The winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history spent his first three season openers on the sideline.
Upon arriving in South Bend, Ian Book was a fourth-stringer who didn’t see a snap, redshirting his first season. The California native was a backup, who threw as many touchdowns (four) as interceptions in limited action in 2017. It wasn’t until Brian Kelly had experienced enough of Brandon Wimbush’s low ceiling the next year that he rolled the dice on Book’s intriguing potential.
“We think he’s a good quarterback,” Kelly said of Book, when he named him the starter before the fourth game in 2018. “We recruited him to Notre Dame to win championships.”
Because of Book, No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) has that opportunity again, playing in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.
In his final season, Book finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting. He improved to 30-4 as the team’s starter. He climbed to second all-time in Notre Dame history in passing yards, touchdown passes and rushing yards by a quarterback.
He threw 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. He added another eight scores on the ground. He led the last-minute, game-tying drive in Notre Dame’s double-overtime upset of Clemson, earning attention-grabbing praise from the coach who has watched the country’s most talented quarterback for three straight years.
“I hate to compare him to Joe Montana, but Joe Montana played at Notre Dame, and he just has a little bit of magic to him,” Dabo Swinney said of Book. “He’s the heart and soul. He makes them go.”
But because of Book, Notre Dame is still chasing its first national championship since 1988. Like Kelly, the quarterback has largely shrunk in the team’s biggest games.
The team’s only loss this season came in the ACC Championship against Clemson, the only game Book failed to produce a touchdown this season or positive rushing yards. Notre Dame’s two losses last season came against their two toughest opponents (Georgia, Michigan), with Book producing two of the worst performances of his career.
Most memorably, Book completed just 50 percent of his passes in the 30-3 playoff loss to Clemson in 2018, while throwing for 160 yards, no touchdowns and one interception
“Just fortunate to be able to be in the playoffs twice in my career is unbelievable,” Book said Monday. “We’ve got to go finish it, though. We were able to make it there in ’18 and get close, but we didn’t finish the deal. We get another opportunity now with a lot of guys on the team who played in that game who are now older, more mature, better leaders, better football players. And now we get that chance.
“We want to finish it the right way. We had a bad taste in our mouth since that ’18 game for a lot of the guys that played in it.”
Another painful exit is expected. Top-ranked Alabama (11-0) is favored by 20 points, featuring the nation’s top offense.
Book is capable of besting the Crimson Tide’s 76th-ranked pass defense, but his greatest responsibility may be guiding clock-killing drives to limit the number of times Mac Jones, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith possess the ball.
“Certainly we’re cognizant of the fact that this is an electric offense and scores bushels and bushels of points, and we want to … keep Alabama’s offense off the field,” Kelly said. “We can’t be three-and-out.”
Book doesn’t envision any drive ending that way. He only sees his time at Notre Dame ending one way.
“We believe we can win. We believe that we can win a national championship this year,” Book said. “That’s where it matters and that’s where it starts. It’s just an unbelievable opportunity for this team.”
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