Recently, I was pondering the play of Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen and thinking to myself, "how great he has been performing thus far this season." Then it occurred to me:
Is Clausen playing better than Brady Quinn at the same point in their respective careers?
I realize the discussion isn't complete because there are still five games left in Clausen's junior season, but I thought I'd see how things have shaped up nonetheless.
I don't really want to compare the skill of each player, although I will comment that I think it is becoming clear that Clausen's ceiling is (and always was) much higher than Quinn's.
The two main things I want to focus on for this discussion are overall team ability (particularly on offense), as well as what each schedule was like for each player.
Was the 2005 Notre Dame team better than the current 2009 squad? It is an excellent question and one Irish fans have been asking for months now.
At this point, it is probably too close to call. Both defenses gave up a ton of points and were not considered to be anywhere near great.
The 2005 team lost close games to Michigan State and USC, while the 2009 team has lost close games to Michigan and USC.
On offense, the 2005 team had less depth and fewer heralded players but was able to move the ball and score at a much higher clip than the current 2009 team.
It appears that today's team may be more skilled, but for some reason the 2005 team was a really cohesive and more well-rounded offense.
However, when looking at the schedules, I was a bit shocked to discover that Quinn had it a little easier than Clausen. That may explain why the 2005 team put up better numbers.
The 2005 team beat up on bad Syracuse and Washington programs and defeated average Purdue, BYU, Tennessee, Navy, and Stanford teams, while also winning against good Pitt and Michigan teams.
Quinn and the Fighting Irish also lost to a good Michigan State team, a great USC team, and a really good Ohio State team.
So far this year the schedule has been a bit more demanding in my eyes. Despite what their records say or may not say, I believe Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Washington, and BC are all relatively good teams.
Nevada is below average, and Washington State is just abysmal.
Given the last four games of the 2009 schedule (Navy, Pitt, UConn, and Stanford), I can't see how this year's team is having it any easier than Quinn's junior year.
Moreover, it also seems Clausen is having a better year statistically, although the last month of the season will be a big test.
Still, given the number of comebacks (four), and near comebacks (two) engineered by Clausen, the argument is beginning to sway in the Californian's favor.
When Quinn finished his junior year, he had compiled what many believed was the greatest season for a quarterback in school history:
64.9 percent completion rate
Speaking for many Irish fans, those numbers were really mind-blowing given the ineptitude of the previous four or five offenses in South Bend.
That quarterback rating was seventh-best in the country and good enough to get Quinn some Heisman buzz heading into his senior year.
On the other side, Clausen is putting together what could be an even better season statistically. If we average out his current numbers and add a fifth game for a bowl appearance, here's what Clausen is on pace to put together:
66.9 percent completion rate
Even though Clausen may have a more explosive offense, his team is working its way through a more difficult schedule, and that makes these numbers certainly jaw-dropping.
If a Notre Dame quarterback can't get invited to the Heisman award show with those numbers, in a year with mediocre star play, it may never happen.
So with about a month left in the regular season, Jimmy Clausen is set to put together a better junior season, in my opinion, than former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn.