Tyler Buchner knew where this quarterback thing was headed long ago — but why leave now?
That’s why days later, the decision of Tyler Buchner to parachute from the warm embrace of the Notre Dame football program and into the blast-furnace hot ring of fire that is Alabama makes such little sense.
It didn’t change when Buchner seemingly resuscitated his career with a most valuable player performance last December in the Gator Bowl.
It didn’t change when winter conditioning commenced and Buchner walked into the Irish Athletic Center one January morning to see another quarterback who was more talented, more seasoned, more experienced, more everything, getting loose.
It didn’t change as the two formed a friendship during workouts, each insisting that adding to the quarterback room would make them and everyone else better.
It didn’t change when the offensive coordinator, himself a former Irish quarterback and Notre Dame graduate, bailed for a bigger job in early February.
It didn’t change when Buchner had a good April practice while the media watched and wondered if this might get interesting. Pfft. Yeah, right.
It didn’t change during the April 22 Blue-Gold game when one quarterback struggled and the other soared. It didn’t matter if Buchner had walked down the stadium tunnel that day and into a whole lot of completions for a whole lot of yards and a whole lot of good feelings.
It didn’t matter. Any of it. All of it.
Noie:Is Tyler Buchner really OK with going from Irish starter to backup?
Sam Hartman, a sixth-year college player, a record setter, a guy with a plethora of big numbers and starts and wins and everything else, was going to be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame in 2023. He was the expected starter when word leaked in December that he was preparing to go portaling. He was the expected starter during January conditioning. He was the expected starter in March practices. He certainly would stay the expected starter through the summer and right into the opener Aug. 26 against Navy in Dublin.
Buchner’s a smart kid. He’s a bright kid. He’s a self-aware kid. He gets it. Did he not get what everyone else seemingly did? It didn’t matter what type of spring Buchner had or if Hartman struggled to grasp the intricacies of the Irish offense. You don’t put a guy with Hartman’s body of work on the bench for any reason other than serious injury. Ever.
Type the sentence into a word document 500 times...
Sam Hartman will start
Sam Hartman will start
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Buchner had to know that in January. Leave then. He had to see that in March. Leave then. Instead, he stayed and worked through spring thinking/believing and maybe hoping that he had a legitimate shot at a spot that he believed was his. He was the starter to open last season before a left shoulder injury in the second week sent him to the sideline for the next 10. He was the starter to close the season. It made sense. Sort of.
Then, Hartman arrived.
Then, Tuesday happened when Buchner bounced into the transfer portal.
Then, Thursday happened when Buchner, who has all of three career starts and a 1-2 record in those starts, believed that he’s good enough and talented enough and ready enough to play at … Alabama?
College football moves fast these days, and it moves light-speed fast in the Southeastern Conference. Better buckle up and keep up, Buch. This isn’t like Beggar’s Canyon back home.
Just don't look at that 2023 schedule
Did Buchner bother to do the math? Had he remained at Notre Dame, a place he insists he still and always will love, he’d have been no worse than No. 2. Maybe 1B. At Alabama, before he even locates the student union, he’s one of five quarterbacks as of this writing with a shot to start in 2023.
At Notre Dame, Buchner was one play away from starting. Against Ohio State. Against Clemson. Against USC. At Alabama, should he start, he’s one bad quarter away from running scout team in advance of the game against Chattanooga.
Is he good with that?
The odds that Buchner not only wins the job but keeps the job are long. Those are odds that Buchner, who struggled often against Ohio State, who struggled mightily against Marshall, believes he can beat. Like playing Blackjack and asking for another card at 17. Hit me.
What is in Buchner’s favor is the offensive coordinator down Alabama way just happens to be the same guy who recruited him to Notre Dame. The same guy who coached him up. The same guy who believed in him enough to lobby for him to be the starter last August.
He's also the same guy who bailed in February. Buchner has Tommy Rees in his corner, but that’s a small corner for a massive job. The minute Buchner struggles, Rees likely will look elsewhere. His job is to win games. Down there, it’s to win every game.
Think the defenses of Ohio State and Marshall baffled Buchner? Wait until guys from Texas and Texas A&M and Tennessee and LSU and in the Iron Bowl against Auburn are coming off the edge and dropping eight and appearing from unseen angles. If Buchner earns the starting job and solves all those quadradic equations, there’s this program called Georgia likely waiting in the SEC championship game.
Nothing that Buchner showed in South Bend showed that he’s ready for any of that. At Alabama, the quarterback must be the elite of the elite. National-championship elite. First-pick-in-the-NFL-draft elite.
Down there, Gator Bowl-elite probably gets you benched.
Sitting with the media in the spring for what turned out to be the final time at Notre Dame — with Hartman a table over and holding a larger audience — Buchner was asked what would make 2023 a success for him. It was inferred that we were talking about football, but Buchner took it in a different direction.
His immediate goal was to improve on the 3.5 grade-point average that he’d earned the previous fall. Uhhh...
How about football-wise, he was asked. What would make 2023 a success?
“As long as I see improvement from me; as long as I keep my head down, keep working, keep improving practice to practice,” he said. “That’s what will give me satisfaction that I’m working toward something.”
He sounded like someone who knew where this was headed. Someone who may have been OK with where this was headed. Having Hartman here in the spring made Buchner a better football player. Having Hartman here in the fall would’ve made Buchner an even better football player. He just had to wait, watch, work.
He wouldn’t like it, but come 2024, he’d be so much better for it.
Buchner couldn’t wait. He didn’t want to watch and work. The winks and the side eyes and the nods and maybe even a text or call or two to someone he knows from someone in the 205 area code was too tempting. Too convincing. Too intriguing.
Come play down here. Come play now. Hmmm.
Buchner’s decision was swift. In some respects, it was stunning.
In the end, it can’t be a surprise for someone who wants to do what he’s not been able to do for an entire season since 2019.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.