Saturday, August 16, 2008

2008 Season Preview: Birthday Edition

It's my birthday, and I was accidentally awakened far too early, so I have way too much time on my hands. Therefore, I thought I'd take the opportunity to post random thoughts about the upcoming football season.

Because of my new job and my birthday (and a steadt stream of Diet Mountain Dew), I am overly optimistic this morning, so I thought I'd preview the upcoming season through my newfound rose colored glasses while drinking some heavily spiked Kool-Aid (how's that for mixing metaphors?).

2008 Season Preview - Birthday Edition

vs. San Diego State University

The San Diego State Aztecs are bad. Awful. They don't even belong on the same field as the Fightin' Irish.

Notre Dame comes out with an attitude, and kicks SDSU up and down the field. After scoring 5 touchdowns in the first quarter, Weis sent in the second string. After they scored another 2 TDs halfway through the second, Weis sent in all the freshman. On the first down, Crist launched a laser to Floyd, who (sprung by a superb block by Deion Walker), raced for a touchdown. After kneeling the next two possessions, the all-freshman defense got another score to close out the half up 63-0. Rather than coming out for the second half, the team gave their jerseys to the Knott Hall interhall team, who came out and drove 80 yards for another score. The rest of the half saw several interhall teams come onto the field, with mixed results. Dillon Hall scored on a long pass, and Morrissey got a fumble recovery for a TD. Keenan and Siegfried both threw INTs, and Zahm kept getting lost in between the huddle and the ball, resulting in several embarassing delay of game penalties.

SDSU did come up with a huge goal-line stand at the end of the game, when the girls from Farley were stopped just inches from the end zone as time expired.

Prediction: 84-0 Notre Dame

vs. University of Michigan

The Skunkbears and Dick-Rod roll into South Bend after convincing wins against powerhouses Utah and Miami (OH). They have creeped back into the top 10 again, and are heavily favored against the lowly Irish.

Notre Dame loses the toss, and Michigan gets the ball first. Due to a rash of injuries to their QB corps, Dick Rod decides to do without a quarterback, instead direct snapping to the running backs and receivers. At first, things go great for Michigan, and they go up 14-0 early as the Irish offense struggles to move the ball against the Michigan D.

Then Tenuta and Brown decide to put all 11 men in the box, and start calling all-out blitz every down, old school video game style. Mo Crum and Dave Bruton each return a fumble and a tipped pass for a touchdown, and Brandon Minor and Kevin Grady go down with injuries.

Michigan, despite trailing by two touchdowns at the half, comes up with a new strategy. Michigan starts punting the ball on first down, and the Michigan defense actually picks off a Clausen pass and returns it for a score, bringing the Wolverines within 7.

However, with only a couple of minutes remaining in the game, Dick Rod decides to try to run an offense, and calls his team to the sideline to quickly install the A-11 offense. On the very next play, a walk-on QB from Michigan just gets off a desperation pass before being trampled by the Notre Dame defense. (Doctors say he is in stable condition, but may never walk again).

Michigan bobbles the pass, but eventually one of the receivers comes up with the ball, and takes off for the endzone. David Bruton, who read the defense and dropped back to the goal line in deep zone coverage, faces 8 blockers leading the way for the Michigan receiver. He sheds 6 blocks, and leaps over the final two blockers to rip the ball from the receiver only feet from the end zone, before racing to the other endzone for the final score of the game.

Prediction: 35-21 Notre Dame

at Michigan State University

Despite their back-to-back wins, ESPN votes the Irish into their Bottom 10 this week, chastising Tenuta for blitzing poor Michigan so much the week before, and calling for a congressional inquiry into the blitz scheme, claiming that it creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk a death or serious bodily injury.

Michigan State, on the other hand, has moved up to the top 3, largely on the strength of their win over Cal-Berkeley and ridiculous dismantling of Florida Atlantic the week before.

Notre Dame comes out of the gate strong on offense, as Clausen appears to have found some swagger and confidence in his wide receivers. He efficiently moves the ball through the air, with short, controlled passes for the first three scores, then a 73-yard bomb to a wide open Parris.

Problem is, Michigan State is moving the ball as effectively as the Irish, pounding the ball against our green defensive line until Tenuta brings Bruton down into the box. Hoyer proves especially adept at making the Irish pay when they stack the box, throwing touchdown passes of 65, 37, and 43 yards. Also, MSU adds a rushing touchdown.

