It's that time of year again: 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 (Nine games started):
Passing: 138/245, 1,254 yards, seven TDs, six INTs, 103.85 Effic., 125.4 yds/gm
Rushing: 62 rushes, 97 yards gained, 284 yards lost, -187 net, -3.0 avg., two TDs, 34 sacks
Last season was a long one for the young Clausen, who had been used to winning his entire athletic career, including four state championships in high school. In his frosh campaign, Jimmy was sacked a whopping 27 times, more than twice as many times 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, uhnd.com 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 1,800 yards compared to Clausen's 1,254. However, this discrepancy is largely due to the number of attempts: Brady attempted 332 passes, compared to Clausen's 245.
A better measurement 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 seven TDs against only six INTs.
Clausen's better efficiency came in the face of worse protection, and with far less run support. Quinn's freshman year featured over 2,200 yards of rushing, compared to barely 1,500 yards in Clausen's freshman year.
With the confirmed reports that Clausen was never healthy last year, there is much to get excited about.
Clausen 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.
In fact, don't be surprised if, 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 (two games started):
Passing: 77/140, 736 yards, five TDs, three INTs, 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 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 one or two 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 percent, there is little doubt in my mind that he is the better quarterback. However, 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. 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 yards, 16 TDs, one INT
Rushing: 81 rushes, 454 yards, four TDs
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 he will take his time learning the playbook and serving as an understudy until his time comes.