2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 45 of 163

44 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW QUARTERBACKS I f Ian Book remains relatively healthy in 2020 — as does college football in gen- eral — chances are he will finish no worse than No. 2 at Notre Dame in every major career passing (and rushing) category for quarterbacks. Only Brady Quinn (2003-06) might eclipse Book in most such data in the record books. In head coach Brian Kelly's 10 seasons at Notre Dame, there have been better NFL prospects at quarterback (DeShone Kizer), those with stronger arms (Everett Golson and Malik Zaire), more dangerous runners (Bran- don Wimbush) and even those who started as a freshman (current quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees), whereas Book redshirted. Yet no signal-caller under Kelly has been more accomplished and as consistent a dual- threat over a longer stretch of time than Book. He came off the bench to rally the Fighting Irish to a dramatic 21-17 win versus LSU in the Citrus Bowl to conclude the 2017 cam- paign, took over as the starter by the fourth game to help steer Notre Dame into the four- team 2018 College Football Playoff, and last year became the program's first signal-caller to account for more than 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in one season. Detractors will say it's about "stats piling" during blowouts of inferior foes, while sup- porters laud him for maximizing his skills. "He's got a ton of credibility and a lot of respect from his peers," Kelly said of Book, who was the first captain at his position in the Kelly era. What does he do for an encore as a fifth- year senior in 2020? Just like his head coach and the overall pro- gram, it's about taking that extremely difficult final step to that top tier. Kelly has been cel- ebrated as a top-10 coach, Book is one of the nation's most experienced signal-callers return- ing, and Notre Dame overall has become a top- 10 operation the past three years collectively. What is lacking is a program-defining win over a bona fide national title contender — a la Clemson Nov. 7 — that grabs the nation's attention of Notre Dame arriving back to tier-one status. Even in each of the last three years, collapses such as 41-8 at Miami in 2017, 30-3 versus Clemson in the 2018 CFP and 45-14 at Michigan last year overshad- owed otherwise quality seasons. A competitive 23-17 loss at No. 3 Georgia last year continued the status quo trend of "good, but not quite good enough" the Irish have had for the better part of the last quarter century. For Book and Co., taking that next step will have to occur with an unproven running back and wide receiver corps. Finally getting into that tier-one level in 2020 is what easily would be the best chapter of what already has been a pretty good Book. ✦ With a full complement of games this fall, Book has a chance to finish no worse than No. 2 in every major career passing category for the Fighting Irish. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA BEYOND THE RECORD BOOK(S) Third-year starter Ian Book provides a crucial boost to the Fighting Irish attack

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