Tyler Buchner opened and closed as Notre Dame's 2022 starting QB, but soon may be a backup

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner started last season's final game against South Carolina. He might not start this season's first game against Navy now that veteran Sam Hartman is on campus.

SOUTH BEND — Where the 2023 college football season goes for Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner nobody knows, but he already knows he’s not going there. 

Last we saw of Buchner in a game, he was throwing for 273 yards and three touchdowns and running for two more in a 45-38 late-December victory over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. He shook off having thrown two pick-sixes to showcase the myriad skills that made him a four-star recruit coming out of The Bishop’s School in San Diego. 

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Buchner proved something to everyone that afternoon in Jacksonville. He may have also proven something to himself. The reward? 

A possible demotion. 

If Notre Dame opened the regular season next week or next month, there’s a good chance that Buchner won’t be where he left off last season — the starting quarterback. That job is expected to be earned by former Wake Forest standout Sam Hartman, who decided that for all he’s done at the collegiate level over five seasons — 12,967 career passing yards, 110 career touchdowns — there's more to do in a sixth. 

He’ll do it at Notre Dame and likely at Buchner’s expense. If all goes according to script this season — when’s the last time that happened? — Buchner would be relegated to more watcher than worker. 

That has to be weird, doesn’t it? A guy who was the starter to start 2022, a guy who missed 10 games after suffering a cracked collarbone in Week Two, a guy who worked his way back way ahead of his recovery timetable to start and win a bowl game, now stands second in line. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) talks with head coach Marcus Freeman after the game of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl of an NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 30, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish held off the South Carolina Gamecocks 45-38.

Weird, right? Not to Buchner, who won't acknowledge that even a hint of a quarterback controversy exists.

“Think about it in my shoes. If he comes in, why would I not become friends with him, be a great teammate, support him in every way I can?” Buchner said of Hartman. “That would make things, life, better for the both of us.” 

It beats eight months of everyday misery. 

“I could choose to be like, hey, totally block out the guy and no, I’m the guy, whatever,’” Buchner said. “We spend probably six hours a day with each other. That would be miserable. Just think about that.” 

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Buchner won’t. He can’t. From his perspective, nothing about his standing has changed. There’s still another quarterback pushing him every period on the practice field, one who also wears No. 10 and has a five-o'clock shadow by noon. Only this time, this season, that guy in that jersey is Hartman and not Drew Pyne, who fled to Arizona State after he learned that head coach Marcus Freeman planned to add a veteran quarterback in the offseason. 

The move to bring aboard Hartman might’ve been a stunner to everyone outside the Gug. Buchner insists he was unmoved. Another quarterback on campus? OK, cool. Let's go.

Notre Dame quarterbacks Tyler Buchner (12), Sam Hartman (10), Steve Angeli (18) during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

“Freeman’s been preaching ever since he got here − it’s about competition,” Buchner said. “Competition breeds success, so you’re going to bring in the best guys possible and give this team the best chance to win as many games as possible. 

“Sam’s been an unbelievable addition to the room.” 

Everything has changed since 2022 ended

That addition of Hartman likely means the subtraction of meaningful snaps for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Buchner. You don’t bring in someone with Hartman’s pedigree and not start him. You don’t relegate Buchner to a gimmick package of plays. One’s going to play a lot, the other, maybe not at all. 

Somewhere down the offseason road — probably early in August camp — Freeman will step to the front of the interview room inside Notre Dame Stadium and announce that when it starts for real Aug. 26 in Dublin, Ireland against Navy, Hartman is the starter. 

Even in spring, it already feels it’s Hartman’s job. When Buchner met the media after a recent practice, he settled into his high-top seat at a long table inside the Irish Athletic Center for a 10-minute session. He was conversational. He was candid. It was the same spot where Buchner sat four days before starting last season’s opener at Ohio State. Only then, media stood two and three deep to hear him speak. 

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On this late-March morning, three reporters flanked Buchner. The rest gathered around a smaller table nearby for Hartman. From where Buchner sat, he had a clear view of Hartman and his media gaggle. But there was no side eye. No animosity. No bad body language. No anything. Except respect. 

“I know there’s a stigma around quarterback competitions — oh, like, they hate each other,” Buchner said. “That’s not fun for anyone. You spend so much time with the other quarterback. We’ve done a really good job of spending time with one another, enjoying it.” 

Still, it has to sting for someone who was the guy five months ago but won’t be the guy five months from now. If that’s indeed the case, Buchner was asked, what would make 2023 a success? From a team standpoint, the answer’s easy — winning double-digit games again and challenging for one of the four College Football Playoff spots. 

How about from an individual standpoint? 

“Hopefully get a better (grade-point average) in school,” joked Buchner, who earned a 3.5 in the fall semester. “Hopefully I do better in school, have success on the football field, do better and continue every day in practice.” 

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner warms up prior to the 78th TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., Friday, Dec. 30.

Buchner was asked to clarify. What does that mean? Nothing about snap counts or starts or stats. He answered like someone who understands where this is all headed. 

“As long as I see improvement from me,” he said. “As long as I keep my head down, keep working, keep improving practice to practice, that’s what will give me satisfaction that I’m working toward something.” 

That something is the starting role. While Hartman knows this season is the last of his college career, Buchner’s has barely gotten off the ground. That left shoulder injury allowed him to retain a year of eligibility. He has three remaining. He might not start in 2023, but suck it up and stick it out and 2024 and 2025 likely take him back to the role that was his to open 2022. 

Buchner feels he’s better than that guy who started last season. He feels he’s better than that guy who closed last season. He doesn't dwell much on miscues. Throw a pick in practice last year and he might go in the tank for hours. For days. He now sees the bigger picture. He gets it. Hartman’s addition has helped with that. Freeman’s plan — to date — has worked. 

“His whole thing is he wants competition to make you better,” Buchner said. “I think that’s happened. I think I’ve improved over the spring. It will just continue to go that way.” 

As will the Buchner-Hartman dynamic. When it’s time to pair off and throw in practice, it’s Buchner throwing to Hartman and Hartman throwing to Buchner. When it’s time to lead a seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 drill, Hartman gets the first snap. Sometimes, it’s Buchner. He may not be the starter in name when August arrives, but that doesn’t mean he won’t stop working like one. 

“He’s been great,” said first-year quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli. “He’s a lot more confident player. He's playing fast. He’s playing decisive.” 

In other words, he’s playing like a starter. 

Everything about the quarterback position in the program has changed since Buchner turned TIAA Bank Field into his personal playground. There’s a new quarterbacks coach, a new offensive coordinator, two new faces in the quarterback room, a new season, a new dynamic. Change is constant in college athletics today, and that’s no exception this spring at Notre Dame. 

How does Buchner handle change? 

“I think, uh, that’s pretty … give me a second,” he said. “I don’t really know. I sort of take what happens and roll with the flow, roll with the punches. 

“Change can be good. You just kind of adapt, adjust and keep going.” 

Wherever it leads. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.