QB Brady Quinn

2005 Statistics

Coach: Charlie Weis
9-3, 1 year
2005 Record: 9-3
at Pittsburgh WON 42-21
at Michigan WON 17-10
at Washington WON 36-17
at Purdue WON 49-28
USC LOST 31-34
NAVY WON 42-21
at Stanford WON 38-31
vs. Ohio State LOST 20-34

2005 Final Rankings
AP-9, Coaches-11, BCS-6


2006 Outlook

Dynamic new coach has Notre Dame back among the national powers after just one year? Haven't we been here recently? It wasn't that long ago that Ty Willingham was being hailed as genius for taking the Irish from 5-6 to 10-3 in his first year. He was gone two years later. Weis was given a 10-year contract extension after taking Notre Dame from 6-6 to 9-3 and a BCS bowl, and he improved on a Willingham critique by landing a top-10 recruiting class. But patience isn't a virtue at Notre Dame. Weis has quickly raised an already high bar of expectation as the talk is suddenly about ending the 18-year national title drought. If the Irish finish outside of the top 10, there will certainly be some grumbling in South Bend.

Apparently, Weis' perfectionism is contagious. It certainly spread to his team, which instantly became more confident under the direction of a guy with four Super Bowl rings. The Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, which showed how far the Irish have yet to go, has lingered like a wicked hangover among the players and staff. "We're going to regroup, bust our butt in the weight room, conditioning, get ourselves ready for spring ball, get ready for summer," safety Tom Zbikowski said afterward. "And not ever lose again."

If that's to happen, Zbikowski and the secondary will have to improve drastically. You usually have to be outstanding on both sides of the ball to win national titles, and the pass defense is not yet close to being outstanding. When he took the Notre Dame job, Weis carefully studied what Pete Carroll did to quickly build USC into one of the nation's top programs. Carroll was a defensive-minded coach who didn't get the Trojans' offense clicking until his second year. With the help of instant-impact recruits such as Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls, offensive-minded Weis could be poised to follow a similar pattern at Notre Dame.

Besides improving the pass defense, the biggest obstacle the Irish face is a schedule that appears to be tougher. Last year's slate looked strong in the preseason, but ended up ranking 52nd as just five (pre-bowl) opponents had winning seasons, while hyped Tennessee, Michigan State, Purdue and Pittsburgh teams failed to meet expectations. Ten-win Penn State and UCLA teams are added to this season's schedule, along with road trips to USC and Georgia Tech.

The opener at Tech is followed by home games with the Nittany Lions and Michigan, then a trip to an improving Michigan State squad. We'll find out right away if this is a national title-caliber team. If the Irish manage to bring an 11-0 record into their regular-season finale against Carroll's Trojans, it could be one of the biggest non-bowl games in history. But we're probably getting way too far ahead of ourselves. First, the offense has to continue to scorch opponents while the defense cuts down on big plays. Those two simple keys, along with Notre Dame's trademark luck, figure to be enough to have this team in the national title picture by the USC game, though with a loss or two.

As for actually winning the title, it seems to be too much, too soon for a building program. The Patriots won their first Super Bowl in Bill Belichick's second season, but this isn't the parity-happy NFL. The Irish have a shot, but let's give Weis a couple more stellar recruiting classes and some more time to upgrade the defense before penciling his team in for a national title.

Projected 2006 record: 11-1
QB - 5 DL - 4
RB - 4 LB - 3
WR - 5 DB - 4
OL - 4 ..

Passing: Brady Quinn, 450-292-7, 3919 yds., 32 TD

Rushing: Darius Walker, 253 att., 1196 yds., 9 TD

Receiving: Jeff Samardzija, 77 rec., 1249 yds., 15 TD

Scoring: Jeff Samardzija, 15 TD, 90 pts.

Punting: none

Kicking: Carl Gioia, 1-1 FG, 2-2 PAT, 5 pts.

