Nov. 11, 2005

By John Heisler

Call it self-confidence.

Call it moxie.

Call it whatever you like.

Whatever descriptive noun you selected, it didn’t take long for Notre Dame football fans to understand that their new head coach, Charlie Weis, possessed some of it.

But, let’s go back to August. Regardless of what you heard from Weis, what you saw from the Irish during spring drills, what you heard from Irish players, no one could know for sure if, how well or how quickly Weis’ plans for the Irish would translate. And Weis made it quite clear he planned to play his cards close to his vest.

So, think about some of those deep-seated questions you harbored inside your brain as you pondered what Notre Dame football would be all about in 2005:

* We had heard all the cutesy wordplays on Tom Brady and Brady Quinn, but let’s get serious here. The Notre Dame version of Brady came into ’05 with a 10-11 record as a starting college quarterback. Other than tying the Irish single-game touchdown pass record with four last year against Washington, Quinn had yet to leave Irish fans breathless with the thought,

“Wow, Brady won that game for us all by himself.”

With all that as a backdrop, what would the Weis-tutored Quinn look like? How well would the New England Patriot offense translate on the turf of Notre Dame Stadium? Could this Brady actually bear a resemblance to that Brady?

* Weis had been considered something of an expert in the art and science of NFL play calling. But how easy or hard would it be to make all those same things work at the collegiate level? What exactly would the Irish offense look like? When Weis talked about finding out what worked based on his personnel and then adapting all that to the strengths (actually, weaknesses) of opponents, did you really think the Irish could be diverse enough in their abilities to threaten the all-time single-season team scoring average record?

* Notre Dame’s head coach talked about the ability to play with confidence. But, how realistic was that going to be for a group that had seen more than its share of ups and downs in recent years? How much confidence can you have against anybody when you’ve lost three straight years to your biggest rival, all by margins of 31 points?

* Jeff Samardzija created some nice angles for the media by playing in spring football scrimmages, then heading off to pitch for the Irish baseball team on Sundays. But, was there any real reason to think this guy’s best long-term prospects weren’t involved with throwing a ball as opposed to catching one, based on what’d we’d seen (no career TD receptions, by the way, coming into ’05)?

* Was there any reason to think we’d see more from Maurice Stovall in his final season in an Irish uniform, just because he lost a little weight?

* Were there any reasons to think that Quinn and Samardzija and Stovall would spend the first two-thirds of their seasons blowing up pages in the Notre Dame record book?

* Even with the close-to-unprecedented experience back on the offensive line, were there legitimate hopes that group could be better or improved or even proficient when it came to enabling the Irish offense to prosper?

* Considering Tommy Zbikowski had never returned a punt at the college level and even as recently as the Michigan game had been mainly inserted for his sure handedness, how could we have known that he would emerge as one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country?

* Considering how maligned the Notre Dame secondary had been, was there any way for Zbikowsi and Mike Richardson and Chinedum Ndukwe and Ambrose Wooden and Leo Ferrine to give the secondary any sense of hope for success?

* When the Irish defensive captain could count the Notre Dame returning defensive regulars with the fingers on one hand, why would Brandon Hoyte believe he and his teammates could prove so opportunistic, especially in the red zone?

* Could you have imagined that it would make sense to see Notre Dame’s name listed right alongside those of programs like USC and Texas when it came to passing yards and scoring and total offense?

* Did you consider it possible that Notre Dame would throw up 31 or more points in six straight football games for the first time in 13 years?

* Could you possibly have been considered to be in your right mind if you’d suggested a Tennessee player would have been quoted saying Quinn was playing “probably better than any quarterback in the country right now” and another would suggest that Notre Dame actually had more skill-position playmakers than did the Vols?

It’s safe to say all these questions and more were fair game coming into 2005.

And don’t you just wonder what Charlie Weis was really thinking when those sorts of questions filtered through his mind from one day to the next?