Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 AUGUST 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F or full disclosure, sometime in late October of last year — shortly after Notre Dame was dismantled 45‑14 against Michigan — I contrived a foolish theory that the Irish would be better off in 2020 if quarterback Ian Book moved on and played his fifth and final season elsewhere. The foundation to that theory was that Book was incapable of winning "the big one," and as a two‑year starter, he had already maxed out as a college player and there wasn't much room left for improvement. "The time has come to turn the page on Book," I wrote. Missing from my convoluted cal‑ culation was any consideration that four months later a COVID‑19 pan‑ demic would completely reshape the landscape of life and college football, lifting Book's return for a fifth year as the most important and pleasant development of this offseason, and possibly of the 11‑year era of head coach Brian Kelly. What a luxury it is for Notre Dame to have a third‑year starter under center after almost the entire offsea‑ son was either canceled or disrupted because of COVID‑19. With no organized team workouts between early March and the middle of June, developing a first‑year start‑ ing quarterback under COVID‑19 constraints would have brought a difficult set of challenges to a posi‑ tion that requires savvy and skill well beyond simply throwing a football. Couple Book's veteran presence with five returning starters along the offensive line — all of whom are le‑ gitimate NFL prospects — and the Notre Dame offense can immediately build from where it left off after last season, a marked advantage com‑ pared to many other college pro‑ grams scrambling this summer to fill some or all of these critical positions on a tightened camp schedule. With a 20‑3 record as a starter, Book returns needing 10 wins to break the Notre Dame career record of 29 vic‑ tories shared by previous Irish signal‑ callers Tom Clements (29‑5), Ron Pow‑ lus (29‑16‑1) and Brady Quinn (29‑17). And well beyond win counts, the importance of Book's familiarity with the team and system is magnified this fall following the cancellation of spring football, especially while the Irish practice under a constricted pre‑ season timeline with the interference of strict but necessary distancing poli‑ cies for players during training camp. Notre Dame's first‑year offensive coordinator and fourth‑year quarter‑ backs coach Tommy Rees explained that the benefit of having Book return for a fifth season while playing be‑ hind an offensive line whose members have 114 career starts, the most ever at Notre Dame, can't be overstated. "There are so many unknowns here," Rees said when asked about having veteran players to work with at these critical positions through a disjointed preseason, "I would like to think habits and traits instilled in our guys give us an advantage." Up front, this is the first time in 15 years that Notre Dame returns all five starters along the offensive line — an accomplished unit that allowed only 80 sack yards last season (the fewest in the country) and surren‑ dered just one sack on a third‑down pass over the final nine games. Plenty of questions that went un‑ answered during the lost spring and summer months remain for Brian Kelly and Co. to answer. But the Irish head coach could still breathe easier during this strange off‑ season knowing that Book and his returning offensive linemen will re‑ port to training camp Aug. 7, having logged 137 career starts among them. "We have to trust that we have good leadership, which we do with our play‑ ers," Kelly said. "It's encouraging." If the schedule holds up and the 2020 season starts on time, the Irish will open play either Sept. 5 or 6 at Navy, riding a six‑game winning streak. "I know our players, particularly those who are in their last season, are certainly anxious and want this to be the best season they've ever had at Notre Dame," Kelly added. "They want it to be a championship season." And given the experience advan‑ tage that Kelly holds at quarterback and along his offensive line, there is every reason to believe this team will make a legitimate run at a champion‑ ship — this assessment coming from the same guy who once tried to run one of the best quarterbacks in pro‑ gram history out the door. ✦ Veteran QB And Offensive Line Put Irish On Title Track UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at The fact Notre Dame has a third-year starter at quarterback in Ian Book and an offensive line that boasts 114 career starts is big advantage for the Irish after an offseason that was severely hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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