Before everyone gets all in a huff about “how dare he compare Ian Book and Brady Quinn” just settle down. This isn’t a comparison of their games or their ability as players. I don’t want to get into that because that isn’t the point. This is about perception.
After going through last season and this offseason, it appears to be true that Ian Book is a polarizing player. Some think he is great. Some think he’s reached his ceiling and should have been replaced by Phil Jurkovec. We expected him to take THE LEAP in 2019. When he didn’t take THE LEAP, he was hit with the dreaded “regression” moniker that has plagued quarterbacks of Brian Kelly’s past, and from there the discourse can only go one way because there are two paths after a successful first season, which Ian Book had in 2018: THE LEAP or a regression.
To be clear and transparent, I was on the “regression” boat as well for at least the early part of 2019. I wanted to see more from Book. “Why is he missing all of these reads and open receivers?” was a popular refrain from me in a few articles from last year. And the way narratives work is once they are set, they are tough to break. And the consensus to end the season was Ian Book was a disappointment last year, and there just isn’t much to be excited about for 2020.
Then you look at the numbers. 3,034 yards passing, 546 rushing, 38 total touchdowns, six interceptions, 149.1 passer rating. Those look pretty good. And I know how the games played out, I know what he did against Bowling Green and New Mexico, believe me. But, every team plays cupcakes, and most QB’s have big numbers against those cupcakes. Like, Brady Quinn in 2006, for example. He played a one win Stanford team, threw three touchdown passes. A two-win North Carolina team threw four touchdown passes. Three win Army, three touchdown passes. The point is, players rack up yards against bad teams, the records in the books still get to stay.
And speaking of Brady Quinn, let’s look at those 2006 and 2019 stats right now.
Brady Quinn 2006 vs. Ian Book in 2019
So we’ve got Ian Book at 3,580 total yards, 38 total touchdowns, 7.6 yards per attempt, six interceptions and a 149.1 passer rating over 13 games in 2019. Let’s give Brady Quinn’s 2006 numbers a look, also over 13 games.
3,426 passing yards, 61.9 completion percentage, 71 rushing yards, 3,497 total, 39 total touchdowns, 7.3 yards per attempt, seven total interceptions, and a 146.7 passer rating. What’s interesting about this for Quinn is all of these numbers are down from his fabulous 2005 season. Yards, completion %, yards per attempt, and passer rating all fell from 2005 to 2006. Regression!
So Book posted more yards of total offense, better yards per attempt, and had a better passer rating than Quinn in 2019 vs. 2006. Now, to be completely fair, Quinn had a notably higher degree of difficulty in terms of the defenses he faced in 2006 than Book in 2019. The average SP+ ranking for the 2006 defenses came in at 53 for Quinn and 63 for Book. Quinn faced six defenses in the top 25 and Book three in SP+ over those seasons as well. So Quinn had the tougher go of it.
Both quarterbacks had total stinkers in those respective seasons; Book famously in the rain against Michigan, a disastrous 8/25 for 73 yards and a touchdown, and Quinn 15/35 for 148 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 interceptions against LSU in a dome at the Sugar Bowl. And Quinn even had the benefit of Walker having a career night on the ground. Woof.
Both quarterbacks had signature comebacks against what some would call middling teams. Quinn had his moment against 7-6 UCLA, completing three straight passes to go the length of the field in the final seconds to win by three. Book did something similar against Virginia Tech, converting two fourth downs behind by six to win it by running it in himself to win by a point.
Both beat the teams they should and struggled on the road in the opener at night, while losing the “big games” that season. However, Quinn’s teams were not competitive against Michigan at home, nor USC on the road, while Ian Book was 40 yards away from scoring the go-ahead touchdown at Georgia.
Both quarterbacks lost personnel from the year prior, but Book’s were more drastic. He didn’t have a former five-star receiver to play opposite Chase Claypool as Quinn got with Rhema McKnight. (He was supposed to with Kevin Austin moving into Claypool’s old X spot, but alas, it was not to be.) Quinn also had Darius Walker at running back, and John Carlson at tight end, who was actually picked five spots higher than Cole Kmet in the NFL draft. And of course Jeff Samardzija, an All-American from the season prior.
Book wasn’t devoid of talent, of course, he had Claypool and Kmet, though he lost Kmet for a month in camp and to start the season with a broken collarbone, projected starting receiver Michael Young to the same injury, and Kevin Austin to suspension.
We Should Be More Excited To Have Book In 2020
Again, this isn’t about whether Book is as good as Quinn. They both played their seasons, and they posted excellent numbers. The thing I want people to take away from this is if Brady Quinn had eligibility left and decided to come back in 2007, there isn’t a Notre Dame fan in the world who would be lukewarm about that. People would be ecstatic and rightly so. He played great games and put up great numbers! Of course, that’s a good thing, you don’t have to be a football analyst to figure that out.
So why not the same feeling for Book? Because he stunk against Michigan in a rain storm? Because they couldn’t score against Clemson? It’s not that he’s a no brainer star Heisman candidate, but we’ve got two seasons of data on Book and it’s pretty damn good and it’ll likely be pretty damn good next season too. It’s good that he’s the quarterback and it’s very good that he decided to come back, just as it would have been true for Quinn.