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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

July 2, 2020

The list of great Notre Dame quarterbacks if the last four decades is a short one. That’s one reason why they have won only one national championship after 1977.

It’s not a coincidence that Marcus Mariota led a less-talented Oregon team to the national championship game in 2014. Deshaun Watson took Clemson to back to back national championship games, winning one of them. Alabama came back and beat Georgia to win it all on the strength of Tua Tagovailoa’s second half performance. The Tide got whooped the next year with Trevor Lawrence going off then Lawrence was bested by Joe Burrow and LSU the next year.

Those quarterbacks elevated their teams and all of them except Lawrence have been first round picks. As most know, Lawrence is the projected number one selection in next year’s NFL Draft.

Oklahoma has been to the Playoff in four of the last five years with Baker Mayfield (1st overall), Kyler Murray (1st overall), and Jalen Hurts (second round) at quarterback. It’s possible to make the Playoff and get to the championship game without an elite quarterback, but you better have five future top-20 picks like Ohio State did in 2014 or have a roster loaded with 5-stars like Alabama.

Notre Dame does not have a roster like that, so if they want to get to the mountain top, they need an elite quarterback to reach there.

This is exactly why Tyler Buchner is so important to this current recruiting class. It goes without saying that Notre Dame wants to fill all of their positional needs and sign as much blue-chip talent as possible in the 2021 class and every other one as well. But if you go back and grade any recruiting class, it’s impossible to give it an A+ if the quarterback doesn’t end up at a level where he can become a first round pick (or darn close).

Since 2015, Notre Dame has had four teams who have won double digit games in a season. Would those teams have won a national championship if they swapped in a Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, or Trevor Lawrence at quarterback? It’s impossible to say definitively, but they would have had a better shot.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the coaching staff fills out the rest of this class. There is a lot of time between now and December where players who would have emerged in the summer at camps will blow up during the season and there will be a lot of recruits who end up flipping their commitments over the next five months. What we project with the 2021 class now for Notre Dame could look much different by the time these players actually sign.

The one thing I do know is that Buchner is the key to the class. He’s an outstanding prospect and his elite trait is being able to create big plays outside of the framework of the play call. He can make throws like this and 99.9% of humans can’t.

Back in December, I wrote that I see him as a more athletic Sam Darnold. Much like Darnold, he was not very good at the Elite 11 this week. It turned out pretty well for Darnold (and many others as I’ll get to below).

Another quarterback on the roster may become a Mariota, Mayfield, or Burrow first. The first two weren’t considered elite recruits and Burrow was 4-star, but not in the same category that Buchner currently resides in as a prospect. Brendon Clark and Drew Pyne weren’t in the same tier either, but if one of them develops into an elite quarterback, it will change how their respective recruiting classes will be judged just like how the 2018 class takes a hit because it didn’t work out with Phil Jurkovec.

If it doesn’t work out with Clark or Pyne and Buchner becomes a special player, then 2021 class is going to be an A+ because it should give Notre Dame a chance to win a national championship. If he doesn’t become that player, then it’s going to be on to the next one who might finally be the guy who can take the Irish to that next level.

2. It wouldn’t have been bad if Buchner won the Elite 11 Finals MVP, even though it might be unexpected given that one of his greatest strengths is making plays outside of the script of the play. That’s something that is almost impossible replicate at a camp. They didn’t even have 7on7 at this event so it’s even less like real football than normal.

If Buchner doesn’t look the best throwing against air, that’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of great quarterbacks who have not won dominated the Elite 11. Trevor Lawrence is at the top of the list with Kyle Murray and Darnold in there as well. Deshaun Watson is on there too. Then there’s Joe Burrow, Baker Mayfield, Marcus Mariota, and Johnny Manziel who didn’t even make the Elite 11 Finals.

Here’s a list of some guys who have won the Elite 11 Finals MVP: Blake Barnett, Shea Patterson, Sean White, Asiantii Woolard, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Fields. Jameis Winston finished in a three-way tie for the MVP during his Elite 11 year. I’m sure everyone remembers SMU’s Neil Burcham and BYU’s Tanner Mangum as the others Winston shared it with.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the other guys who didn’t win. Aside from Winston, Fields, and Tagovailoa, that’s not a great list of college quarterbacks.I know Notre Dame fans weren’t feeling great when Barnett won his MVP after he had de-committed. Now it’s more funny than it is depressing.

