I’m gonna say something that’s pretty unpopular as it relates to transfer quarterbacks.

It’s OK to have mixed feelings.

Believe it or not, one doesn’t need to be all in or all out on an incoming quarterback. If Tyler Buchner’s decision to transfer to Alabama left you feeling that way, you’re not alone.

The former Notre Dame signal-caller joined a quarterback room that already had 4 former blue-chip recruits. He’s getting a well-documented reunion with former Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Some might look at that and say that Buchner is a shoo-in to win the starting job.

I’d say pump the brakes on that. If you believe Nick Saban promised a transfer quarterback the starting job, you’re mistaken. Of course, if you’re assuming that Buchner has absolutely no shot at earning the QB1 nod, I’d say you’re probably a bit too out on Buchner. The last we saw him play, he led the Irish to a thrilling TaxSlayer Bowl victory en route to game MVP honors.

We also saw him throw 3 interceptions that day. His last pre-shoulder injury game against Marshall, he had a back-breaking pick-6 in a loss.

It’s not all or nothing with Buchner. So let’s dig into what I like vs. what I don’t like about the Tide’s new signal-caller.

What I like

He’s absolutely a threat with his legs

Based on a pretty limited college sample size, you can tell that Buchner is plenty comfortable calling his own number. He operated a system with designed quarterback runs for him. Duh. The guy had over 1,600 rushing yards and 28 scores with his legs in his junior season of high school. At Notre Dame, that’s what Rees did when Buchner was the starter last year. His rushing yards aren’t simply a byproduct of scrambles on designed passes.

In the TaxSlayer Bowl, Buchner got Notre Dame on the board on a 3rd-and-9 wherein he faked a pitch to the back in space and weaved his way through the teeth of the South Carolina defense. It felt like the Irish offense was at its best when there was some sort of window-dressing pre-snap or even with some sort of designed fake (pitch, RPO, etc.) post-snap. He’s a crafty enough runner to where a defense has to respect it.

On 82 career carries, Buchner has 569 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns, 4 of which came in those last 2 games. He might not burn you for a 50-yard gain like Jalen Milroe can, but Buchner doesn’t panic on the zone read, nor does he just try to beat the defense to the edge. You knew that Rees was going to incorporate the quarterback run game in a way that we haven’t seen at Alabama since Jalen Hurts was the starter. With Buchner on board, Alabama has 3 QBs (including Ty Simpson and Milroe) who appear capable of making that a significant part of the offense.

He’s not afraid to take a hit

There were 3 throws that Buchner made in the TaxSlayer Bowl that made me think he’s probably further along throwing with patience than what some might expect. On somewhat slow-developing plays, he made a pair of on-target throws downfield working to his left. Jayden Thomas caught a ball that was perfectly in stride, as did Braden Lenzy, who got behind the South Carolina secondary for 6 on a 44-yard score.

On both of those throws, there was a good chance Buchner was going to take a hit, and he hung tough and let his guy go make a play.

The game-winning touchdown was a back-side look for the tight end. Buchner did a nice job of selling the play-action and letting the play develop. That’s not necessarily the deep ball, but it was a reminder that he does a nice job of working back to the left side of the field and trusting the offense.

If you go back to the first throw of Buchner’s 2022 season in a raucous atmosphere at Ohio State, you saw that poise on display. As he was getting hit on essentially a clean rush off the right edge from JT Tuimoloau, Buchner made an on-target throw to Lorenzo Styles on a quick out that went for 54 yards. New Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles had a corner blitz called on his first play on the job, and Buchner correctly diagnosed it even amidst the blown blocking assignment.

(It’s ironic that Styles actually transferred to Ohio State after the 2022 season, and he’s now playing corner.)

Those are the throws that make you say, yes, Buchner is a legitimate threat to win this job. In their young careers, we haven’t seen Milroe or Simpson do things like that, especially not on the road in front of 106,000 fans.

The guy is resilient

There’s some overlap with the last one here, but Buchner is never gonna stop swinging. He tore his ACL on the 4th play of his sophomore year of high school. He still went on to become a blue-chip recruit for his junior season — he led the nation with over 6,000 scrimmage yards that year — but then he had 2020 wiped out because of COVID. Last season, he suffered a shoulder injury in the loss to Marshall and lost his starting job to Drew Pyne, only to come back for the bowl game and lead Notre Dame to a comeback victory to earn game MVP honors.

In his young career, he’s had plenty of setbacks and yet, he finds himself competing in a quarterback room for a team with legitimate national title aspirations. No, he wasn’t going to beat out Sam Hartman for the job in South Bend once the Wake Forest star transferred there for his final year of eligibility. Hartman is 1 of the 5 best quarterbacks returning in the sport. If that’s your entire basis for why Buchner can’t succeed, I’d say that you’re looking at this a bit too black and white.