Bruton finally gets the better of Hoyer late in the half, returning an interception down to the 31 yard line with 2 seconds left on the clock.

Brandon Walker's kick puts the Irish up 3 at the half.

After the halftime adjustments, both defenses stiffen, and neither team can move the ball.

The only fireworks in the second half are when a crazed (and naked) John L. Smith parachutes into the stadium late in the fourth quarter. Upon landing, he plants a Notre Dame flag at the 50-yard line and then runs over to Dantonio, attempting to rip the headset off of his head. He is finally subdued and taken to a nearby hospital for observation.

Prediction: 31-28 Notre Dame

vs. Purdue University

Purdue has been an exciting team to watch coming in to this game, with Tiller's new all-trick-play offense. He spent the offseason finding every trick play ever run by a football team, and has even invented a few of his own.

As a result, there are a lot of big plays both ways for the Boilermakers.

The game against Oregon many are claiming was the most schizophrenic game they've ever seen, with Oregon changing jerseys in between every play.

The Boilers dropped the game against Oregon 74-71, and beat Northern Colorado 67-34 and Central Michigan 62-56.

Now Purdue's crazy offense rolls into South Bend, and the Irish blitz happy scheme has blown the hype for this game way out of proportion. Nobody knows what to expect, and campus is abuzz.

Fittingly, the game starts with an onside kick - called by Coach Weis. Purdue recovers, however, and immediately runs a triple reverse, which results in a loss of 37 yards.

They follow that with a statue of liberty play that loses another 10, and a fumblerooski that gives the Irish the ball at the Purdue 3. A quick Hughes touchdown on the next play, and Weis and Haywood decide that maybe they should stick to a basic gameplan.

On the subsequent possession, Purdue tries the A-11 offense, but the Irish were not fooled this time, blowing it up and forcing the Boilers to run a swinging gate punt.

The Irish settle into a grinding offensive game plan, slowing down the game and limiting Purdue's opportunity to run all over the field.

Purdue does get some big plays, scoring on a hook and ladder and again on a free kick return after giving up a safety. But the Irish play disciplined defense, getting away from Tenuta's blitzing, causing the linebackers coach to run around the press box headbutting people as Brown calls a conservative game.

Notre Dame scores on long drives in each quarter, three touchdowns and a field goal. The defense gets another touchdown on a blocked fake kick on 2nd down.

After the game, Tiller refuses to shake hands with Coach Weis, and grabs the giant drum and starts banging it incessantly during Notre Dame's alma mater.

Prediction: 33-14 Notre Dame

vs. Stanford University

After all of the craziness to start the season, nobody knows what to make of the Irish at this point in the season. has them in the Bottom 10 and in the Power 16, the Coaches have them unranked, and the AP ranks them 17th.

For the first time in the season, the Irish play something resembling a football game, rather than a circus of crazy.

Aldridge, Hughes, Allen, and Gray all score rushing touchdowns, and Clausen adds another pair of passes himself, one to Kamara and another to Grimes in a beautiful diving catch.

On defense, Bruton and Mo Crum lead a defensive effort that renders the Stanford attack completely impotent, holding them to only a pair of field goals.

Prediction: 42-6 Notre Dame

at North Carolina

Notre Dame is finally getting some respect at this point in the season, and they are ranked in the top 20 going into the game with Top 20 and undefeated North Carolina.

In fact, both teams are tied for a 16th ranking in both polls.

To this point, in fact, the teams have had identical seasons.

North Carolina, with their sophomore quarterback, beat the snot out of McNeese State by a score of 84-0.

They survived a strange game against Rutgers in which 5 Rutgers players were ejected for chop blocking, as they were confused by Schiano's constant chopping motions on the sidelines by a score of 35-21.

Then they survive another game against Virginia Tech, where Beamer does away with the offense and defense and runs nothing but special teams plays all game long, but North Carolina ground out a victory on the ground. Tarheels won 33-14

Their game against Miami was a tale of two halves, with both teams jumping out early, and the offenses stagnating in the second half. Jimmy Johnson parachuted into the game, then punched out Coach Davis before trying to wrangle the headphones from Randy Shannon during the fourth quarter. He and John L. Smith are reportedly both heavily medicated but showing signs of improvement at an undisclosed sanitarium. They won the game 31-28.

