Both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Miami Hurricanes aspire to be where the Clemson Tigers are right now — entering 2018 as a favorite to make the College Football Playoff for a fourth consecutive time.
Notre Dame made its own run at the College Football Playoff in 2018 before a blowout loss to Miami helped announce the Hurricanes’ presence as contenders. Then, Miami lost its final three games of the season and Notre Dame lost two of its final three regular-season matchups to find themselves far out of the CFP picture.
However, as all three teams angle toward national title contention next season, they find themselves in similar boats at quarterback. Each of the three programs will welcome back an incumbent starter who managed to stave off serious competition for the job through spring practices.
But fans are already restless and there are genuine challengers for the starting role at Notre Dame, Miami and Clemson. How they all continue to navigate those quarterback battles ultimately could define their season.
So let’s take a look at each respective situation.
What’s going on at quarterback for Notre Dame?
Brandon Wimbush couldn’t have been much more frustrating in 2017 as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. However, his athleticism aids the Notre Dame running game, and coach Brian Kelly is convinced that he’s made the necessary adjustments to be a more efficient passer in 2018.
Everything Kelly has said thus far indicates that Wimbush will start again this fall, but Ian Book showed in the Citrus Bowl that he could be a safe fallback option at the worst. There’s also freshman Phil Jurkovec, whom Kelly routinely has praised as being among the more high-profile quarterbacks he’s had during his time at Notre Dame.
Jurkovec would have to exceed expectations enormously to pose a serious threat this fall. He elected to stay in high school rather than enroll early like most blue-chip players at the position, but he could wow during the summer and training camp. If he does, it will make the fan base grow even more restless if Wimbush continues to struggle, particularly with a meeting with Michigan to open the season.
What’s going on at quarterback for Miami?
The major issue with Malik Rosier during his first season as the starter in Miami was a general unevenness. He’s more polished as a passer than Wimbush and not as dynamic of a runner, but in a lot of ways his struggles parallel those of his counterpart at Notre Dame.
Rosier completed only 54 percent of his passes and he was clearly fatigued down the stretch, with completion percentages under 49 percent in all three of the losses to close out the season. But Mark Richt feels that he’s done enough on the recruiting trail this offseason to further surround him with talented playmakers, and now the expectation is that he takes a major step forward.
Despite the excitement surrounding redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry and early enrollee Jarren Williams, Richt has been pretty clear that Rosier is on top of the depth chart. It will take a major shift in thinking to change that — unless, of course, he has issues starting with LSU in the opener.
What’s going on at quarterback for Clemson?
The primary difference between Clemson and these other two programs is that Kelly Bryant wasn’t nearly as troubled as a starter in 2017 as Wimbush or Rosier. The problem is that he followed Deshaun Watson and wasn’t nearly as spectacular as his predecessor — and then he struggled as he got pounded by the Alabama defense in a national semifinal.
However, Bryant might be in the most precarious spot of all, despite being listed atop the depth chart. That’s because of mega-recruit Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence was the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2018, and many have proclaimed him the best quarterback prospect in a decade. He enrolled early and has done little to disappoint the Clemson staff.
If Lawrence is as transcendent as everyone seems to think he is, Bryant will have to very quickly take the step toward superstardom to hold off Lawrence. Otherwise, he’ll have to hope that the team does well enough that the coaching staff doesn’t want to make any changes to upset the status quo.