It seems like it was only yesterday when Jimmy Clausen was running for his own life behind the protection, or lack thereof, from his '07 offensive line.
Fast forward to Week Six of the 2009 season, Clausen's junior year.
A new and improved quarterback, the Irish signal-caller is ranked No. 1 in passing efficiency coming into Notre Dame's bye week.
Throw in the stats of 1,544 passing yards, a six-to-one (12-to-2) touchdown-to-interception ratio, plus three comeback wins in three straight weeks, and the Irish have themselves a Heisman candidate.
They also have a quarterback with a bright NFL future ahead of him.
Now considered among the elite by many, Clausen faces a decision that neither of his two brothers had to make: Will he stay or will he go?
Why he will stay
Joe Theismann recently weighed in on Clausen's future decision. Although quiet, Theismann decided he needed to give Clausen some professional, and bold, advice:"I would tackle him if he tried to leave the university and come out this year."
Having watched every snap of Clausen's college career so far, it really has been quite remarkable to see him develop so nicely under Weis.
He's seen plenty of time on the field and has gotten big time experience under his belt in his first two and a half seasons with the program.
However, the more experience going into the big league, the better.
Whenever Clausen chooses to enter, he will most likely be a high-to-mid-first round pick. When that time does come, he will want to see the field. Clausen is not a project quarterback, but rather fits the mold of an NFL-ready signal caller.
When the time comes and his name is called in the Big Apple, four years of top-notch college football will have the Californian as well-prepared for life in the NFL as he could possibly be.
Along with the added advantages of a fourth year, the team returning will be another key factor in the senior's decision.
The nation's top receiving corps will be coming back—Michael Floyd and Golden Tate (a dominating one-two receiver duo) along with Kyle Rudolph (the nation's top receiving tight end). Clausen should be drooling at the opportunity to light up defensive secondaries one more time around.
Passing the ball is only one part of the offense.
Along with the studs on the outside, three contributing offensive linemen (Chris Stewart, Trevor Robinson, and Dan Wenger) return. There will be no doubt in Clausen's mind that Steve Verducci will coach his unit to perfection in order to protect their prized possession.
Not many quarterbacks can say they will have two or three preseason All-Americans catching their passes. Given that opportunity, Clausen might not be able to pass it up.
The more quiet of the Irish quarterbacks named Joe also had some input regarding the talent returning next year:
"If you look at the Notre Dame football team, they have a chance to really be able to do something special a part of this year and I believe all of next year," Theismann said. "You get Floyd and Tate and Jimmy together, and how about Rudolph at tight end, I mean you're talking about an offense that has been quite prolific. That really can be so much better next year."
Without making a bold prediction a year early, 2010 is looking like a potential national championship year for the program due to a combination of upperclassmen, talent, and depth.
With Tim Tebow, and most likely Sam Bradord and Colt McCoy gone, the spotlight will be open and ready for Jimmy Clausen.
Why he will go
One line from Clausen's commitment press conference sticks out in this situation.
When asked if the decision to commit to Coach Weis was a business decision, the high school senior replied, "Yeah, this is a business decision."
Unlike his brothers, Clausen is the first one in his family that will get a chance to play in the NFL. Although it may seem insignificant to some of the fans, it is something he has strived for all his life:
"My two older brothers did this, and their dreams were to get to the NFL, and their dreams pretty much got shattered. And I think that's what's making me work so hard is to get there, because they didn't get the chance, or opportunity to. I think that's what drives me the most," said Clausen.
Money might not be as big as a concern for someone like Jimmy, as he and his family are financially secure.
However, something that might be on his mind is the shoulder of Sam Bradford.
Suffering a major shoulder injury in the opener, Bradford has been limited to coaching duties thus far in the 2009 season. After winning the '08 Heisman, many thought Bradford would put his name into the draft pool.
Bradford chose to stay, yet insists that he does not regret coming back.
Everyone and anyone knows the Heisman winner is actually thinking twice about his decision, a scenario that might give Clausen some second thoughts about returning.
Not to mention, even Superman himself suffered a concussion during his '09 season.
A big question mark still up in the air is the status of Weis' future in the program. If the Irish have another late-season demise like '08, Weis may be shown the door. A record of 9-3 will keep Charlie on campus. Four losses and his "internship" is over.
Many believe that if (a big if at that) Weis goes, Clausen goes.
Although previously stated that money probably won't be a major factor in his decision-it will still be a thought in the decision-making process.
Financially speaking, leaving early probably makes more sense.
With all the whispers about the NFL changing it's rookie pay structure, Clausen (and many others) could conceivably lose millions waiting an extra year, even if he is drafted at the same or a higher slot.
Fans may not like it, but Clausen will most definitely have the professional lifestyle on his mind come offseason.
"The NFL is what I want to do, that's how I want to make a living, and after seeing my brothers not get to the NFL, every time I want to stop lifting a weight, it just makes me keep lifting. It drives me a lot," said Clausen at his commitment ceremony.
What's Clausen Thinking?
Both scenarios have their pros and cons, yet there seem to be more definites in the "staying" argument rather than the "leaving."
Either way, it is still too early to tell exactly what Clausen will do. There are so many scenarios that could happen over the remainder of this season.
Clausen may find himself in New York listening for his name to be called for the Heisman come December-or maybe he will be found sitting on the sideline, chatting with Michael Floyd on how disappointed he is about both of their season ending injuries.
There is plenty left to be played out in this decision for Clausen.. and his team.
Whether or not he stays for his senior year, my advice to Irish fans across the nation will not change, however. This quarterback is a special talent, and as good as Dayne Crist will be as his successor, you may not see one like Clausen for awhile.
"Appreciate your possessions, because you don't know what you've got until it's gone."
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