Brandon Wimbush is expected to lead the Notre Dame offense again in 2018, and the coaching staff seems confident that he’s made the necessary strides mechanically to be significantly more accurate this fall.
After his struggles in 2017, the assumption is that a more efficient passing attack will unlock College Football Playoff potential for the Irish. However, what if it doesn’t work?
Starting Wimbush is the right decision for Notre Dame, but the success of the move is far from guaranteed. So if Wimbush struggles as he did in 2017, what should be the next step?
The easy choice would be to default to backup Ian Book. He led the Irish well in relief of Wimbush against LSU in the Citrus Bowl, and that ultimately sparked the quarterback controversy we saw play out this spring.
Book is a more accurate passer and he can make plays with his feet, but he’s nowhere near as dynamic as Wimbush. He’s more of a high-floor, low-ceiling option than anything.
In a pinch, that might be enough to help steward Notre Dame to another 9 or 10 wins. That would be extremely tempting for coach Brian Kelly because anything less could result in the end of his nine-year tenure at Notre Dame.
However, the option that would advance the Irish toward a national championship — and that’s every Notre Dame fan’s desire — would be freshman Phil Jurkovec, a 4-star signee from Gibsonia, Pa.
Jurkovec isn’t on campus yet, and he’s got a lot of ground to cover before he’s ready for the responsibilities of starting at Notre Dame. There’s also the possibility that he’s not as far along at quarterback as most expect him to be, given his blue-chip recruit status.
But allow yourself to assume that his natural abilities are as advertised and Jurkovec should be the quarterback who follows Wimbush, whether his time comes to an end unceremoniously or not. Because even if Book is the quarterback who wins more games in 2018, getting Jurkovec experience has significantly more long-term value than another second-tier bowl berth.
Along with Jurkovec, Notre Dame welcomes three 4-star wide receivers in the Class of 2018 and getting them onto the field to develop a rapport with their fellow freshman would be of value. The problem is, you can’t be sure that we can trust Kelly to make the right decision.
His job could rely on winning a certain number of games this fall, meaning there might be a difference between what’s best for Kelly and what’s best for Notre Dame.
Like him or not, his arrogance is part of the brand, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where he’s willing to sacrifice himself. And that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s willing to torpedo Notre Dame in the process. Rather, he simply thinks that he is what’s best for Notre Dame so he might confuse selfishness with selflessness.
Then again, there is also the possibility that Kelly realizes that Jurkovec can buy him time.
If Notre Dame goes back and forth between Wimbush and Book with a stagnant offense that can only manage seven or eight wins, Kelly likely will lose his job. However, six or seven wins with Jurkovec as the quarterback and some signs of offensive progress late might convince the administration that continuity is in their best interest.
Regardless, in the event that Wimbush struggles, it’s Jurkovec who needs to get the call. It’s hard to imagine that the Irish can end their 30-year championship drought without finding their next great quarterback.
If that’s not Wimbush, they need to get started on finding out if it’s Jurkovec instead.