Former Duke Blue Devils quarterback Riley Leonard officially announced that he will transfer to Notre Dame for the 2024 college football season on Tuesday. The Fighting Irish are losing current starting quarterback Sam Hartman to the NFL Draft. Hartman, like Leonard, came to Notre Dame from a smaller-market ACC program. Despite mixed results from Hartman this season, the Irish are going to give this strategy another shot.
Riley Leonard in 2023
Leonard and the Blue Devils started the 2023 season with a bang, defeating Clemson and then winning their next three games to reach 4-0. Their first loss came against none other than Notre Dame, and their season came to a grinding halt as Leonard injured his ankle in the final seconds of the loss.
The Blue Devils never quite looked the same afterwards, and Leonard was in and out with injury issues for the remainder of the season. Duke qualified for a bowl game after finishing 7-5, but head coach Mike Elko accepted the opening at Texas A&M, and Leonard is now headed to South Bend for his final remaining year of eligibility.
Notre Dame in 2024
The 2024 season will begin with Leonard facing his former coach as the Irish travel to College Station to take on the Aggies. This matchup will serve as a litmus test for the Irish’s transfer experiment. Marcus Freeman, who will be in his third year as Notre Dame head coach, will need to start strong to make a case for the Irish to land in the 12-team College Football Playoff — and potentially, for him to keep his job.
Notre Dame has multiple young quarterbacks on the roster, including three-star recruit Steve Angeli and four-star recruit Kenny Minchey. Are the Irish sending a message to recruits that they are set on poaching experienced ACC quarterbacks as their starters for the time being?
ND’s Revolving Quarterback Problem
Leonard is an interesting choice for the Irish after Hartman’s season, which started strong but began to fall apart at the seams as the season went on. In the first six games, Hartman threw for 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. In the next six games, he passed for 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Hartman threw for just 126 yards in Notre Dame’s signature win of the season over USC. The defense and running backs did the rest.
If the Irish want to make the 12-team playoff and avoid yet another 9-3 season under Freeman, Leonard can’t be the same player as Hartman. Leonard needs to be better. We certainly didn’t get to see him live up to his full potential as he dealt with injury issues this season, but let’s take a look at the stats. Leonard finished the season with three passing touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns, and three interceptions over seven games. He added 80 or more rushing yards in three games, and surpassed 200 passing yards in just two games.
The Irish can rely on a deep running-back room, even after losing star RB Audric Estime to the NFL Draft. They have already lost multiple wide receivers to the transfer portal this offseason.
For this to succeed, the Irish need to view Leonard as more of a raw player than an experienced one. They can rely on his leadership, but his development to become a quarterback that wins against Texas A&M, USC, and Florida State is far from finished. Notre Dame fans are clamoring for a playoff spot, which means that this can’t be a repeat of the serviceable-but-underperforming Hartman year.