The game before this one was a methodical dismantling of Connecticut by a score of - you guessed it - 42-6.

The Tarheels and Irish met on the gridiron, and they battled it out in an epic game. The lead changed hands 5 times, and both teams had big plays on offense and defense. It was like a championship bout, with the teams trading blow for blow. Burkhart missed a field goal, bouncing it off of the upright, from 61 yards as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime.

Hours later, Greg Little fumbled on the 1 yard line during an attempted two point conversion, recovered by the Irish and ending the longest game ever.

Prediction: 96-94 Notre Dame (13 OT)

at Washington

There was much anticipation regarding this matchup between Weis and Willingham in each of their fourth seasons as the leader of their respective programs.

The first quarter got started under the leadership of Ed Donatell, the defensive coordinator, sparking whispers around the stadium that the winless Huskies had finally jettisoned the beleagured Ty Willingham.

However, part way through the game, Willingham pulled into the stadium in his golf cart, with his golf bag still in the back. After signing his scorecard, he took the clipboard and headset, and started glaring at his players, who had already fallen behind 14-0.

The Irish rolled easily over the Huskies, although they did have some trouble with the athletic Jake Locker, who threw for one touchdown and ran for two more. Problem is, they were all called back for penalties.

But the Irish offensive attack was on full speed during this game, spreading the ball to 20 different receivers and using 12 different players to run the ball. They had 7 different players score. Crist played the entire fourth quarter, throwing for a touchdown of his own - the second of his career.

Prediction: 49-0 Notre Dame

vs. Pittsburgh

Charlie Weis put on a clinic this week at Pitt. Aside from an early mistake by Brady Quinn Jimmy Clausen, which I'm willing to chalk up to first game jitters, Notre Dame scored touchdowns on 6 of their first 7 drives. They made Wannestedt, a "defensive guru," look silly. And, Notre Dame's first team never had to punt.

First of all, as much as I obsess about football, even I had trouble keeping up with Weis' playcalling. He was calling plays in the first quarter that led to successful plays in the third quarter. He was about five steps ahead of Wanny, and if he hadn't pulled his first string, he would never have punted. An example of Weis' playcalling:
In the first two drives, Weis called two screens, and Brady Clausen checked down into two more (one of which was their first touchdown) before Pittsburgh was able to catch on. Also, Weis consistently called runs to the right side, in which Walker Allen would inevitably beat the linebackers to the corner.

Late in the first quarter, Weis, having seen Pitt's tendency to watch for screens to Walker Allen and shade to the right side, called a play which had a fake to Darius Armando to the right (sucking in some of the defense), then a fake reverse to Rhema McKnight Duval Kamara (which fooled nobody on the D). Quinn Clausen looked at Walker Allen in the flat to the right side of the field, which caused the ENTIRE Pitt defense to collapse towards that side. Then Quinn Clausen quickly tossed the ball to Rhema Kamara in the flat to the opposite side of the field, where Rhema Duval caught it in the flat, with nobody within 10 yards of him. Twenty yards later, the corner on the left side brought him down.
Weis knew before the play started that this would happen, and this is the beauty of his system. He has so many plays in his playbook, nicknamed The Phonebook by his players, that he has a play for literally every defensive tendency. He sees a weakness, and he exploits it.
The best thing about the Irish offense is the number of weapons they have at their disposal. At wide receiver, they have McKnight, Stovall, Samardzija, and Shelton Grimes, Kamara, Floyd, Tate, Parris, and Walker. At running back, they have Walker, Thomas, and Powers-Neal Aldridge, Hughes, Allen, and Gray. At tight end, they have Fasano and Carlson Ragone, Yeatman and Rudolph. They have two stud quarterbacks in Clausen and Crist. That is 11 15 players on offense that would start at their position on any other team. And don't even get me started on the incoming freshmen.
The key play of the game was ND's first score, in which ND ran a called screen to Darius Walker James Aldridge. The play itself wouldn't have been spectacular, except that Charlie's coaching reared its beautiful head. A great block by a lineman and Walker Aldridge outrunning H.B. Blades would have given ND a 20 yard gain, but for the fact that Fasano, Samardzija, McKnight, and Stovall Ragone, Grimes, Parris, and Kamara all formed a convoy for Walker Aldridge, blocking downfield. They turned a good gain into a game-breaking touchdown, and showed the world the discipline and depth of a Weis offense, as his play called for that type of downfield blocking, it wasn't a fluke.
The wonderful thing about Weis is that he has put in an offense where every single playmaker on the team is a threat to move the ball on every single play. These guys have the capability to put up 40 points on EVERY SINGLE TEAM THEY PLAY THIS YEAR.

