Wednesday, June 22, 2005

2005 Opponent Position Preview - Quarterbacks | by Pat

For our opponent previews, we thought we'd slice it lengthwise instead of crossways, and take a look at each team position-by-position. First up: quarterbacks. Let's roll.

PITTSBURGH - Tyler Palko. 2004 stats: 3,067 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs. Returning starter.

You might remember Palko both for his 5-touchdown performance against the Irish last season and the big F-bomb he dropped on NBC after the game. Palko had his coming out party last season and will look to build on it this year. The only thing that might slow him down is the departure of QB-friendly coach Walt Harris, however, I'll suggest that Palko will still be one of the tougher QBs that ND will face next season. He's more mobile than one might think and is the fiery type of football player that can rally a team. Depth: Pitt has even less QB depth than Notre Dame. Top backup Joe Flacco suggests he wants to transfer. If he follows through, incoming freshman Bill Stull is the backup.

MICHIGAN - Chad Henne. 2004 stats: 240-399, 2,743 yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs. Returning starter.

Making his first road start in last year's Irish victory, Henne (#7) will be a much improved quarterback this upcoming season when ND rolls into Ann Arbor. He seemed to forget he was supposed to have the freshman jitters which leads me to believe he'll be very solid and dependable QB under center for the Wolverines. Possessing possibly the strongest arm that ND will face next season, Henne will put up big numbers all year. He's not the most mobile of quarterbacks, but he doesn't need to be in Michigan's offense. Carr should loosen up the offensive reins a bit on Henne this go-around and let him test the ND secondary early and often. Depth: Derek Landri's high school teammate Matt Gutierrez is a solid college QB who should be able to step in easily should Henne go down. Michigan's QB depth is probably second only to USC's next season.

MICHIGAN STATE - Drew Stanton. 2004 stats: 141-220, 1601 yards, 8 TDs, 6 INTs. Returning starter.

Stanton played in only the second half of last year's game against the Irish after coming into the game injured, but still managed to lead the Spartans on a comeback that nearly erased the early Irish lead. Now that he's finally healthy, last season's team MVP will be the Spartans' biggest offensive threat. Stanton's calling card is his mobility, as evidenced by the fact he had more yards rushing and the same number of rushing touchdowns last season as Ryan Grant (687 yards in 10 games versus 515 yards in 9 games). Also an accurate passer, Stanton will be a decent test for Charlie Weis' first home game. Depth: Like Pitt, MSU's backup QB has never taken a college snap. Should Stanton get hurt, either redshirt frosh Brian Hoyer or true freshman Domenic Natale will be pressed into action. Might that mean Stanton won't get the green light to run as much this year?


At the end of spring practice, Washington's quarterback situation still appears to be up in the air and Tyrone isn't giving any hints. Casey Paus and Carl Bonnell both played in the Notre Dame game last season with neither having a good game. Bonnell showed some mobility that Paus lacked and might have a leg up in the race for the starting position in 2005. Then again, Oregon transfer Johnny DuRocher was a highly recruited high school QB and seems to be taking a leadership role on the team already. Last but not least is speedy Isaiah Stanback, who seems to be a wide receiver playing QB in the Arnaz Battle mold. One thing for sure is that improvement will be needed over last season's performance as Paus, Bonnell, and Stanback combined for only 8 passing touchdowns versus 24 interceptions. Depth: The plus side of a jumbled QB situation is that you have options on the bench if the starter is having a rough game, and Paus, Bonnell, and Stanback all started games last year.

PURDUE - Brandon Kirsch. 2004 stats: 58-94, 711 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs.

Perhaps we should list Brandon Kirsch as a returning starter; after all, he has started six games in his career. However, he was the backup to Kyle Orton last year and this will be his first year as the Purdue's primary signalcaller. Kirsch's skill set differs from Orton in that he is much more mobile. So much so, in fact, that Tiller has reportedly worked some option plays into the Purdue playbook. Still, Kirsch will primarly be called upon to be accurate and make quick decisions in Purdue's fast-paced aerial attack. An emotional, vocal leader, Kirsch seems like the type of quarterback who at times plays a bit out of control and is always looking to make something out of nothing. Depth: Curtis Painter is now the one waiting in the wings. A big, strong-armed QB, Painter should get some quality snaps this season.

USC - Matt Leinart. 2004 stats: 269-412, 3,322 yards, 33 TDs, 6 INTs. Returning Starter. Heisman Trophy winner.

You may have heard of Leinart before. Seems he's a decent quarterback who has a fairly popular blog, won the Heisman last season, is the favorite to win it again this year, will most likely be the #1 pick in the NFL draft, and hasn't lost in twenty-two games. By far the best quarterback Notre Dame will face next season, Leinart will no doubt be looking forward to another banner game against the ND secondary. About the only thing that will slow him down is the loss of USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Still, the Trojan southpaw is good enough on his own to pose the toughest challenge for Notre Dame this season. Depth: Backups John David Booty (recently the subject of an SI feature story) and Mark Sanchez were both the #1 rated QB coming out of high school. Booty has only seen limited action thus far, but should be able to easily step under center if the need arises. I realize it's not fun to read this if you're a Notre Dame fan (or cornerback), but trust me, it wasn't fun to write it either.

BYU - John Beck. 2004 stats: 192-343, 2,563 yards, 15 TDs, 8 INTs. Returning Starter.

