though.  Eason was injured in the season opener and Fromme stepped in and grabbed a hold of the starting job.  After a “road” win at Notre Dame Stadium in his first career start and Fromme was off and running towards leading Georgia the College Football Playoff Championship game.

The same scenario is not all that far fetched for Notre Dame this fall.  At least in terms of the starting quarterback position, not necessarily the playoffs.

Brandon Wimbush makes a lot of plays with his legs and had a tendency to get banged up in 2017.  Wimbush left the Georgia game briefly for injury. He missed the entire North Carolina game allowing Book to start .  He also got banged up at home against Wake Forest running in for a touchdown.  Then there were the Miami, Stanford, and LSU games where he was pulled for ineffectiveness.

Should Jurkovec win the backup gig, he could easily see himself inserted into the lineup early in the year.  If he is and he performs well, Brian Kelly has shown in his career that he will go with the hot hand.

Freshman Have Taken Over at Notre Dame Before

We’ve seen this happen at Notre Dame before.  There have been a number of occurrences of true freshmen or redshirt freshmen getting earlier than expected opportunities.  No one thought Matt Lovecchio would start most of the games in 2000, but he did.  And he ended up guiding Notre Dame to the Fiesta Bowl.

No one thought Brady Quinn would unseat Carlyle Holiday after Holiday guided Notre Dame to 10 wins in 2002.  Quinn did, however when Holiday stumbled and then went on to rewrite the Notre Dame history books.

Just three years ago Malik Zaire lit up Texas in the 2015 season opener.  It looked like the start of a brilliant career. The next week he broke his ankle and Deshone Kizer stepped in and never really let go of the starting gig again.

So How Much Will Phil Jurkovec Play this Fall?

This is probably the second most difficult question to answer this off-season.  That’s because it requires answering the most difficult question first.  How improved is Brandon Wimbush really?  As Greg pointed out on Saturday, a lot of Wimbush’s problems in 2017 stemmed from indecisiveness that led to bad mechanics.  That actually gives me hope for Wimbush’s improvement in 2018.  It indicates that IF the game slows down for him, then the rest should follow.

I will say that Jurkovec plays exactly four games and retains his year of eligibility.  I think we’ll see him make his college debut in a September tuneup game.  From there on out, the staff will use him more strategically throughout the rest of the season.

The reason I see Jurkovec playing four games is I think we will see enough improvement from Wimbush this fall that Notre Dame will live and die with him each weekend.  We saw the moments of brilliance from him so we know what’s possible when he puts it all together.  If he starts putting it all together, Jurkovec will be given the time he needs to develop this fall.  If he doesn’t, well then all bets are off.

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  1. This new rule is very interesting. The entire ND fanbase is going to want to see Jurkovec in mop up time and chances are that will probably happen in only a couple of them. ND’s past history tells us we don’t blow teams out that much although last year we seemed to have control mid-way into the 2nd half in a lot of games. What is crazy here is that Book is definitely the backup at this point but who does Kelly put in with this new rule? I’m assuming Book doesn’t have a redshirt at this point. Does Kelly play Book to get him some PT in case Wimbush goes down or does he play Jurkovec in all of these to just see what the kid has early on? It will probably be a combination of them but this may “speed up” transfers for players who know they are going to get buried in the depth chart the following year. For example, if the old rule existed still, Jurkovec probably wouldn’t see the field period barring injuries to Wimbush and Book. This would make Book feel pretty solid about being the backup and heading into next year thinking he has a chance to truly compete for a job. A transfer in this scenario probably wouldn’t cross his mind. However, with the new rule if Jurkovec comes in and lights it up and gets everyone excited, Book and/or even Wimbush might be thinking about transferring before the next season without even giving themselves a chance to compete where this really wouldn’t have been the case before.

    This rule gives coaches a huge opportunity to see what their entire roster can do in game situations which I actually think is going to be good for the college game. It was total BS if a player came into the game for 1 snap and burned their eligibility. I do think the biggest con will be players transferring. There is also another downside to this in that ADs are going to start adding more cupcakes to the front ends of their schedules just to give the team a better chance of getting these players a chance to show what they can do. If a true freshmen comes in and lights it up in these games, a coach is probably going to play him the rest of the year where before this would have never been the case. The coach now has a choice he can make based on in game experience and you would want to know that as early on as possible in your season.

    This rule will probably have some adjustments made down the road when the downstream impacts hit in the next couple years but we will see. I think overall it is certainly more positive for the players and the coaches.

  2. Put me down for expecting an improved more confident Wimbush regarding his passing and decision-making.
    His ability to run is already elite.
    As far as preserving a 5th year, with the potential for an elite player like the incoming QB, the question is moot, as that elite player will often consider leaving after a third year, let alone staying for a fifth.
    And if Jurko doesn’t result in becoming an elite player, then planning to have him around a fifth year won’t matter that much.
    Stars leaving eligibility years on the table is to be expected in today’s college game.
    Planning as if that won’t happen is seeing college football through a different lens that seldom happens these days.

  3. I sincerely hope Wimbush makes the necessary improvements that make this a moot issue (thought I would definitely get Jurkovec some reps in live action at some point regardless–and let him make some real plays). Wimbush is as elusive a runner as they come. If he could improve his passing accuracy he and the rest of the offense have a very high ceiling. I always said I’d hate to see all that foot talent sitting on a bench.

    The only thing I would caution (I hate to be a Negative Nelly but…) is we’ve seen this record before. A highly touted QB comes to ND with a huge amount of potential and inexplicably flames out or doesn’t perform to expectations. I remember a lot of the same talk around EG when he first came to ND, then Zaire, Kizer (who admittedly was the best of the bunch) and now Wimbush if he implodes as well. I’d throw Crist in as well though he was a Weis recruit and frankly he couldn’t even play well for Weis at Kansas so I’ll give BK a pass on that one. I’m really to the point that while I have hopes for Jurkovec I’ll wait to pass judgment on whether he’s the next elite QB at ND until he plays a couple games.

    I’m too the point that when it comes to ND football under BK I hope for the best but expect the worse.

    1. Just to clarify 2 things. I should say about QB’s flaming out at ND “under BK”. That may not have been clear.

      Also I know there are a lot of open questions on the offense. I noted a very high ceiling for the players but mostly because most of them are highly touted coming in. If most of them can compete at that level the offense has a lot of potential.

  4. Hearing footsteps makes one step forward a lot faster. Hope not to see Jurkovec warm up except in mop up time.

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