The Notre Dame quarterback situation was a volatile one in 2021. Three players played important snaps for the Irish through the first half of the campaign. Following a 24-13 loss to Cincinnati, there was a full-blown quarterback controversy in South Bend. However, graduate transfer Jack Coan elevated his play and settled some of the debate. The Irish reworked their offensive scheme and became one of the country’s top units down the stretch. However, Coan will be gone next season, leaving the Notre Dame quarterback room in flux once more. With the ever-prominent transfer portal, two returning signal-callers, and an incoming four-star…what is Notre Dame’s best route under center?
Next Notre Dame Quarterback Already Here?
Drew Pyne, Tyler Buchner, and four-star recruit Steve Angeli. Could one of the Irish’s current/incoming arms be the answer? The Irish are hunting for a national championship and have a lot of program momentum right now. Finding the right answer will be key.
The incoming freshman is definitively the dark horse in this situation. Barring injuries, Angeli should settle in as the third-string for 2022. With some big quarterback targets in the 2023 class, not many have given Angeli too much attention. Yet, the Bergen Catholic High School product could compete for snaps in the near future. However, Angeli could use experience and time to learn the college game. He was solid in high school, posting a 126 passer rating as a senior. That being said, Angeli averaged just 17 pass attempts per game – the numbers were good but suggesting he’s ready for a Power-5 starting job right off the bat is a tough case to make.
Pyne had his moments in 2021. He engineered a come-from-behind win against Wisconsin after Coan went down with an injury. He replaced an ineffective Coan against Cincinnati and nearly repeated the feat. Pyne’s confidence and poise shone through in his early appearances, even as he didn’t see the field in the second half of the season.
Pyne has now spent two years backing up two different style quarterbacks. With a fantastic knowledge of the offense and two valuable years of experience behind Ian Book and Coan, Pyne is a definite candidate to be the starter for the Irish. Keep in mind, the Irish open at Ohio State. Whoever the Notre Dame quarterback is in that game, they’re going to have to be confident and poised to give the Irish a chance. Pyne certainly brings that to the table.
Between Buchner and Pyne, it may be 1A and 1B. It’s a really tough decision. Buchner has had some electric moments filling in as a dual-threat option. Buchner only saw one game as the primary quarterback and that was at Virginia Tech. He served as a spark, but the freshman struggled to maintain consistency. He threw three touchdowns and three interceptions in 2021. However, the 7.3 yards per carry and 336 rushing yards are exciting, and Buchner offers more in the rushing department. He could find himself playing a similar role as a change-of-pace quarterback behind Pyne, who looked like the more polished passer. However, if Buchner continues to progress, he could be the primary option for the blue and gold in 2022.
Notre Dame Quarterback Transfer Portal Options
There are a lot of big names in the transfer portal that could be tempting. The Irish dipped their toes into the transfer waters last year to land Coan – will they do the same for 2022? First, with some big names out there, it’s important to rule out a few options.
Zach Calzada, Bo Nix, Kedon Slovis
These are a few names Notre Dame should have no interest in pursuing. Bo Nix is a big name and a three-year starter at Auburn. However, he never really showed a trajectory of improvement over three seasons. He’s not any kind of upgrade over the current options outside of FBS experience. In games that Nix had to throw more than 30 passes in his career, he is 5-10. If you take out the hype he received as a freshman and a couple of highlight-reel plays, Nix isn’t really an attractive option.
The same goes for Texas A&M QB Zach Calzada. He had some moments – namely leading an upset of #1 Alabama. But he looked really poor in a series of other games, including against a bad Ole Miss defense. For Notre Dame to go through the hassle of working an undergraduate transfer around their academic requirements, they better be sure they’re getting an impact player, and Calzada is anything but a sure thing after an up-and-down campaign.
Kedon Slovis? Well other than the fact that he’s unlikely to ever consider transferring to an archrival, he’s not much more than a well-known name. He looked inconsistent with poor pocket awareness in an air-raid offense at USC. When he couldn’t throw to Drake London, Slovis frequently looked lost.
Two Names to Keep an Eye On: Cameron Ward, Zach Gibson
Here’s a couple of intriguing transfer portal options. Both are talented signal-callers from small programs; Zach Gibson hails from Akron while Cameron Ward makes the jump from FCS Incarnate Ward.
Ward could be a super high-ceiling guy to bring in. He averaged over 350 passing yards per game as a sophomore, throwing for 47 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It feels unlikely that Notre Dame will take the risk of bringing in an FCS player. But it shouldn’t be ruled out – Ward posted incredible numbers and could be a hidden gem.
Zach Gibson put together a quietly strong season for the Zips, despite Akron’s usual poor results. He threw ten touchdowns to a pristine zero interceptions in split playing time. He’s going to likely get a Power-5 starting job next year, but again it’s not a clear-cut upgrade over Notre Dame’s current options. Georgia Tech is also projected to land Gibson, so it’s unlikely the transfer dons the blue and gold.
How about another Big 10 graduate transfer? Jack Plummer checks a lot of the boxes for Notre Dame – he’s got starting experience at the FBS level. He’s a graduate transfer with a 3.9 GPA from Purdue. And he’s a solid player. Plummer threw for 864 yards and seven touchdowns in four starts for the Boilermakers. He did not toss an interception. In three games in 2020, he threw for 938 yards, eight touchdowns, and just two picks.
Plummer feels like a very viable possibility for the Irish. Out of the external options, Plummer is easily the most likely. He’s a safe but talented pocket passer that could fit well into the tempo offense that Notre Dame implemented later in 2021. Academically and athletically, Plummer is a fit and a name to keep an eye on down the stretch.
Final Analysis of Notre Dame Quarterback Situation
So, will the Notre Dame quarterback situation be resolved internally? Or will it be a second straight year in the transfer portal market? Here’s a quick ranking of the guys most likely to be under center for the Irish when they travel to Columbus next September.
1. Drew Pyne: The best passer left on the roster with the confidence and poise to keep the Irish in a top-5 battle in the season opener/
2. Tyler Buchner: The highest-ceiling option and a guy that could become an elite quarterback if he develops as a passer.
3. Jack Plummer: A viable transfer with starting experience in the Big 10…sound familiar?
4. Cameron Ward: An electrifying signal-caller, albeit without experience at the FBS level.
5. Steve Angeli: A solid prospect that would be better waiting his turn on the depth chart than being forced into a starting role.
6. Zach Gibson: An interesting and young prospect, but one with limited experience and apparent interest in another school.