New coach Bronco Mendenhall insisted there would be a three-way race for the starting quarterback position following spring practice, but ended up naming John Beck as his starter anyway. Beck started against Notre Dame last season and led the MWC in passing and total offense in 2004, but Matthew Berry and Jason Beck both started games last season and will push John Beck for the starting position in the fall. John Beck's advantage is his mobility and experience so it shouldn't be a shock to see him under center in Notre Dame stadium on October 22nd. Depth: The trio of quarterbacks don't seem that far apart -- unless Mendenhall is just trying to motivate John Beck. As with Washington, a lack of a clear-cut starter might mean we'll see a variety of passers throughout the season.

TENNESSE - Erik Ainge. 2004 stats: 109-198, 1,452 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs. Returning Starter

As Al McGuire once said, the best thing about freshman is that they become sophomores. And like Chad Henne, Erik Ainge should be a much better quarterback now that he has a year of college football under his belt. His competition for the starting spot (fellow QB Brent Schaeffer) packed up and left, and now Ainge has the offense all to himself. A tall and accurate passer, Ainge should be one of the better quarterbacks in the nation in 2005. And don't discount the revenge factor when the Vols travel to South Bend as the Irish were the team that knocked Ainge out for the season with a shoulder injury last year in Knoxville. Depth: The loss of Brent Schaeffer hurts the Vols QB depth, but Rick Claussen performed adequately once Ainge went down with injury and should be a very solid backup with plenty of game experience.

NAVY - Lamar Owens. 2004 stats: 2-5, 38 yards.

Lamar Owens replaces successful Midshipmen QB Aaron Polanco, and like all Navy quarterbacks, his primary attack is with his feet. Owens is extremely fast but his arm is more or less a mystery and most likely will remain so for the season. But who knows? 2004 National Coach of the Year Paul Johnson might call a few passes to keep everyone on their toes. Depth: Coach Johnson claims there isn't a backup yet although Brian Hampton had a successful spring game and might be Owens' backup heading into the fall.

SYRACUSE - Perry Patterson. 2004 stats: 168-289, 7 TDs, 10 INTs. Returning Starter

Another team that's trying a few quarterbacks on for size is Syracuse, and new head coach Greg Robinson is looking for someone to lead the Orange's new west coastoffense. Perry Patterson had the bulk of the playing time last season and seems to be the favorite to start in September. He's a big (6'4", 242lb) QB who still has the ability to get some yards on the ground. However, some critics have questioned his accuracy on short passes, which are a staple of the WCO. He'll have to acquire a deft touch if he wants to be successful and hold onto the job. Depth: The other option for Syracuse is sophomore Joe Fields, who actually started the first three games of 2004. Fields is an elusive QB who showed improved accuracy in the spring game and will give Syracuse two competent options under center.

STANFORD - Trent Edwards. 2004 stats: 179-274, 1732 yards, 9 TDs, 11 INTs. Returning Starter

Edwards is an interesting study. An all-world talent coming out of high school, Edwards has struggled to put it all together at Stanford. Was it simply inexperience? Was it a side-effect of Buddy Ball? We might find out this season as the junior gets to learn and develop under the watch of new coach and noted QB guru Walt Harris. Edwards has all of the physical skills you could want in a quarterback and it will be interesting to see just how improved he will be when the Irish roll into Palo Alto in late November. Depth: Then again, maybe Edwards won't be the starter in November...or even September. While Edwards appeared to have a slight edge in spring practice, Coach Harris seems to be keeping his options open, and redshirt frosh T.C. Ostrander is a solid candidate to unseat returning starter Edwards. Like Edwards, Ostrander is a big, strong QB and was a highly recruited QB prospect. Experience might give the edge to Edwards, but Ostrander's presence will give Stanford talented, but inexperienced depth.

2005 Opponent Quarterback Analysis and Ranking

Looking at the schedule, our DB coaches Lewis and Polian will certainly earn their paycheck as ND will face eight quarterbacks who are returning starters. And that doesn't even count the eventual starter from the Washington group, plus Brandon Kirsch at Purdue, all of whom (minus DuRocher) started at least one game last season. In fact, the only team definitely starting someone with zero experience is Navy.

Considering that ND's secondary is probably the biggest question mark on the team, having to face so many veteran QBs should give pause to anyone who is predicting a cakewalk season for Charlie Weis' first year (unless we just out-score them all, Pac-10 shootout style).

Obviously a big part of a QB's success is who's calling the plays, and who's catching the ball . As mentioned above, Tyler Palko is a great quarterback, but with a new run-oriented head coach, his impact could be muted. The opposite is true for Trent Edwards, who very easily could turn into a all-conference QB (if not for that pesky Leinart guy) under Harris. In these rankings I'm going to try and ignore all of that stuff and just go on things like talent, team depth, experience, and past production. And it should be pretty obvious that this list could look drastically different come September, let alone December. But for now, this is how I would rank the quarterbacks that Notre Dame will face in 2005:

1. USC - I'm guessing this is painfully obvious. Leinart is good.
2. Michigan - Henne will be even better this year and Gutierrez is a solid backup.
3. Tennessee - Ainge should be improved and Claussen has experience if needed.
4. Pitt - Palko is a great quarterback, but lack of depth hurts Pitt.
5. MSU - Stanton is the team leader, but none of the backups have taken a college snap.
6. Stanford - Edwards and Ostrander are the big wildcards in this list. How good are they?
7. Purdue - Kirsch seems to have the tools to succeed and Painter is a talent.
8. BYU - Beck is another QB who has the skills to flourish under a new coach.
9. Syracuse - Patterson or Fields? Either will have to keep mistakes to a minimum.
10. Washington - Well, at least they don't have Diedrick pulling the strings.
11. Navy - This might not be fair as Owens is more of a runner than passer.

Next up: Running Backs.