Over the last four years, Irish fans have seen the last of the Willingham holdovers, studs and duds alike, depart, and watched the depth chart being assaulted every spring by new talent—the result of improved recruiting.
Regulars in 2007 like Robby Parris, Duval Kamara, Paul Duncan, John Ryan, and many others have seen their minutes dwindle as exciting new talents like Mike Floyd, Golden Tate, Ethan Johnson, and Trevor Robinson emerge and mature, earning playing time in practice and justifying it with Saturday performance.
That trend will continue this offseason, when freshman phenoms Manti Te'o, Tyler Stockton, and Shaquelle Evans figure to push for minutes the day they arrive on campus.
However, this should be the last year of depth chart shake-ups. As age begins to catch up with talent, continued recruiting success will mean the luxury to develop young talent over a couple seasons, and reload as players graduate and embark on NFL careers, rather than shoring up weak spots with any freshman physically mature enough to step on to the college gridiron.
That being said, away with long-winded optimism and on to my 2009 starting lineups for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
The no-brainer. Jimmy Clausen, when protected, is the most accurate passer in college football. In losses to North Carolina and Michigan State, I watched Jimmy make throws Tom Brady couldn't make. Some of his incompletions were pure poetry. Any Clausen haters can go back and watch that footage. Putting the ball on a dime was just an expression before this kid came to town.
That being said, the kid has a long way to go before becoming a good quarterback, or a good man. I don't like him. Nobody at ND likes him. Sitting in the student section last year, every incompletion brought shouts of "put Sharpley in!" from drunk math nerds who don't even watch the game.
I never met him in my time in South Bend, but my circuitous route through college had me at school with his older brother Casey at Tennessee, who was a spoiled brat, and set the stage for future spoiled brat UT quarterbacks Rick, Erik Ainge, and Jonathon Crompton. Jimmy seems the same, or even worse. Bad attitude, spoiled, sense of entitlement, all these seem to fit the kid.
He hasn't shown the ability to lead the team, the defiining characteristic of a winning quarterback.
But get off his back already. Cut him some slack. Since his commitment day hoopla, everyone, students, journalists, domers, and ND haters have put a target on his back. Remember Todd Marinovich? Jimmy's dad is a step up from that guy's. Casey and Rick were dissapointments, and Jimmy, the final son, is where all Mr. Clausen's hopes and dreams lie. The kid has had sunshine blown up his ass and his fathers expectations lain on his shoulders his entire life. Of course he's kind of a prick.
Instead of hating him, why not feel sorry for him? No matter what he does, he'll never live up to his recruiting hoopla, probably generated, in no small part, by family connections. He'll never live down his Hall of Fame commitment ceremony, which was probably his parents' idea.
And he'll never fit in South Bend, where other over-privileged kids will call him spoiled, his teammates pine for their good buddy DD, (Demetrius Jones, who threw a fit and transferred to Cincinnatti, where he is currently buried in the depth chart as a linebacker) and the media keeps a vulturous eye open for anything they can use to throw mud on the dome.
Why not get behind him? He has the ability to carry this team to a National Championship in the next two years. He's obviously not the leader that Brady Quinn was, but get over it already. If other team leaders will get behind him, and fight with him, and for him, this could be a special team. It will never be Jimmy's team, but it doesn't have to be. We haven't seen a quarterback this talented since Brady.. no, Rick.. no, uhh... NEVER.
You can have your Golden Boy quarterback in two years, when Clausen graduates. Dayne Crist looks just the part. But for now, Jimmy's the Man.