Tackles: Ambrose Wooden, 74 tot., 61 solo

Sacks: Victor Abiamiri, 8 sacks

Interceptions: Tom Zbikowski, 5 for 136 yds., 2 TD

Kickoff Returns: David Grimes, 15 ret., 22.5 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: Tom Zbikowski, 27 ret., 14.0 avg., 2 TD


DB Tom Zbikowski
OFFENSE: Rashon Powers-Neal-FB, Maurice Stovall-WR, Matt Shelton-WR, Dan Stevenson-OG, Mark LeVoir-OT, D.J. Fitzpatrick-K/P, Anthony Fasano-TE (NFL)
DEFENSE: Corey Mays-MLB, Brandon Hoyte-OLB

Brady Quinn is this year's Matt Leinart – he is that clean-cut superstar QB who turned down millions to remain in school. The difference is he doesn't have a Heisman, national title or Reggie Bush. Quinn, who will be a fourth-year starter, owns just about every passing record at the nation's most storied program, but he has plenty left to accomplish. He also feels he has plenty left to learn as he decided to stick around to get another year in under head coach Charlie Weis. The former New England OC will be more comfortable throwing increasingly complex schemes on Quinn's plate, which will only make this offense that much tougher to contain. Quinn has the big arm, smarts, experience, leadership, pocket coolness and escape-ability for another great Irish season. More importantly, he's surrounded by the solid cast of characters needed for an award-winning show. The drop-off in experience behind Quinn couldn't be much larger. Junior David Wolke, who saw mop-up time in six games and threw just three passes, is a slightly smaller, slightly more mobile backup. One of Weis' top priorities in recruiting was bringing in a pair of signal callers -- four-star QBs Zach Frazer (PA) and Demetrius Jones (Chicago) -- and he went hard after a third in Mitch Mustain, who opted for the Razorbacks. Don't be surprised if Frazer, who fits Weis' system better than Jones, makes a run at the back-up spot and sets himself up to take over in '07.

Running Back
Believe it or not, the Irish ran a little bit more than they threw last year. That offensive balance will continue with a potent cache of weapons here that will continue to keep defenses honest. Explosive starter Darius Walker, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry en route to a 1,200-yard campaign, has 4.4 speed and is a chore to contain, especially with Quinn's deep throws opening up the box. He's also an excellent dump-off target (43 grabs). Senior Travis Thomas brings a blend of power and quickness to the backup role, where he'll continue to take some of the burden off Walker. The Irish also signed in-state (Crown Point) stud James Aldridge, a Walker-esque early enrollee rated third in the country at his position by Rivals.com. Weis utilizes the fullback position, which accounted for 59 carries and six TDs, and he has a tested true soph in Asaph Schwapp, a good blocker and a load on short yardage who won't blow anyone away with his speed or pass-catching ability.

The Irish have one of the nation's top pass-catch tandems in Quinn and senior wideout Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija is Quinn’s go-to guy, his deep guy, and his possession guy. “Shark” is that heady kind who infects others to give more, so count on 10+ throws per week going in the direction of the Valparaiso-native. Getting better overall speed here and someone to complement Samardzija after the loss of the team's second-, third-, fifth- and sixth-ranked receivers are the most pressing concerns for this offense. Rhema McKnight, who was supposed to The Man in ‘05, returns after losing last season to a knee injury, which has put his effectiveness in question. Weis wanted to upgrade his team's speed with this year's recruiting class, and he pointed to early enrollee George West as one of the guys who will do that. West and redshirt frosh D.J. Hord are a couple of small playmakers who figure to go along great with the lanky Samardzija. Three other WR recruits join the team this fall. There's obviously not much experienced depth here, but Quinn's accuracy, along with the attention commanded by Samardzija and the balance coming from the running game, could make some of these youngsters look pretty good. Well, that and Weis’ direction(s). This is the same coach who won with a New England offense boasting the likes of Deion Branch and David Givens, so fans need not panic.

Tight End
Quinn needs a reliable, short-range target out of this spot as an underneath option in Weis’ vertical attack. The job goes to senior John Carlson as potential-laden soph Joey Hiben left the program. Carlson backed up early draft entry Anthony Fasano last year and proved to be a dependable blocker with decent mitts (seven catches, one TD). With Hiben gone, expect true freshman Konrad Reuland to see time in the frequent double- and triple-TE sets Weis employs. Rivals.com pegged Reuland, a 6-6 SoCal native with 4.75 speed, as the third-best prep TE, while the possible return of three-year reserve Marcus Freeman for a fifth year would further bolster what will be a key position. Whatever the case, expect some drop-off early from this group, which won't have an easy time accounting for the talented Fasano's numbers (third on team in receptions).