Prediction: 42-21 Irish

at Boston College

There was a huge controversy this week that dominated talk radio. The argument was whether it was poor sportsmanship for Coach Weis to keep his first string in the entire game, and to go for two in the final play of the game, thus ensuring the Irish would have sole possession of the most lopsided game ever in college football history.

Prediction: 223-0 Notre Dame

vs. Navy

The Irish had an almost perfect game against the Midshipmen, who were clearly outclassed on the field.

After jumping out to a 28-0 lead by the end of the 1st quarter, Weis played his backups the rest of the way, which made for an exciting game, as the teams traded scores until the end.

There was one major loss for the Irish, as they lost Emeka Nwankwo, who was so inspired by the heart of the Navy team, that he left the team to sign up for a tour of duty. He is expected to return to the Irish after his time in the Navy.

Prediction: 42-24 Notre Dame

vs. Syracuse

Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson tried to get his football team off of the team bus, but the team revolted and threw him out of the bus and drove back to New York, fearful for their health and safety should they take the field with Robinson calling the shots.

Not to disappoint the "sellout" crowd, the Irish decided to take the field anyway, and honored their past coaches by having Holtz and Parsegian take the field opposite Coach Weis. They flipped a coin to see who picks first, and drafted two teams to play that afternoon.

After four quarters of play, the two sides could not get the better of each other, and they finished the game tied at 28. Not wanting to risk injury, the team decided to call it a draw.

Prediction: Forfeit

at Southern Cal

After an epic battle where two undefeated teams battled back and forth throughout the game, The Irish pulled ahead on a Jimmy Clausen run with less than 2 minutes remaining in regulation.

After giving up a 61-yard pass on 4th and 9, the defense stiffened and stopped the Trojans on their one inch line. With only one second remaining on the clock, the Trojans attempted a quarterback sneak. Marc Tyler pushed Sanchez into the end zone, and the SC student body rushed the field, celebrating their epic win over the Irish.

But after about 15 minutes of attempts at crowd control, it was finally determined that a penalty flag had been thrown on the final play.

Marc Tyler was flagged for Assisting the Runner.

Notre Dame wins, and moves on to the National Championship game.

Prediction: 31-28 Notre Dame

vs. the Ohio State University, 2009 BCS National Championship Game

The Irish roll into this game as the undisputed #1 team in the country, facing a 1-loss Ohio State team that lost a squeaker to Southern Cal earlier in the season.

They jump out to an early lead on some impressive long passes from Clausen to Kamara and Floyd. Grimes adds an impressive run on a wide receiver screen to put the team ahead 3 scores.

Then the Irish ground attack shifts into gear. With their top 5 backs rotating into the game, the Buckeyes have no answers to this attack, and their defense quickly wears down.

The Buckeye offense has some success passing late in the game, but Bruton makes some excellent plays in the end zone to hold the Buckeyes to field goals on 4 straight drives.

Prediction: 41-12 Notre Dame

I know we're still a year away from being title contenders, but it's my birthday - a guy can dream, can't he?

Richard Jackson leaves Notre Dame

I was saddened to hear about the impending transfer of wide receiver Richard Jackson.

When Jackson arrived on campus, I watched him early on his freshman year, and was impressed by his natural talent and prototypical receiver physique and mannerisms.

However, Jackson struggled in learning the fundamentals of the wide receiver position, which was further hampered by lingering injuries.

He has decided to transfer closer to home, officially for personal reasons. However, his place on the depth chart surely had something to do with his decision.

Because of the stellar recruiting, Jackson was staring at the backsides of Grimes, Kamara, Parris, Tate, and West. While he had worked his way up into the third string spot at X receiver, he was behind everyone in the classes ahead or immediately behind him, with only freshman pushing him. And Floyd has reportedly passed him already, although Floyd is listed as a Z receiver.

