Phil Jurkovec’s transfer from Notre Dame is not a sign of the Irish; it is a sign of the times. It is not a reflection of his progress or lack thereof; it is a reflection of Ian Book’s steadying development. It is not an exception or an abnormality; it is the modern reality.
Jurkovec arrived at Notre Dame a heralded quarterback, not the most so in some extraordinary amount of time, but one nonetheless expected to carry a revived Irish program to its next level by the end of his career. Head coach Brian Kelly stoked those fires when he described Jurkovec as “the best quarterback in the country” in a moment of National Signing Day hyperbole.
“He’s somebody that I could put up against any quarterback that I’ve ever seen,” Kelly said in December of 2017.
That was never more than a Signing Day tagline, one so exuberant recruiting coordinator Brian Polian tried to tamper its hype within minutes.
“Obviously we feel these young men can come in and compete at a high level, but sometimes it takes time,” Polian said. “We need to allow for that learning curve and that process before we start anointing guys as saviors.
“What often happens … the star system, ‘Why isn’t this guy playing sooner? Look at all the offers he had.’ Often one doesn’t have anything to do with the other.”
Polian did not explicitly mention Jurkovec in that thought, but he might as well have. He might as well have applied it to all high-profile quarterback recruits, Notre Dame’s or otherwise.
In Irish parlance, Wednesday reports of Jurkovec’s transfer fall into the pattern of Dayne Crist, Gunner Kiel and Brandon Wimbush, the three highest-rated quarterback recruits of the Kelly Era; in the footsteps of Andrew Hendrix and even the recruiting de-commitment of Blake Barnett, career backups who sought starting work elsewhere; behind Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, similar dual-threats who never turned their understandings of their talent into corresponding realities.
Jurkovec’s transfer is not a replica of any of those. Maybe it arose from the lack of coming opportunity with Book back for 2020, perhaps it stemmed from stagnated development under the previous offensive coordinator, or possibly it began with some other frustration that will never truly become common knowledge. Whatever the case, the many plausible reasons fit in line with the frequency of such transactions.
These moves occur so frequently that on the national landscape, Jurkovec’s departure hardly warrants a raised eyebrow. Even though he turned down another season of backing up Book — a season that would not have cut into his two years of eligibility elsewhere presuming a springtime graduation — Jurkovec’s pending transfer is par for the course on the broad scale.
Consider the 2018 recruiting class, one in which Jurkovec ranked No. 87 overall, per rivals.com, with 11 quarterbacks among the top 100. The top recruit was someone by the name of Trevor Lawrence, and if you aren’t already familiar with him, consider tuning into the national championship Monday night. The No. 2 recruit was Justin Fields, who Lawrence beat in the Playoff semifinals, but only after Fields transferred to Ohio State from Georgia.
Fields’ move fits in line with Jurkovec’s, and two more among those 11 …
1) Lawrence, a national champion with an imminent chance at another in just two seasons.
2) Fields, now an entrenched starter, but because of a transfer already.
4) JT Daniels, who reclassified to get a headstart at USC, but now coming off a torn ACL and the Trojans’ backup behind Kedon Slovis.
48) Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a two-year starter at UCLA, though a turnover-prone one with 19 this season.
62) Joey Gatewood, originally an Auburn signee, but since transferred to Kentucky.
63) Matt Corral, played 10 games at Ole Miss this season, going from clear starter to the lesser half of a timeshare with 2019 three-star recruit John Rhys Plumlee.
74) Justin Rogers, originally a TCU signee before a high school knee injury and the emergence of Max Duggan sent him into the transfer portal.
78) Tanner McKee, a Stanford signee yet to return from a two-year LDS mission in Brazil.
89) Emory Jones, saw playing time at Florida this season in a sub-package behind Kyle Trask.
98) Adrian Martinez, a two-year starter at Nebraska, another turnover-prone with nine interceptions in 10 games this season.
That’s four transfers in two years, compared to only two winning quarterbacks, one of whom needed to transfer to get that chance. Add in two starters on teams who took steps backward in 2019, two knee injuries and one two-year mission and you get the top-tier of 2018’s quarterbacks.
Only one of those 11, Jones, is on what would generally be considered a typical, linear path. Three were day one-to-current starters, with two providing far from ideal results.
Frankly, if not for a generational talent, the class would be on pace to be remembered as a dud. Lawrence’s talent is so extreme, though, that it will make up for Daniels’ and Rogers’ knees, for Thompson-Robinson’s and Martinez’s turnovers, for the done, happening and yet-to-come transfers.
The Trevor Lawrences are the rarity, not the transfers. Those should be the expectation at this point, at Notre Dame and nationally.