When Notre Dame landed Jack Coan as a graduate transfer from Wisconsin in January, it was presumed then he would become the Irish starting quarterback in 2021. On Saturday, head coach Brian Kelly finally made that official after one week of preseason practices.
“All three quarterbacks distinguished themselves in the spring and preseason camp,” Kelly said in a statement. “Clearly, each has the skills necessary to lead, but Jack Coan proved to be more consistent and therefore, going into our opener, gives us that best chance for success.”
The graduate part of Coan’s transfer became superfluous when the NCAA allowed each player one transfer without penalty beginning this past spring, but Coan still needed to beat out sophomore Drew Pyne and early-enrolled freshman Tyler Buchner to earn the starting gig at Florida State in three weeks. Junior Brendon Clark was never part of the competition thanks to a nagging knee injury that continues to limit him this preseason.
“When you look at the entire group, we feel like we have three guys that can help us win football games right now,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said. “At the end of the day, we’re looking for consistency. … That consistency from Jack gave him the nod here to go ahead and start.”
The one thing Coan always had that Pyne and Buchner could not match no matter what they tried is experience. Pyne may have been in the Notre Dame system for an additional year and Buchner may be the most dynamic of the bunch, but Coan has nearly as many career starts (18) as the other two have combined collegiate snaps (23, all Pyne’s obviously).
“We took him because he had battle-tested experience in the Big Ten in a very good program,” Kelly said a week ago after one preseason practice. “… He still had to earn it, and he’s earning it, but this won’t be a long, drawn-out camp. We’ll make a decision after the first scrimmage as to who the starter is.”
That scrimmage was expected to be Thursday, but as the week progressed, Kelly bumped it to the weekend.
Coan led Wisconsin to a 10-4 record in 2019, reaching the Rose Bowl, and completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns with only five interceptions.
Though statistically Coan is very similar to Ian Book — and the fact that Notre Dame will now have a Rose Bowl quarterback start four straight seasons should at least be mentioned — Coan differs from Book in a way Kelly was not expecting.
“Some of the things that surprised me this spring was his arm strength,” Kelly said Thursday. “He’s much more athletic than people give him credit for.”
That arm strength will be a crucial part of any Irish success in 2021, with continued reports that the senior receivers, namely Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy, are finally having a preseason worth praising and one that suggests a consistent fall.
This will be Coan’s final season of eligibility, while both Pyne and Buchner have four years remaining ahead of them.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 14, 2021