It was no surprise when Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan put his name in the transfer portal in the aftermath of the 2020 regular season. After a devastating leg injury in preseason, Coan had been surpassed in the depth chart by QB Graham Mertz, and it was only natural that he’d look elsewhere for playing time in 2021.
What is significantly more surprising is Coan’s destination. Many had speculated he’d end up at Rutgers or Northwestern, but Coan announced Monday that he’d be playing out his graduate transfer year at Notre Dame, a gut punch to the Badgers fans who have the upcoming Notre Dame/Wisconsin clash at Soldier Field circled on their calendars.
Coan, a three-star prospect in the class of 2017, first started in place of injured quarterback Alex Hornibook in 2018. Initially, he struggled, but found his footing down the stretch in wins against Purdue and Miami. That set the stage for a breakout campaign in 2019, where Coan would lead Wisconsin to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 2013.
Coan’s outstanding 2019 campaign went underappreciated by a significant portion of the Wisconsin fanbase, and looks even better after Graham Mertz struggled mightily in his redshirt freshman campaign. Coan completed 69.6% of his passes for 2,727 yards (8.0 yards-per-attempt), 18 touchdowns, and just five interceptions in 2019, leading the team to impressive victories over Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota among others.
Both the 69.6% completion marks and the 2,727 total passing yards ranked as the third-best single season totals in Badger history. Coan was most effective when the lights shone brightest, accounting for seven touchdowns and no turnovers against Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State in 2019.
Coan was penciled in as the starter for the 2020 campaign, but suffered a leg injury in the pre-season that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Many speculated that Graham Mertz, Coan’s replacement and a highly touted quarterback recruit in the class of 2019, gave Wisconsin’s offense a higher ceiling. Instead, we saw the depths of the offense’s floor, as the unit sputtered without Coan at the helm.
Still, with Mertz touted as the future of the program, Coan’s decision to transfer was an easy one. Notre Dame ended up being a natural fit, as they graduated starting QB Ian Book — though he is eligible to return — and are in need of a veteran signal caller that can help the Irish push towards a second consecutive college football playoff appearance. While Coan is the presumptive starter, he’ll have to compete with Brandon Clark, Drew Pyne and incoming freshman Tyler Buchner, a blue chip dual threat that committed to the Irish over Alabama.
If Coan does indeed win the job, Wisconsin’s already much anticipated game against Notre Dame at Soldier Field becomes must watch television. Coan will get the chance to prove to the Badger staff that they were wrong to prioritize Mertz at quarterback, while Mertz will have the opportunity to show he can elevate the offense to the point where Wisconsin can compete against helmet schools like Notre Dame.
Coan is already familiar with Notre Dame, having committed there to play lacrosse in high school before decommitting and setting his sights on football. It’s safe to say he made the right decision, as his name is being mentioned in NFL Draft circles as a potential late round selection. Dane Brugler, an NFL Draft analyst at The Athletic, reported that many scouts had draftable grades on Coan after his 2019 season.
Only time will tell if Coan’s decision to bet on himself and transfer to Notre Dame will pan out for him and the Irish. Regardless of his future success, however, Coan will go down as a great Badger and will be remembered for his special 2019 season.