2004 College Football Preview
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Author: Mike Frank,

09/04/04@Brigham Young
09/18/04@Michigan State
10/23/04Boston College
11/27/04@Southern California
Quarterback Brady Quinn (10) of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball against the USC Trojans.
Getty Images/Andy Lyons
Head Coach: Tyrone Willingham (15-10)

Last Season's Record: 5-7

Last Bowl Appearance: 2003 Gator Bowl (28-6 loss to North Carolina State)

Key matchup(s): Sept. 11 Micigan (NBC), Nov. 6 @Tenn, Nov. 27th @USC

Star Power: Rhema McKnight, WR, Sr. 6-1, 215; Justin Tuck, DE, Sr. 6-5, 260; Brady Quinn, QB, So. 6-4, 225; Mike Goolsby, Sr. LB, 6-4, 242

Notable Additions: Chris Vaughn, Oakdale, CT. WR, 6-4, 210; Darius Walker, Burford, GA. RB, 5-11, 210; Justin Hoskins, Grand Rapids, MI. 5-11, 190.

Notable Subtractions: Julius Jones RB (graduation), Glenn Earl SS (graduation), Jim Molinaro OL (graduation), Vontez Duff CB (graduation), Darrell Campbell DL (graduation), Cedric Hilliard DL (graduation)

Notable Returnees: Derek Curry LB, Brandon Hoyte, Kyle Budinscak DE, Victor Abiamirir DE, Quentin Burrell FS, Ryan Grant RB, Maurice Stovall WR, Carlyle Holiday WR, Ryan Harris OL, Dan Stevenson OL, Greg Pauly DL.

Offensive Overview: The Irish are entering year three of their transformation to a west coast offense. The results so far (115th in pass efficiency last season) haven’t been impressive. Sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn has to improve on his 47 percent pass completion percentage, but a more experienced offensive line will help. Quinn has a talented cast of wide receivers in Rhema McKnight, Carlyle Holiday and Maurice Stovall, and a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Ryan Grant to help with the transformation. Replacing Julius Jones won’t be easy, but Grant has proven he can carry the load, and if he struggles, sophomore Travis Thomas or freshmen Darius Walker and Justin Hoskins are waiting in the wings. Notre Dame’s problems on offense in 2003 started with an inexperienced offensive line. Four starters return in 2004 after gaining valuable experience last season, and that should be a step in the right direction for the Irish.

Defensive Overview: The Irish lose some beef in the middle of the defensive line with the graduation of Darrell Campbell and Cedric Hilliard. Replacing Campbell and Hilliard will be critical to the success of the defense for the Irish in 2004. The healthy return of Justin Tuck and Kyle Budinscak at defensive end would be a plus. Tuck set a team record in 2003 with 13.5 sacks. Both Tuck and Budinscak are recovering from off-season knee surgery and their health will be a concern. Middle linebacker Mike Goolsby returns after sitting out 2003 with a shoulder injury. His return gives the Irish three talented and experience linebackers, and this unit should be the strength of the defense in 2004. The Irish are inexperienced in the secondary with new starters to be named at cornerback and strong safety. The Irish secondary will have to mature in a hurry as they face a lot of pass-happy teams on their schedule this season.

Special Teams Overview: D.J. Fitzpatrick returns as the kicker/punter in 2004. Fitzpatrick took over both duties when previous starter Nick Setta suffered and injury early in the 2003 season. Fitzpatrick converted 12 of 17 field goal attempts in 2003 and 17 of 18 point-after kicks. Fitzpatrick will likely be challenged at punter by Geoff Price as the Irish struggled in net punting in 2003. Notre Dame finished 101st in the country out of 117 teams with just 33 yards in net punting. The Irish will also have to find replacements at punt and kick returns as Vontez Duff and Julius Jones were lost to graduation. A number of players will be tried this fall to fill these spots.

The Irish will be better if... they can stop the run on defense and their inexperienced secondary grows up quickly. The Irish should be better on offense this season with the maturation of Brady Quinn and the young offensive line. A dream season would be 10 wins, but many are predicting a lot less. The Irish will have to find themselves in a bowl this season or the pressure will start to mount for Tyrone Willingham and his staff.