- The displaced Notre Dame QB's transfer makes it clear that McKenzie Milton won't recover in time for UCF's 2019 season, but the fit goes deeper than that for Brandon Wimbush and the Knights.
Brandon Wimbush is leaving Notre Dame for UCF, and it looks like he’s already received the blessing of the most important person at his new program.
Wimbush announced his decision via Instagram on Tuesday afternoon, thanking Notre Dame for the opportunities the university afforded him on and off the field and then expressing how excited he is to play at UCF. If you dig deep enough in the comments section, you’ll find this nugget from Milton: “Let’s ride bra!” the star quarterback posted. Backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. also wrote, “Yessir let’s work my G!!” Both posts, of course, included emojis.
Milton is still rehabbing and recovering from the horrific season-ending knee injury he suffered against USF on Nov. 23, which caused nerve damage and dislocation. While the Knights haven’t officially ruled him out for 2019, he will undergo a fifth surgery in late January and will not be ready to participate in spring practice. Quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby told ESPN at Fiesta Bowl media day that Milton is “day-to-day” working with the team’s medical staff, and once he’s healthy, it will take time to get back throwing and into football shape.
Milton, who has used three years of eligibility, could redshirt in 2019, which conveniently opens the door for Wimbush’s final season.
Wimbush is a former four-star prospect that went 13–3 as a starter at Notre Dame before getting benched in favor of Ian Book three games into the 2018 season. The Fighting Irish didn’t lose those first three games, but coaches felt they needed to roll with Book to open up the offense. Brian Kelly’s decision paid off, and Notre Dame went undefeated in the regular season and made it to the program’s first ever College Football Playoff, losing to eventual national champion Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. Wimbush replaced an injured Book for Notre Dame’s home finale on Nov. 10—which was also Senior Night—and threw three touchdowns in a 42–13 win over Florida State, but that week of practice wasn’t the same as preparing to be the starter all year.
Wimbush’s fit within Josh Heupel’s fast-paced offense that ranked sixth in scoring this fall, averaging 43.2 points per game, will be a subject of offseason intrigue. At Notre Dame, Wimbush notoriously struggled with his accuracy, relying on his legs to win; Milton’s success through the air within UCF’s offense led him into the top 20 nationally in passing yards per game, completing 59.2% of his passes and producing 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions in the first 10 games of last season. Wimbush finished his Notre Dame career with 2,606 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns and 12 interceptions, adding 1,155 rushing yards with 16 rushing touchdowns.
The part of this transition that will be seamless is UCF getting on board with its new QB. (Wimbush already has potential allies in the form of two Irish teammates who transfered to UCF, linemen Parker Boudreaux and Jonathan MacCollister.) Milton is still the heart and soul of the Knights, and his peers have formed a strong bond with him as the program has adopted his toughness and competitive fire. If Milton supports Wimbush, everyone else will follow. And given the way his teammates describe him, Milton will do everything he can to help Wimbush through the playbook, film study and all other adjustments to UCF. Plus, Milton is going to want Wimbush to succeed for momentum’s sake, having built this team up from a 0–12 season in 2015 to campaigns that challenged for the College Football Playoff.
UCF is getting a similarly steadfast personality in Wimbush. It was difficult for Kelly to initially demote Wimbush to backup because of the amount of respect the entire program has for the quarterback. Wimbush, who graduated with a degree from the school’s Mendoza College of Business, already has plans beyond football that will likely lead him to Silicon Valley or Wall Street. He has several business ventures started with friends from Notre Dame that he wants to pursue. And he admirably held onto his friendship with Book because the players believed their relationship was important regardless of their quarterback competition.
Milton has been a staunch advocate for UCF’s playoff case, even as the selection committee continually ranked the Knights outside the top four behind one- and two-loss teams. Late last year, he called out Notre Dame by saying UCF was the better choice based on the two teams’ performances against common opponent Pitt (Notre Dame held on for a 19–14 win at home, while UCF had no problems in a 45–14 rout in Orlando). Wimbush isn’t as vocal of a leader, but coming from Notre Dame, at least he’s used to hearing outside criticism of his team (including from the Power 5) in the event he has to be the one doing the stumping this fall.
UCF has Stanford on its schedule, which might help hold the selection committee’s attention if the Knights get off to a perfect start again. Not to mention the matchup will be must-watch TV as Wimbush faces a familiar former rival. But suffice to say there will still be reluctance for inclusion into the four-team field once again.
Wimbush was visibly torn when talking about the prospect of leaving Notre Dame at Cotton Bowl media day. News of his intentions broke days before he had to face reporters, which is not his style. At that point he had already had preliminary discussions with Kelly about the decision. He wants to play in the NFL, so it was crucial for him to get on the field for his final season. That wasn’t going to happen in South Bend.
With Milton’s recovery timetable—and his approval—Wimbush gets one more opportunity. And UCF benefits by adding a beloved leader trusted with advancing the program’s notoriety.