While Jackson's transfer is a signal of VERY good things for the Irish going forward, I am sad that he was never able to develop into the receiver he has the potential to be. With his natural ability, I'm sure he will be a starter sooner rather than later at his new school, wherever that may be.

I wish Mr. Jackson nothing but the best, and hope that his experience at Notre Dame will serve him well in the future.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2008 Notre Dame Football Preview: Running Backs

Running Backs

Running back should be a huge strength for the team this year.

Of course running back SHOULD have been a huge strength for the team last year.

But we finished 115th in the country in rushing offense, averaging a paltry 75.25 yards per game.

The same three headed monster returns from last year, with an infusion of young talent pushing them from behind. All of the returning starters have increased their bench by a whopping 100 pounds. Hughes and Allen are no longer freshmen, and Aldridge is allegedly healthy for the first time since his junior year of high school.

But we need to see improved offensive line play for any of this talent to result in an improved running game. We'll cover that at length when we get to the O-line preview.

Robert Hughes Sophomore, 5'11" 237 lbs. Returning Starter
2007 Stats (1 game started):
Rushing: 53 rushes, 294 yards 5.5 avg 4 TD
Receiving: 3 receptions, 17 yards, 5.7 average 0 TD

Hughes only started one game last year, but his performance in the final two games of the season earned him top honors on my preview list.

Hughes is an extremely agile big back, who has good vision and excellent change of direction. He's also got a surprising burst. He lacks top end speed, but has enough giddy up to gain 20 yards before the defensive backs can catch him.

Hughes is excellent at running through contact, with a good pad level that makes him difficult to take down at the point of attack.

He was the first freshman since Allen Pinkett to rush for over 100 yards in consecutive games.

Hughes is the favorite to win the starting position going into San Diego State, but Aldridge's development and return to health make this battle the most exciting of fall camp, as Coach Weis has refused to name a starter coming out of spring.

James Aldridge Junior, 6'0" 225 lbs. Returning Starter
2007 Stats (5 games started):
Rushing: 121 rushes, 463 yards, 3.8 avg 0 TD
Receiving: 5 receptions, 30 yards, 6.0 avg, 0 TD

Aldridge was a 5-star recruit out of high school, but suffered an injury in his senior season of high school. That injury lingered through his freshman and sophomore seasons, but his athleticism and natural ability got him on the field as a freshman behind Darius Walker and the starting nod last year for most of the season.

Aldridge has been a passable running back thus far, but has not shown break away ablity or a nose for the end zone. Watching him on tape, there is not much mechanically wrong with his technique, it just appears that he is incapable of making the sudden cuts and quick bursts that made him such a highly touted recruit.

Weis is claiming that Aldridge is 100% healthy for the first time since he's been at Notre Dame, which means that this year could be the breakout season for Aldridge.

Also, most players come into their own their junior year. Freshman year is about learning the playbook. Sophomore year is about learning how to play. Junior year is when you stop thinking and start playing instinctively. If Aldridge can make that mental leap and return to top physical form, there is no doubt on my mind that he will be the feature back on this team.

However, I have not seen it from Aldridge in a game yet, and Hughes looked better even as recently as the spring game. Until I see something from Aldridge on the field, I'm giving the edge to Hughes in this battle.

Armando Allen Sophomore, 5'10" 195 lbs.
2007 Stats (4 games started):
Rushing: 86 rushes 348 yards 4.0 avg 0 TD
Receiving: 24 receptions, 124 yards, 5.2 avg, 1 TD

All last year, Weis was verbally drooling over Armando's speed. From the beginning of spring ball through the entire 2007 season, he wouldn't shut up about Allen's giddy up.

And it is true that this kid can flat out run.

But that doesn't necessarily translate into football speed. Too many times last year, Armando missed the cut back lane, went down at first contact, and lacked the vision to find daylight. Not one time last year did Armando find his way into the open field to show that blazing speed.

Weis has talked this offseason about how the game has slowed down for Armando, but I have yet to see any evidence of this on the field. He is running with more confidence, and not going down as easily, but he is not going to be an every down back like Aldridge and Hughes. He is the change of pace back, the home run hitter.

And I haven't seen hm hit any home runs.

Whether it be on game tape, in the spring game, or in practice videos, Allen just can't seem to find that crease to get into the open field. And until he does, I'm just not a big fan of giving him substantial carries. In fact, there are two backs behind him that I might push ahead based upon their practice performances.

