Can Jack Coan Be More Than Just a Bridge Quarterback for Notre Dame in 2021?
As the calendar moves into late February - another step closer to spring practice and the return of Notre Dame football - it's time for Irish fans to take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and come to terms with reality.
Here it is...ready?
Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan will be the starting quarterback for the University of Notre Dame this fall.
Fans may not like the idea, but this will be the eventual decision of head coach Brian Kelly, barring something completely unforeseen between now and September. Coan, who only has one year of eligibility remaining, would not have elected to transfer to Notre Dame unless he had a pretty good chance of winning the starting quarterback job. Incoming four-star freshman Tyler Buchner is the future at the position, but there is no need to rush him along with a proven veteran now in the fold.
This is Coan's show this fall, regardless of the pomp and circumstance surrounding an open competition at quarterback this spring and throughout camp later this summer.
And you know what? I'm starting to talk myself into it.
But first, let's talk about who Coan is replacing.
Ian Book, a former three-star high school prospect from El Dorado Hills, California, went from a nice story in the 2018 Citrus Bowl to the winningest quarterback in school history.
Book was much-maligned, often doubted, but frequently clutch. A game manager as a junior, turned playmaker as a fifth-year senior.
His 17 rushing touchdowns are tied with Rick Mirer for third all-time by a Notre Dame quarterback, and Book finished second in school history in career completions with 701, trailing only Brady Quinn (929). He led the Irish to two College Football Playoff appearances in three years as a starter, and despite never leading Notre Dame to a national championship, Book should, and will, be considered one of the best quarterbacks to ever wear blue and gold.
So I get it - it's easy to not become too excited over fifth-year senior transfer quarterback Jack Coan, whose perception as a game manager gives off vibes of early-career Ian Book.
But why can't he be more than that for Notre Dame? In fact, Coan should be more than that.
In two seasons as the starting quarterback at Wisconsin, Coan completed 68% of his passes for 3,278 yards and 23 touchdowns to eight interceptions. In 2019, his second full season as the starter, he really came into his own, completing 69.6% of his passes for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns to five interceptions. His emergence as more of a downfield threat in the passing game was a welcomed step forward from his sophomore season, where the offense relied heavily on All-American running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor was still the focal point of the Badgers' offense in 2019, but Coan's presence in the passing game provided needed balance on that side of the football.
2020 was supposed to be the year where Coan put questions about his impact (or lack thereof) to bed. But once he suffered an offseason foot injury last summer, the Badgers turned to blue-chip freshman quarterback Graham Mertz, the heir apparent at the position, and that was that.
Now Coan heads to South Bend with a chip on his shoulder and doubters aplenty. Coan will learn quickly (if he hasn't already) that the Notre Dame fanbase can be as brutal as they are passionate. They can hate you today and love you tomorrow.
All that matters in South Bend is winning, and that's what Coan will have to do to endear himself to the Notre Dame community on Saturday afternoons this fall.
Luckily for Coan, there is plenty of talent returning for the Irish on offense to get excited about.
Jonathan Taylor isn't in this Notre Dame backfield, but the three-headed monster of Kyren "Franchise" Williams, Chris Tyree, and C'Bo Flemister provides one of the deepest running back rooms in college football.
Tight end Tommy Tremble declared for the NFL Draft, but rising sophomore Michael Mayer appears primed for a larger role in 2021 - something that Notre Dame fans should be excited about after he showed flashes of dominance last fall.
At receiver, Ben Skowronek (graduation) and Jafar Armstrong (transfer) depart, but Avery Davis and Lawrence Keys III return, along with Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin Jr., as the latter duo hopes for a much healthier 2021 campaign in order to fully realize their potential.
Finally, the Notre Dame offensive line, which seems to create more professionals than the university diploma, will be strong once again in 2021. Liam Eichenberg departs for the NFL, where he will likely be a first or second round pick, but outside of his departure, the Irish return four starters up front and a host of young depth players in the trenches, which should bode well for keeping Coan upright and healthy this fall.
This is the perfect situation for Jack Coan. He will not only have the opportunity to meet expectations, but the pieces are in place for him to exceed them.
Will Coan be a bridge quarterback or a bona fide stud?
Regardless, Notre Dame's ceiling this fall hinges on it.