I don’t want to pretend like it wouldn’t have been better if Buchner was one of the best at the camp, but it doesn’t change anything about his status as a prospect like it would if he was someone who did all of his damage within the pocket. He’s still the same prospect to me and unless he struggles during his senior season, there really isn’t much to get worked up about.

3. I think there are three positions where the two-deep is going to look one way at the start of practices this summer and could look very different at the start of the season. Then it could flip even further by the time Notre Dame reaches October.

At running back I would expect Jafar Armstrong to be the first back out in August with C’Bo Flemister or Jahmir Smith with the twos. Armstrong hasn’t shown enough, or stayed healthy enough, to be RB1 and Flemister and Smith have a lot to prove. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Chris Tyree and Kyren Williams could end up being the top two backs by the end of the season.

Buck linebacker is going to be very interesting to watch with three guys with experience the early favorites to play, but there are young players who may push to have bigger roles as time goes by.

I think we’ll see a combination of Shayne Simon, Jack Lamb, and Jordan Genmark Heath getting most of the reps early, but Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau are two players who could end up jumping the line at some point in 2020.

We might see cornerbacks TaRiq Bracy and Shaun Crawford coming out with the first team in August, but with new cornerback coach Mike Mickens, anything is possible as to who will be starting in week one and beyond.

NC State transfer Nick McCloud is going to play. KJ Wallace and Isaiah Rutherford may have the highest upside out of all the corners who will be competing. We may even see a freshman emerge out of the three who will be on the roster given Crawford’s position flexibility. He could end up at safety.

Finding the right combination at all of those positions is going to be difficult with an atypical off-season, but getting it right a month into the season may be good enough to get the Irish in a great spot to finish strong.

4. We didn’t get to the listener questions in the latest Power Hour, but there was one that asked about if Notre Dame had an “alpha” recruiter. I don’t know if that is the right term to describe an elite recruiter, but I do understand what the question was hinting at, though.

Is there a coach on Notre Dame’s staff that other coaches get worried about after the Irish offer? I think it fits into something I wrote about a few weeks back. There isn’t anyone on the staff currently that makes the opposition sweat knowing they’ll have to compete against them.

That’s not to say Notre Dame doesn’t have good recruiters. Overall I would say that the staff is filled with good recruiters. They just don’t have that guy who consistently wins recruiting battles for top recruits to the point where they are considered one of the best in college football.

It’s been awhile since Notre Dame has had a coach like that.

Maybe Mickens can be that guy and we should have a better idea about him with the 2022 class because as Mike Frank mentioned on Power Hour this week, Mickens entered this cycle at a clear disadvantage compared to other coaches.

5. I really hope that things are going well enough that Notre Dame is able to travel to Los Angeles and play USC at the end of the season. I think things are set up for Brian Kelly to make it four in a row against the Trojans.

There is no doubt that USC is loaded at receiver even after losing Kyle Ford for the season to a knee injury. Kedon Slovis should be even better in year two at quarterback as well. But that offensive line is paper thin and I believe this season is going to see a lot more injuries than normal. If they don’t have all of their starting five by the time November hits, it could be ugly against Notre Dame’s defensive line.

Even in the last couple of years when they have struggled, USC has still had great players sprinkled throughout their roster. The issue has been that they have not built the depth to sustain any injury to major contributors.

I don’t see either team being anywhere close to full strength by the end of the season. The difference is that the depth Notre Dame has built puts them in a much better position to be better in November, even with injuries. USC is not there with their roster, which is also why Clay Helton might not make it to the Notre Dame game without being replaced.

6. I thought it would be fun to go back and look at some things I wrote about Notre Dame players when they signed with the Irish. Taking out his name, let’s see if you can guess who it is.

He is undersized and likely always will be. He doesn't have ideal measurables. What he does have is a good first step and a great motor. He consistently plays with good pad level too. Those are big reasons why he has a chance to develop into a quality player at the next level.
I see him as more of a one-technique that will compete with (redacted) in future years than a three-technique. I don't know if he has the lateral movement to excel there. But eventually if he puts on the right amount of weight, I think he can be a solid player at nose guard for the Irish.

I think I was pretty spot on with this evaluation. If you guess correctly, then you probably agree.

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