Barry Gallup, Jr. Junior, 5'11" 195 lbs.
2007 Stats (0 games started):
5 special teams appearances

Recruited as a wide receiver, Gallup never developed into a good enough route runner to crack the starting lineup. However, he spent most of his high school career at running back, so the coaches agreed to give him a shot at tailback.

Gallup has excellent speed, and from what I've seen in practice, is a very instinctual runner. He isn't the most polished runner as far as technique during drills, but when he's put in game situations, he produces. He had some amazing runs on the 11-on-11 drills (albeit against 2nd and 3rd team defense for the most part).

Gallup appears to me to be one of those players (like Golden Tate) that have that "Forrest Gump" effect. You put the ball in their hands and say "Run, Forrest!" and special things happen.

Jonas Gray Freshman, 5'10" 195 lbs.
2007 Stats (Detroit Country Day School):
Rushing: 308 rushes 2,485 yards 8.1 avg 31 TD
Receiving: 2 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD

After putting up some gaudy numbers as a senior in high school, recruitniks have been hgh on Gray for a while now. Many, like myself, saw him coming in, learning the playbook, and sitting behind the three-headed monster for a year before entering the rotation.

After watching him in practice, however, he looks like he could be ready to challenge right away, and might be able to even push ahead of some of the returning starters.

He is in amazing physical condition, and actually looks MORE cut than the starting backs.

In drills, he looks very good, running with technique and precision, although his unfamiliarity with the drills is apparent sometimes.

In game situations (11-on-11), Gray looks like the flashiest back on the field, running hard, not going down on first contact and showing exceptional vision to identify the cut back lanes. He has excellent change of direction, good burst, and impressive top end speed.

In short, Gray is the all-around back that I had hoped Aldridge would be when we recruited him.


With all of the depth at running back, we should have a very good season running the ball if we can improve our run blocking.

And with Cierre Wood showing up next year, our running back depth chart is starting to look like the depth chart over at USC.

Unfortunately, there will probably be a transfer or two in the next couple of years as the depth chart starts to shake out. These players are too good for them to be willing to ride the pine for an extended period of time.

With the unknowns at receiver, and the need to build the confidence of the offensive line, I expect to see a very run-heavy game plan to start the season, using our depth at running back to wear down defenses.

If I were Coach Weis (and Haywood), I would be more than comfortable playing all 5 of these players in a variety of situations. The multitude of personnel packages that a defense would have to account for is astounding, and would allow Haywood to disguise his playcalling.

Hell, I wouldn't even be surprised to see a wishbone formation thrown in just to confuse defenses.

UP NEXT: Tight Ends and Fullbacks

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

2008 Notre Dame Football Preview: Quarterback

It's that time of year - my birthday is rapidly approaching, fall practice is in full swing, schools are starting up, and it's time to start the annual season preview posts.

This year, I'll do a position-by-position breakdown of the Irish, hopefully with a new post each day. I'm waiting to hear back on a new job I applied for, so that may briefly interrupt posting - I'll let you all know.


This year, the quarterback situation is stable, and has been all offseason, unlike last year. Last year, there was a full QB derby between Demetrius Jones, Zach Frazer, Evan Sharpley, and Jimmy Clausen as someone had the unenviable task of attempting to fill Brady Quinn's shoes. With Clausen's elbow surgery, Jones came in to opening day as the starter, which did not go well, to say the least.

This year, with DJ and Frazer transferred to other universities and Sharpley focusing on baseball, the quarterback job is Jimmy Clausen's to lose.

Jimmy Clausen Sophomore, 6'3" 217 lbs. Returning Starter
2007 Stats (9 games started):
Passing: 138/245 1254 yds. 7 TD 6 INT 103.85 Effic. 125.4 yds/gm
Rushing: 62 rushes 97 yards gained, 284 yards lost -187 net -3.0 avg 2 TD 34 sacks

Last season was a long one for the young Clausen, who had been used to winning all of his athletic career, winning 4 state championships in high school. In his frosh campaign, Jimmy was sacked a whopping 27 times, more than twice as much as Brady Quinn was sacked in his freshman year.

