Notre Dame had some success dipping into the transfer portal at quarterback last year by adding Jack Coan – although that take will certainly touch off a Twitter war if you tweet it with some in the fanbase. Heading into 2021, there was no experience on the roster at the position and a bridge quarterback made sense. Notre Dame is not in the same position heading into 2022, and despite reports yesterday that the Irish were pursuing USC transfer QB Kedon Slovis, there is no need for Notre Dame to tap that well two years in a row because of Tyler Buchner.
Tommy Rees somewhat shot down the Slovis chatter yesterday when asked. “We feel really good about the quarterbacks that are on our roster,” Rees said. It wasn’t a denial, but reports surfaced later on Monday that Pitt is the odds on favorite for Slovis. Rees and the Notre Dame staff should feel good about the quarterbacks on the roster, though.
One of Brian Kelly’s biggest weaknesses over his 12-year tenure at Notre Dame was his inexplicable ability to attract elite quarterbacks and develop them into stars. The closest Kelly came to ever producing a star-level quarterback in over a decade at Notre Dame was Ian Book, and Book was a low-rated recruit that was mainly recruited for depth at the time. That is what made Tyler Buchner’s commitment so big when he selected the Irish as a top-100 overall prospect.
Buchner showed Notre Dame fans immediately why there was so much hype for him even though he only played one full season of high school football due to injuries and COVID moving the California 2020 season into spring when Buchner was already on Notre Dame’s campus. He lit up the spring game and gave some hope that he could start in 2021. That was always a bit of a pipe dream given how little he played at the high school level, but it was a glimpse into the future.
The Notre Dame staff didn’t waste much time getting Buchner on the field for a set package. In week two, Buchner came off the bench and provided the Irish offense with the jolt it needed after a sluggish start. His first snap in college was a 26 yard run from his own four-yard line. Later that same game came his first career touchdown pass.
On the play, the threat of Buchner running got Chris Tyree wide open out of the backfield for an easy score. That is just part of what makes Buchner special and potentially a dangerous weapon for the Irish offense in 2022.
His running ability adds a dimension to the Notre Dame offense that it didn’t have at all with Jack Coan and had to a lesser extent with Ian Book. Here he is getting shot out of a cannon on a touchdown run against Stanford in the season finale.
The only knock that some have on Buchner right now is that his passing statistics weren’t amazing as a true freshman, but remember that the kid played one entire season of high school football. By the time he got to Notre Dame, he hadn’t taken a snap in a real game in almost two years. Nevertheless, he’s got plenty of arm talent and showed he doesn’t just have a cannon at times but can drop dimes down the field.
Yeah, he was up and down at times, but most true freshmen are – let alone ones who haven’t played much before college. Buchner’s final season of high school football was against a low level of competition, and he put up video game numbers. His senior campaign was supposed to be against the best in California, but he never played that season because he was an early enrollee.
Something else to consider when evaluating Buchner’s 2021 season is that every single time he was inserted into a game before the last two games, it was to provide a spark and make plays. That’s a ton of pressure on a true freshman. Against Toledo, Cincinnati, and Virginia Tech, Notre Dame turned to Buchner to jumpstart a stalled offense. That isn’t exactly setting up a true freshman quarterback for success, but even still, Buchner delivered most of the time.
Ian Book was the winningest quarterback in program history, but Buchner’s ceiling is considerably higher than Book’s. That is not to say Buchner will undoubtedly develop into the better quarterback, but with his raw talent, the sky is the limit for Buchner leading this offense.
It’s not ideal for Buchner to get his first career start on the road in Columbus next fall, and he still has to hold off Drew Pyne in spring and fall camps to win the position, but it would be an upset if he didn’t do just that.
A graduate transfer quarterback like Slovis could come in and have a good season. In fact, Slovis would be an upgrade, talent-wise, over Coan, but it’s time that Notre Dame develops its own star quarterback. Buchner has that potential between what he can do with his legs and his arm. Just like there will be some bumps in the road with a first-time head coach, there will be a few bumps with a first-time starting quarterback, but for this program to reach its ceiling, it needs a quarterback who has the potential to be special. Tyler Buchner has that potential, and we’ve already seen plenty of evidence to suggest that he will produce at an extremely high level.
It’s been 15 years since Notre Dame had a legit Heisman contender quarterback (Brady Quinn 2006). Tyler Buchner could be the first since then to be in the race for an entire season. It might not be next year as a sophomore, but he has that kind of potential. For him to reach it, Notre Dame needs to be all in on Buchner heading into 2022.