Notre Dame Football: Comparing Brandon Wimbush to Tony Rice


Tony Rice is a Notre Dame football legend. Brandon Wimbush seems to be a lightning rod in certain circles of fans. Let’s compare the two.

Notre Dame football has had a lot of legendary players throughout its history. Some were Heisman Trophy winners. Some went on to legendary professional careers. Others hold a special place in the hearts and minds of fans simply by being the face of a championship team.

Former Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice falls into that last category.

Rice was the man uncer center during the 1988 National Championship season — the last time the Irish were the Kings of College Football. He finished 4th in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1989 season and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award — given to the nation’s top senior or 4th-year quarterback.

Suffice to say, Rice had an impressive career. That said, how long has it been since you looked at his stats?

I did that just recently and I came away a little surprised. I remember watching Rice play. I remember him being the leader of that team and a decent runner as a quarterback — as you’d expect most option quarterbacks to be. But looking at his stats caused me to rethink what I remember about Rice and just what kind of a player he was.

During that 1988 camapaign, Rice ran for 700 yards and nine touchdowns. Those are numbers you’d expect from a really good option or dual-threat quarterback — which Tony Rice was.

Then I took a look at his passing stats. Ouch.

During the 1988 National Championship season, Tony Rice complete 70 of 138 passes (50.7 completion percentage) for eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The following year, he tossed two touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Those aren’t typos.

Option quarterback or not, those numbers are bad. Tommie Frazier — the legendary quarterback from Nebraska — finished his career with better than a 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a passer.

And he was widely known as a running quarterback.

Rice’s career numbers throwing the ball at Notre Dame were as follows: 48.5 percent completion percentage, 2961 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions.

Those aren’t legendary numbers.

Even his rushing numbers don’t exactly jump off the screen for an option or dual-threat quarterback. During his three seasons under center, he ran for 1,921 yards at five yards per carry and 23 touchdowns.

Again, those are really good numbers, but not legendary.

I don’t want this to sound like a Tony Rice bash-session. I’m just trying to get people to understand that — often times in sports — players get better in our minds the longer they’ve been gone.

In Tony Rice’s case, when you look at what his teams accomplished and the talent he had around him, you wonder how much better they could have been with a better passer under center.

This brings us to Brandon Wimbush. In 2017, he ran a completely different offense than what Rice ran back in the 1980s. That said, the current Irish offense is very much predicated on the quarterback’s mobility.

Wimbush was more than up to the task as a runner in 2017, toting the rock for 766 yards and 14 scores at a clip of 5.6 yards per carry. Those are Tony Rice-eque numbers.

As a passer, Wimbush did fall short of the 50 percent completion mark, but he took care of the football. He attempted more passes in one season than Tony Rice did in three and only tossed six interceptions while doing it. His 16 touchdown passes were five more than Rice’s career total.

Did Wimbush have bad moments and games? Absolutely. So did Tony Rice.

I’m not asking you to replace Tony Rice with Brandon Wimbush in your hearts and minds. I understand that legends are made in championship games, and Wimbush has not had that moment.

What I am asking is for Irish fans to take breath, take a step back and look at the big picture.

Tony Rice was a great leader. So is Wimbush. Does Notre Dame win a national title if Rice is not the quarterback in 1989? Tough to say, but his numbers weren’t exactly out of reach for most capable option quarterbacks.

Next: How Intimidating is Notre Dame Stadium?

Does Notre Dame win ten games and hover around the college football playoff conversation for most of the season without Wimbush’s skill set under center? Again, tough to say, but my best guess is “no.”