Many people were quick to label the young signal caller a bust, but when you dig deeper into the numbers, there is much to get excited about. If you take Brady Quinn as the gold standard by which to measure Jimmy Clausen, it's no wonder that Coach Weis is still so high on this kid. (For the record, had a couple of posts similar to this a while back)

The first thing to look at would be production, and in that category, Brady has the edge, throwing for over 1800 yards compared to Clausen's 1254. However, this discrepancy is largely due to the number of attempts - Brady attempted 332 passes, compared to Clausen's 245.

A better measurement, then would be passer efficiency and TD/INT ratios. In efficiency, Jimmy has the clear edge, with a 103.85 passer efficiency rating, compared to Quinn's 93.53. Also, Quinn threw more INTs than TDs, with a 9/15 ratio. Clausen, on the other hand, threw 7 TDs against only 6 INTs.

And Clausen's better efficiency came in the face of worse protection, and with far less run support. Quinn's freshman year featured over 2200 yrads of rushing, compared to barely 1500 yards in Clausen's freshman year.

And with the confirmed reports that Clausen was never healthy last year, there is much to get excited about.

Clausen has put on 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and everyone that has watched him throw can tell that his accuracy and arm strength are far superior to last year.

While every team this year is talking about how good offseason conditioning has been to their program, this is one situation where (assuming he stays healthy) it appears that Clausen could have a jump in production similar to the one Brady Quinn had between his sophomore and junior years.

Another big difference this offseason? No splitting reps. Last year's QB derby meant that Clausen got only a quarter of the reps in practice. This year, he has been the only guy, which means a lot more time developing chemistry with his receivers. It also means more coaching from the coaches, and more chances to absorb the playbook.

Weis has said in his press conferences that Clausen is ready to take on a lot more of the playbook than last year, but that he can only open up the playbook as far as his offensive line will allow.

There are still lots of questions on the O-line, but I predict a much stronger campaign from Clausen this year, barring injury.

Don't be surprised if, in fact, at the end of the year Clausen is being touted as a Heisman candidate entering his junior year. Lofty goals, I know, but (at least at this position), I'm drinking the Kool-Aid.

Evan Sharpley Senior, 6'2" 215 lbs. Returning Starter
2007 Stats (2 games started):
Passing: 77/140 736 yds. 5 TD 3 INT 106.66 Effic. 92.0 yds/gm
Rushing: 38 rushes 68 yards gained, 163 yards lost -95 net -2.5 avg

Sharpley was in the middle of the QB battle all last season, spending the majority of the season as the backup to either Clausen or Jones. He did get two starts, and almost pulled out a come from behind victory against Purdue last year. In fact, many people thought that Sharpley should have been the starter all season last year, and that view is supported by the fact that he had a better passer rating, and a better TD/INT ratio, than Clausen. However, I believe that Coach Weis' decision to start Clausen, despite not being healthy, was in the best long term interests of this football team. Starting Sharpley may have won us 1 or 2 more games last season, but it would have still been a losing season.

Also, that would have made Sharpley the returning starter. With Clausen 100%, there is little doubt in my mind that he is the better quarterback. However, then Weis would have been faced with another offseason of QB controversy, as he would be forced to choose between the more talented yet inexperienced QB, or the returning starter who is splitting time with baseball during the spring.

I know that Sharpley can't be happy with the way things worked out on the football field, and I'm still not sure that Coach Weis didn't handle the situation badly. However, I think that the team is better off having an unquestioned starter in Jimmy Clausen.

Sharpley is back this year, and will be a reliable backup with starting experience should Clausen go down with injury. This is a huge plus for the Irish, considering Frazer and Jones' transfers. If not for the dependable Sharpley, the Irish would look to true freshman Dayne Crist for leadership - and unlike Clausen last year, Crist did not enroll early and have the benefit of spring practice to get him ready to play.

Dayne Crist Freshman, 6'4" 233 lbs.
2007 Stats (Sherman Oaks High School):
Passing: 134/232 2178 yds. 16 TD 1 INT
Rushing: 81 rushes 454 yards 4 TD

Crist comes in with Brady Quinn-like size and strength. He looks as much like a linebacker as a quarterback, and seems ready to play right out of the box.

That said, Crist is not going to see the field this year, unless catastrophe strikes the Irish offense.

Crist has an exciting future here at Notre Dame, and I have no doubt that he will be the heir apparent to Jimmy Clausen whenever JC leaves for the NFL. However, he is in no particular hurry, and will take his time learning the playbook and serving as an understudy until his time comes.