Despite a variety of position battles throughout the program, the Notre Dame quarterback room is dominating the headlines. Once again, the Irish find themselves with a battle under center. Rising redshirt sophomore Drew Pyne and rising true sophomore Tyler Buchner are competing for the starting spot, and the battle is an intense one. While there’ll be a lot to watch for at the spring Blue and Gold game, Buchner’s and Pyne’s performances will be heavily scrutinized. Where does the Notre Dame quarterback situation stand, as Spring practices wind down to a close?
Notre Dame quarterback room analysis
The Redshirt Sophomore
Pyne has long been considered the underdog in this race. He didn’t enter as a highly touted recruit, or at least not as lauded as Buchner. He’s spent two years as the No. 2 quarterback now. In 2021, he appeared in two games. Against Wisconsin, Pyne replaced an injured Jack Coan and threw a fourth-quarter touchdown in a comeback win. Then, a week later, Pyne took over for an ineffective Coan in the second half. He closed a 17-0 Irish deficit to 17-13, but Notre Dame dropped the contest to Cincinnati. In his appearances, Pyne has played with swagger and confidence, making some top-tier throws along the way.
So why does he feel like the decided underdog in this race?
Starting with physicality. Spring practices don’t offer many opportunities to see this difference. Pyne is the smaller Notre Dame quarterback, and his speed doesn’t match Buchner’s. In his 2021 appearances, Pyne demonstrated solid scrambling ability, but that represents the ceiling of his running contributions. So in order to make up for that, Pyne needs to prove himself a significantly better passer than Buchner.
This Spring, Pyne has looked very good under center. He’s played generally mistake-free in practices observed by the media, and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees praised both quarterbacks. But the fact is that Pyne has a bigger burden to prove. Entering the Blue and Gold Game, it doesn’t feel like the more veteran Notre Dame quarterback has done enough to reverse the hierarchy.
The True Sophomore
Buchner appeared in most games this past Fall, largely featuring as a gadget quarterback. Rees often inserted Buchner as a wildcat quarterback, but he occasionally let the freshman fire downfield. Buchner’s only extended appearance under center came on the road against Virginia Tech. Against the Hokies, Buchner sparked the Irish offense, but he looked inconsistent down the stretch. Coan came back in to deliver the Irish to a comeback victory. So entering the Spring, Buchner’s biggest burden was displaying his passing acumen.
So far? Test passed, with flying colors. Buchner has impressed as a passer, playing calm football and delivering a lot of beautiful passes. His accuracy, velocity, and touch on passes all impressed throughout the Spring. For Irish fans that haven’t seen Buchner work this Spring, the Blue and Gold game could serve as a coming-out party of sorts for the rising sophomore – at least as a passer.
Who has the edge?
Right now, it has to be Buchner. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking this competition is over. Nor will the Blue and Gold Game decide anything. But Buchner has met every question about his passing ability with sound answers this Spring. Given his edge as a dual-threat, Buchner has stayed even or even slightly ahead of Pyne as a passer. However, Pyne remains the more experienced quarterback. This battle feels like Buchner’s to lose, but it’s felt that way for a while. Further, Pyne has been nothing if not gritty during his time in South Bend. He’ll continue to make a strong push for a starting gig.
Pyne and Buchner will get plenty of chances to air it out next Saturday. Can either show a definitive advantage with their arm? It’s a key battle to watch, both during the game and as the competition wears on through the summer.
Notre Dame quarterback depth: Don’t forget about…
Four-star Steve Angeli. The 2022 recruit is certainly not a player in the current battle for the starting spot. And likely, Angeli won’t be a true factor until 2024, potentially when Buchner and Pyne may both be gone. But here’s why Angeli is interesting to watch. Given the focus on the current top two signal-callers, and potential 2023 five-star commit Dante Moore, Angeli has flown under the radar. However, the Irish are operating with a lot of unknowns under center. Buchner and Pyne have zero career starts, combined. The Irish haven’t landed Moore’s commitment yet. Additionally, with Christopher Vizzina’s commitment to Clemson, Notre Dame is now operating without a real safety net in 2023 quarterback recruiting. If they don’t land Moore, the Irish could be in a sticky spot.
That makes Angeli’s development a critical storyline over the next year or two. He’s unlikely to see a lot of game action early in his career, but Angeli could turn into a critical piece of this quarterback room. So keep an eye on what the freshman does in whatever Spring game action he gets – it has some long-run importance for the Notre Dame quarterback room.