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Young Irish Counting On Jackson

Aug. 27, 1999

AP MegaSports Writer

If Notre Dame is to improve on last season’s Gator Bowl berth, it will be up to quarterback Jarious Jackson to take them to a higher level in 1999.

The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Jackson, a fifth-year senior, put together a breakout 1998 season, his first as a starter. Jackson completed 104 of 288 passes for 1,740 yards and showed the ability to make big plays with his running.

The question for the 18th-ranked Irish is how well will Jackson have to play for them to succeed despite the loss of 12 starters and a brutal schedule.

Jackson and his teammates get a chance to begin answering that question Saturday, when Notre Dame opens its season at home against Kansas in the Eddie Robinson Classic.

“I think all of us, obviously, are anxious,” Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said. “You really don’t know. You think you know what you have, you hope that you’ve made some progress. You hope that you’re a better football team. The bottom line is that you really don’t know until Saturday.”

Notre Dame, 9-3 last season, will find out almost immediately how good it is. Following the Kansas game, the Irish play consecutive road games against eighth-ranked Michigan and No. 23 Purdue. They also play second-ranked Tennessee in Knoxville, and face No. 19 Southern Cal, No. 25 Arizona State and Michigan State at home.

“You look at the youth of this team and you look at the schedule and there’s some concern,” Davie said. “But there’s also some optimism for the future because you really do see things starting to move forward. How quickly can this football team develop and jell? You’d like to think by the end of the season we can be a pretty strong football team.”

Notre Dame must find a way to replace running back Autry Denson, who ran for 1,176 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Two prime candidates are junior Tony Driver and sophomore Tony Fisher.

The Irish defense looks good, led by a front four of Lamont Bryant, Lance Legree, Anthony Williams and Brad Weaver.

Kansas is coming off a 4-7 season. The Jayhawks are led by quarterback Zac Wegner, a fifth-year senior who is beginning his second season as the starter. Wegner threw for 1,367 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions last season before he suffered concussions in consecutive weeks against Colorado and Kansas State.

Notre Dame and Kansas have not met since 1938, when the Irish routed the Jayhawks 52-0. Notre Dame leads the series 3-1-1.