Offensive Line
This area has been singled out as the biggest offensive hole, while WR and TE spots are largely overlooked. Though thin on depth, the O-line will remain experienced, despite the loss of a pair of underrated starters. Senior center John Sullivan is the unit's leader and glue, while fifth-year senior Dan Santucci (LG) and true senior Ryan Harris (LT) are back to cover Quinn's blindside (21 sacks allowed). Big Bob Morton, basically the sixth lineman, should settle in at RG, while a handful returning reserves will battle with six incoming freshmen (five of whom are rated at four-stars or above) for the RT spot. Improvement here was crucial to the offense's turnaround, and this solid group figures to maintain par or possibly get a little better. Barring injuries, bettering 3.6 yards per carry is a needed mission.

Despite some questions at WR and TE, Quinn will continue to put up Heisman-caliber numbers. Opponents can break down all the film they want, but Weis is the type of coach whose offense is always one step ahead of foes’ adjustments. With an experienced QB like Quinn, he'll attack with increasingly subtle/complex looks that would frustrate many NFL teams, let alone18-22 year olds. The balance is there - Walker will key the running game (that should improve on last season's No. 55 national ranking) while providing a quick and reliable receiving target underneath. The line will gel quickly and provide adequate if not better protection for Quinn. The biggest question on this team, other than pass defense, is overall speed at the receiver spots, the lack of which was exposed by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The need was addressed by the incoming recruiting class. If those true freshmen can make an immediate impact (Weis played 11 freshmen last year), which is highly possible with Quinn’s braintrust hurling the ball at them, this offense will reach a higher gear. That's scary, considering it was good enough in ’05 to have jumped from 81st to 10th (total offense) in the nation.


WR Jeff Samardzija


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Brady Quinn-Sr (6-4, 231) Evan Sharpley-So (6-2, 207)
FB Asaph Schwapp-So (6-0, 250) Ashley McConnell-Jr (6-0, 247)
HB Darius Walker-Jr (5-10, 208) Travis Thomas-Jr (6-0, 215)
WR Rhema McKnight-Sr (6-0, 208) David Grimes-So (6-0, 170)
Chase Anastasio-Jr (6-2, 203)
WR Jeff Samardzija-Sr (6-5, 216) D.J. Hord-So (6-1, 198)
TE John Carlson-Jr (6-6, 254) Marcus Freeman-Sr (6-3, 245)
OT Ryan Harris-Sr (6-5, 288) Scott Raridon-Sr (6-7, 304)
OG Dan Santucci-Sr (6-4, 290) James Bonelli-Sr (6-8, 280)
C John Sullivan-Jr (6-4, 298) Dan Wenger-Fr (6-4, 285)
OG Bob Morton-Sr (6-4, 292) Chris Stewart-Fr (6-5, 360)
OT Brian Mattes-Sr (6-6, 285) Paul Duncan-So (6-7, 292)
K Carl Gioia-Jr (5-10, 183) Ryan Burkhart-Fr (5-11, 185)
incoming recruit


Defensive Line
Expectations are higher for a unit that took an anticipated step back last fall. There are no excuses now as almost everyone returns, including all four starters, making for an experienced rotation. These guys are undersized but quick, so moving guys in and out to wear on offensive lines is essential here. A more physical approach is also necessary for a D-line that was manhandled by some larger opponents, such as Ohio State. DE Victor Abiamiri is coming off an eight-sack year and is poised for a star season, while counterpart Chris Frome returns after having a promising year cut short by a knee injury against USC. Inside, NG Derek Landri and DT Trevor Laws do a decent job plugging holes for a run defense that ranked 34th in the nation, though the lack of experienced depth behind them must be addressed. The D-line will also have to take charge on a defense with new faces at LB and all kinds of problems at DB. Led by Abiamiri, this group provided good pressure (ND ranked 34th in sacks), but the struggling secondary will need even more help than that from this crew to cut down on big plays.