There are, however, reasons that should give you pause about his game if you’re billing him as the savior …

What I don’t like

He’s not a game manager (yet)

The term “game manager” gets thrown around in a negative way, but there are plenty of programs that feel like they can still win a title with a game manager at quarterback. If you’re of the belief that Buchner is already at that stage in his career, I think you’re mistaken.

It’s not just the fact that he has 1 interception every 14.7 pass attempts in his career (Spencer Rattler threw an interception once every 33 passes). If you watch Buchner’s mistakes, they always feel catastrophic.

Go back to that infamous pick-6 he threw to stall Notre Dame’s comeback attempt against Marshall. It was 3rd-and-3 and Notre Dame was down 4 with 4:43 to play. Buchner stayed locked into his first read, which was a receiver running an 8-yard hitch. The defensive back made an excellent play on the ball and took it the other way for 6. The problem was that Buchner had his All-American tight end Michael Mayer running wide open a yard past the sticks on a high-percentage throw that would’ve easily moved the chains (via NBC Sports on YouTube):

It was a back-breaking mistake by Buchner against a team that had no business beating Notre Dame in South Bend.

South Carolina also forced Buchner into some maddening mistakes on 3rd down when there wasn’t the pre-snap window dressing.

His first interception of the game was a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and it went for 6 the other way. Yes, it’s unfortunate that the pass was tipped. You take that risk on with a 6-1 quarterback. But even if Buchner’s pass had gone past the line of scrimmage, he was trying to fit it to a backup tight end in bracket coverage. In other words, it might’ve been a pick-6 no matter what.

But that wasn’t as egregious as the pick-6 that nearly cost the Irish the game.

With 8 minutes left, Notre Dame led by a touchdown and it faced 1st-and-goal from the South Carolina 8-yard line. At the very least, that drive has to end with a field goal to make it a 2-score game. A turnover cannot happen. Pre-determining a read in that spot can be catastrophic … which we saw.

Notre Dame’s window-dressing came post-snap with a fake bubble screen to 1 of the 3 receivers split wide on Buchner’s right. By the time Buchner worked his way back to the tight end running the slant, the South Carolina safety was sitting on the throw. Buchner failed to realize that his target wasn’t just in man coverage, and that there was a defensive back playing center field. Boom. Pick-6, Gamecocks.

Buchner started 3 games in 2022 and threw not 1, not 2, but 3 pick-6s. Saban keeps talking about how he wants his quarterbacks to “stop making the plays that beat us.” Buchner made plenty of those at Notre Dame.

He really doesn’t have as many reps as you’d think for a Year 3 guy

Remember how I mentioned that he essentially lost 2 years of high school because of the torn ACL and COVID? Well, 3 of Buchner’s past 5 seasons at the high school and college levels saw him play 3 games or fewer. One of the 2 seasons that wasn’t wiped out was his true freshman season in 2021, wherein he appeared in 10 games but only attempted 35 passes … 3 of which were interceptions.

  • Sophomore HS: Torn ACL on 4th play of season
  • Junior HS: Led nation with 6,084 total yards and 81 total TDs
  • Senior HS: Canceled because of COVID
  • Freshman college: Backup to Jack Coan, attempted 35 passes
  • Sophomore college: QB1, but missed rest of regular season after Week 2 shoulder injury

Buchner still has a lot of growing to do, which you can tell by his decision-making. You can tell me that he got “mental” reps dealing with all of those setbacks, but Buchner, unfortunately, missed out on some prime opportunities to mature on the field.

Any notion that Buchner is some experienced veteran compared to Milroe or Simpson is misguided.

So what should we make of Buchner?

He’s won a quarterback battle before, so this isn’t necessarily new to him. At the same time, we should remember that while he was brought in for a reason, he still has 3 years of eligibility left. Even if he doesn’t win the job this year, there could be a hope from Rees that he’ll develop into Alabama’s best 2024 option.

At the very least, Buchner is providing Alabama with someone who should know all of the verbiage. While I do say that we need to temper our expectations for any post-spring quarterback transfer — even Joe Burrow was a much different player in 2018 than he was after a full offseason in 2019 — it’s unique that Buchner is getting to work with the only offensive coordinator he’s had at the college level.

There’s clearly some fear in the unknown despite the fact that the Tide entered spring with 4 homegrown, scholarship former blue-chip quarterbacks on the roster. Alabama added a portal quarterback for the first time since it became known as “the portal.” Saban would probably like to see Buchner motivate Milroe and Simpson even more, though I’d push back on the belief that it was done entirely with that in mind. I’m pretty sure Milroe and Simpson already had plenty of motivation to replace Bryce Young.

What’s clear is that no matter who runs Rees’ first offense at Alabama, the quarterback run game will be featured prominently. All signs point to this becoming more run-focused, simply because none of Alabama’s options have shown that they can be trusted to throw the ball 30-35 times a game.

Buchner was brought in to at least provide some depth. I don’t believe he was promised anything. My guess has been and will continue to be that Simpson wins the job, but perhaps now, his leash is a bit shorter.

Interesting times await for Young’s successor … whoever that is.