Hard Choices

The Irish officially hit game week starting today and head coach Charlie Weis has some tough decisions to make, even though he's probably already made them. How will those decisions impact the team?

For the first time in Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis' career the third-year coach will have some difficult choices to make regarding personnel. Who will start at quarterback is just one of those difficult choices. He also has choices to make at running back, wide receiver, the No. 2 tight end, right guard, one defensive end spot, at least one outside backer spot, one inside backer spot and kicker.

The choices come because for the first time in Weis' short career he finally has some depth at a number of positions—a good problem to have. Now the next trick is to keep everyone happy.

Familiar Territory

Heading into Saturday's game, I'm reminded of a similar situation back in 2003. Then Irish coach Tyrone Willingham had a difficult decision—whether to start freshman Brady Quinn or veteran Carlyle Holiday. Willingham went with experience (Holiday) and the Irish struggled under the dual-threat quarterback. Holiday was replaced in the second half of the Michigan game while the Irish took a 38-0 beating at the hands of the Wolverines.

Quinn never looked back after grabbing the spot against Purdue two weeks later, and Irish fans embraced the freshman phenom with open arms even though he completed just 47 percent of his passes and threw 15 interceptions on the year compared to his nine touchdowns. He was just 4-5 as a starter, but it seemed the fans never wavered in their support of Quinn. Holiday was given no such support with similar/better numbers.

Heading into that 2003 season it was obvious most fans preferred to see Quinn on the field. Fast forward to 2007 and Weis finds himself in a similar situation. A good number of Irish fans were hoping new freshman phenom Jimmy Clausen would take the reins left by the departing Quinn, but injury has slowed Clausen's progress leaving sophomore Demetrius Jones and senior Evan Sharpley in the running for the starting position.

Who will start? Most expect it to be Jones, and I sure hope he doesn't suffer the same ugly fate Holiday did if he is the guy. It was sad how quickly some Irish fans turned on Holiday—an outstanding young man who always represented Notre Dame with total class.

While I didn't believe at that time of the change that Holiday should've been starting over Quinn, I do think he deserved a better send-off from Irish fans than t-shirts stating "the Holiday is over, Quinn to win."

Will Jones or Sharpley suffer the same fate? If you read Notre Dame message boards closely you'll see the same type of support amassing for Clausen. It seems some Irish fans have already decided that whoever starts on Saturday is merely filling in until Clausen is healthy (assuming Clausen isn't available Saturday). If either Jones or Sharpley take the ball and run with it, we may not see Clausen all year.

We also may end up seeing the freshman at some point in the near future, but Irish fans have to remember that Charlie Weis has some experience with this and will be starting the guy he believes gives Notre Dame the best chance to win—whoever that may be.

No matter who starts, they likely won't throw for 3,400 yards and 37 touchdowns with only seven interceptions—Quinn's numbers last year. This will be a work in progress.

What Makes a Good Quarterback?

Football fans are obsessed with numbers---completion percentages, interceptions, touchdown passes—they are what most fans look at to judge a quarterback.

What will Weis use to judge his quarterback? Wins. Does his guy win? Does his guy lead the team? Does he move the chains? Does the team respond to him when they need to make a play? Playing quarterback isn't just about throwing the football. It's about calling the right plays in the huddle, reading the defenses, making sound decisions, taking charge of the situation and leading the team. The goal is to get the ball in the end zone, no matter if that is by run or pass.

If Jones does start, Irish fans need to recognize that a 50-yard run is just as good as a 50-yard pass. They need to recognize that a scramble for three yards when under pressure is better than an eight-yard loss by sack. There are a number of things a dual-threat quarterback does that won't show up in the stat sheets. All that really matters in the end is wins, scoring touchdowns and moving the chains….no matter how that is accomplished.

Tough Decisions

As mentioned earlier, Weis does have some tough decisions to make. Once again, some decisions will be a between youth and potential versus experience. Did Joe Brockington hold off the charge by Toryan Smith? Regardless, I think both will play considerable minutes.

Did Ambrose Wooden keep his starting job or did sophomores Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil make a solid case for playing time? Again, regardless, I expect to see all three play quite a bit this season.

The real trick will be to keep everyone happy. The only way to keep players happy who aren't starting, believe they should be starting, and are probably very upset they're not starting is to win. If the Irish start slow this season, Weis and Co. will have a tough task to keep everyone content and focused on the team concept.

A quarterback controversy could spell doom for the Irish this season. Teams can become divided as each player on the team probably has "their guy" they believe should be leading the team if/when the offense sputters. A division of the team can happen quickly, and this is where leadership usually comes in, and it will be vital we see some leadership early to stamp out any fires before they become a four-alarm fire.

No matter who starts, we might end up seeing all three quarterbacks before all is said and done. Or, we may see one from wire- to-wire. The starter on Saturday has a golden opportunity. He gets first crack to show what he can do. Play well, move the team, score points and win games and Weis is going to have a very hard time putting anyone else in the game. Why do I get the feeling it's not going to be that easy?

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories