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Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s Quarterbacks

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As soon as Ian Book announced he would return for a fifth year, his third season as a starter, in 2020, the most dramatic possibility of Notre Dame’s spring entirely dissipated. It did so to such a degree, it led to Phil Jurkovec’s transfer to Boston College.

The Irish have their starting quarterback, the driving force of the offense in coordinator Tommy Rees’ first season calling plays, and as much as the springtime instinct may be to dissect each of Book’s deep balls to speedy receivers, time will be better spent watching his understudy, albeit not too closely. That mistake should have been learned last year.

Spring roster:
— Fifth-year Ian Book
— Rising sophomore Brendon Clark
— Early-enrolled freshman Drew Pyne

RELATED READING: Notre Dame gets the letter — Drew Pyne, consensus four-star QB

Summer arrivals:
With Pyne already around, the summer will not bring another passer to the depth chart. Given Clark has already preserved a year of eligibility, expect him to be the No. 2 quarterback by default, a position that would only come into doubt if Book was out for the long-term and Pyne quickly establishes himself as more of a playmaker than Clark.

Depth Chart Possibilities:
There was never a quarterback competition in 2019, not at any time in the calendar year. Not in the spring. Not in the preseason. Not in the second half at Michigan.

Expect all of that to be true again in 2020, with the exception of the Michigan distinction. (Cue Clemson quip here.)

That aside, Clark has done nothing but impress in practice since arriving at Notre Dame and there is no reason for that not to continue in 2020. Most notably, Clark has an arm to match Braden Lenzy’s and Lawrence Key’s speed. Not inherently because of a connection with them — they were not on the scout team — but that arm strength was part of what won Clark the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors. If he can combine that with a thorough understanding of Rees’ playbook, then Clark should be well-positioned to succeed Book, even as star recruit Tyler Buchner arrives in 2021.

That is not to overlook Pyne. The reality, though, is the four allowed appearances without burning a year of eligibility create a default expectation for a freshman when the Irish know whom their starter is. As long as Book is healthy, Clark can handle the crux of mop-up duties, and if a spot start is needed, two scenarios would emerge: Either Clark is the better of the two, or they are at least even, and Clark will shoulder the challenge of the start — or Pyne is outright ahead of Clark and the week or two of action could be within his four token games.

2019 statistically speaking:
Book: 3,034 yards and 34 touchdowns with a 60.2 completion percentage and six interceptions; 546 rushing yards with four more touchdowns.
Jurkovec: 222 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-16 passing; 130 rushing yards.
Clark: One pass, one completion, one touchdown of 22 yards; 33 rushing yards on five carries.

2019 departures:
Jurkovec’s time with the Irish will forever be most remembered for his abysmal showing in last year’s Blue-Gold Game. He will, however, have his chance to change the tenor of those memories from a wondering of, “What went wrong?” to “What went wrong at Notre Dame?” He has an increasing chance of playing right away at Boston College as the NCAA embraces the conversation regarding transfer eligibility rules.

RELATED READING: Jurkovec transfer a 2020 reality, not a surprise

Either way, Jurkovec figures to be at the helm of the Eagles’ offense in 2022 when they visit South Bend. Gauging how he fares then will be the prudent perspective on Jurkovec’s career, though this season he will have the luxury of Boston College returning its three leading receivers now that Kobay White has removed himself from the transfer portal.

If Jurkovec pans out as the star player long expected, it should still be noted Book’s return would have kept Jurkovec on the bench at Notre Dame this season no matter what, particularly since Book gives the Irish the best chance at returning to the Playoffs in 2020.

As always, questions are welcomed at insidetheirish@gmail.com.