Plugging holes here will be vital for a unit that did a decent job containing the run, but not nearly enough in pass coverage. For the second straight year, two starting LBs must be replaced, and this time the losses (Mays and Hoyt) constitute five forced fumbles, 11 sacks and 29 TFLs. And there's not much experience remaining to plug in. Junior Maurice Crum returns at the Apache spot, a hybrid backer-safety role in Rick Minter's D. The athletic Crum, who actually looked good at times in pass coverage, has the talent to be a breakout performer and must be effectively utilized. The middle and weak-side spots could go to soph Scott Smith and senior Joe Brockington, respectively. Both have speed and decent size and have seen extensive time on special teams. Mitchell Thomas, Steve Quinn and Anthony Vernaglia aren't far behind. Incoming freshmen Morrice Richardson and Toryan Smith have speed, size and upside, and could factor in immediately as none of the returnees possess eye-popping talent.

Defensive Back
Here it is: These guys must improve (103rd against the pass) or the Irish might not get close to another BCS bowl, let alone a national title. All four starters from this embattled unit return, along with nickel-back Leo Ferrine, but don't expect to see all of those players starting this fall. When Weis talked about upgrading the team's speed, he wasn't just talking about the skill positions. Five defensive backs were in this year's recruiting class, including U.S. Army all-American CBs Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls, who Weis has indicated will play right away. Minter, who got burned relying on man schemes last year, could have the right guys for one-on-one coverages now. At safety, returning starters Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe will be pushed by true sophs Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton. Zbikowski, a true blazer who can catch just about anybody from behind and had five picks, is the hard-hitting senior with big-play potential who will be the unit's leader. Ohio State's four TDs of 55-plus yards were indicative of this group's season. The addition of the youngsters and all those reps against Quinn should result in at least improvement. How much improvement will be the biggest factor in determining how far this team gets.

In the last 25 years at South Bend, the second-best one-year improvement on D came in 1991, when the Irish jumped from 73rd to 32nd nationally in total defense. That turnaround came under Minter, who is being counted on to produce similar results in his second go-round with the Irish. His ’06 defense is smallish as a whole. Penetration off the edge, smart LBs freed up to make plays by the D-line, and a secondary that limits breakdowns while more creating game-changing turnovers are among the keys for a crew forced to rely on speed rather than size. The front seven must remain solid against the run while supplying more pressure. In the secondary, Minter has to find the right mix by the opener at Georgia Tech, or any dreams of a national title will abruptly end. With an offense that will put up plenty of points, moderate improvement should be sufficient to keep this team in the national title chase.


DE Victor Abiamiri


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Chris Frome-Sr (6-5, 268) Ronald Talley-So (6-4, 261)
DT Trevor Laws-Jr (6-1, 293) Derrell Hand-Fr (6-3, 301)
NG Derek Landri-Sr (6-3, 263) Dwight Stephenson-Jr (6-2, 252)
DE Victor Abiamiri-Sr (6-4, 260) Justin Brown-So (6-3, 247)
ALB Anthony Vernaglia-So (6-3, 221) Scott Smith-So (6-3, 234)
MLB Maurice Crum-So (6-0, 220) Mitchell Thomas-Jr (6-3, 240)
WLB Joe Brockington-Jr (6-1, 212) Steve Quinn-So (6-2, 215)
CB Mike Richardson-Sr (5-11, 193) Terrail Lambert-So (5-11, 188)
CB Ambrose Wooden-Jr (5-11, 197) Leo Ferrine-So (6-0, 186)
SS Tom Zbikowski-Jr (6-0, 208) Kyle McCarthy-Fr (6-0, 189)
FS Chinedum Ndukwe-Sr (6-2, 219) David Bruton-So (6-2, 187)
P Geoffrey Price-Jr (6-3, 186) ..




Kicker and Punter
After taking a big step forward in Weis' first year, the special teams are a question mark as P/K D.J. Fitzpatrick is no longer around to regularly give his D good field position. Geoffrey Price, a senior, averaged 45.6 yards per punt as a prep junior and has shown flashes of his talent as a backup. The kicking position figures to go to incoming freshman Ryan Burkhart. Weis was already talking in February about the pressure Burkhart faces – with a marginal back seven on D, this kid’s kicks could make or break ND. Some of the concern here is alleviated by coverage units that will continue to improve with the infusion of speed.

Return Game
Solid field position from this area will make Quinn & Co. a little more dangerous. Tom Zbikowski, who proved to be one of the nation's top performers on punts, adds another big-play element (two TDs in ’05) to an already high-scoring team. He was 12th in return average and ran back two for TDs. On kicks, David Grimes was solid as a true freshman.