NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Duke

Duke quarterback Riley Leonard announced his commitment to Notre Dame on Tuesday, giving the Fighting Irish a proven playmaker at the position for 2024 as they seek to replace Sam Hartman. "A dream come true," Leonard wrote in a social media post. "Go Irish."

Leonard will be charged with leading a Notre Dame offense that offered glimpses of brilliance in 2023 while also falling flat in some key moments. The Fighting Irish finished 9-3 in the regular season during coach Marcus Freeman's second year. 

In a breakout 2022 season, Leonard threw for 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 699 yards and 13 scores. He was also a driving force behind Duke's 5-1 start this season before injuries against Notre Dame and Florida State eventually cost him the season. Leonard completed just 12 of 27 passes in a loss to the Fighting Irish on Sept. 30, but also ran for 88 yards and led a go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter before suffering an ankle injury in the game's final moments.

Leonard's mobility should set him apart from Hartman, who transferred in from Wake Forest for the 2023 season following a prolific run with the Demon Deacons. Hartman threw for 2,689 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his lone regular season with the Fighting Irish as he capped his six-year college career.

Riley Leonard vs. Mike Elko

In a strange twist of fate, Leonard's first game at Notre Dame will come against Texas A&M, which is now led by former Duke coach Mike Elko. It will be a high-stakes debut for both after they thrived together with the Blue Devils over the past two seasons.

Elko's arrival in 2022 coincided with Leonard's ascension to the starting quarterback role, and the duo helped Duke to one of the nation's most surprising turnarounds as the Blue Devils finished 9-4 after going 3-9 in 2021. Prior to Leonard's injuries this season, the Blue Devils looked destined to compete for the ACC title.

It was Elko who left first in late November, returning to Texas A&M where he previously served as defensive coordinator. Leonard announced shortly after Elko's departure that he planned to enter the transfer portal. Naturally, that sparked speculation that he may follow Elko to Texas A&M. However, the Aggies appear set to stick with Conner Weigman at the position after the former five-star prospect's 2023 season was cut short due to injury following a promising start.

Notre Dame's offensive outlook

Notre Dame ranked No. 8 nationally in scoring offense during the 2023 regular season under first-year coordinator Gerad Parker, despite the fact that no player on the roster reached 30 receptions. The Fighting Irish's leader in receptions was tight end Mitchell Evans at 29 catches, and their leader in receiving yards was running back Chris Tyree at 484. Collectively, Notre Dame ranked 49th in passing offense entering Bowl Season, even as Hartman ranked No. 16 in passing efficiency.

Finding more explosive playmaking in the passing game and steady play at receiver is an obvious area of potential improvement for the Notre Dame in 2024. Leonard is good enough as a passer to help in that area, and he also has the potential to boost the Fighting Irish's proficiency on designed passing plays by using his legs when plays break down.

Though Notre Dame allowed just 14 sacks in the regular season, Fighting Irish quarterbacks were pressured on 36.7 of drop backs, per TruMedia data. When that happens, Leonard can make opponents pay with his athleticism. He was a late-blooming quarterback in the Class of 2021 who thrived in basketball and also ran track before turning his sole focus to football.