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Independents Preview

Weis should get Irish offense on track; can D hold up?

Posted: Monday August 22, 2005 3:35PM; Updated: Monday August 22, 2005 3:38PM
Brady Quinn
Will Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn flourish under the tutelage of coach Charlie Weis?
John Biever/SI
The Skinny
Team on the rise Notre Dame
Team on the decline Navy
Toughest schedule Temple
Most favorable schedule Navy
Coach on the hot seat Bobby Wallace, Temple
Newcomer to watch Terrail Lambert, CB, Notre Dame
Game of the Year USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 15

By Stewart Mandel, SI.com

It's one of the biggest questions of the season, being asked all over the country: What will Notre Dame look like under new head coach Charlie Weis? We'd love to tell you, but unfortunately, Weis' Fighting Irish happen to be one of the most heavily guarded secrets in the Western Hemisphere.

"We're not really in the business of passing on information," the Bill Parcells/Bill Belicheck disciple recently told reporters while unveiling one of the most overly elaborate media-interview policies in the country.

One can venture an educated guess, however, that Weis' first squad will be a well-oiled machine on offense. The architect of the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning offense inherits an extremely experienced unit from predecessor Tyrone Willingham, the nucleus of which has been together for three seasons. That includes talented signal-caller Brady Quinn, five returning offensive line starters, four-year receivers Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall and junior tight end Anthony Fasano. The mystery is on defense, where the Irish were horrendous against the pass last season and return just three starters.

Elsewhere, Navy, coming off its first 10-win season since 1905, must completely retool its triple-option attack after losing QB Aaron Polanco, FB Kyle Eckel and four starting O-linemen, but fourth-year coach Paul Johnson has recruited well enough to keep winning. Army, which showed glimpses of promise in its first year under Bobby Ross, should continue to improve. And then there's poor Temple, stuck in no-man's land while waiting to join the MAC in 2007, playing perhaps one of the toughest independent schedules ever assembled (at Arizona State and Wisconsin, as well as four ACC opponents, and MAC powers Bowling Green, Toledo and Miami of Ohio) with a bare-bones roster.

   Stewart Mandel's Projected Records
1   Notre Dame
Opening games at Pittsburgh and Michigan could make for a rough start, but with a proven passer in Quinn, a promising tailback in Darius Walker and a deep cast of receivers, Weis has all the ingredients to get Irish's offense rolling in the same vein as the Patriots. LB Brandon Hoyte leads an otherwise young defense that will need to grow up in a hurry to avoid getting walked all over by Michigan, USC and Tennessee.
2   Navy
After waiting his turn for four years, promising QB Lamar Owens finally gets his turn running the triple option. An inexperienced backfield and offensive line will dictate whether the Midshipmen can once again lead the nation in rushing. The Navy defense, which allowed fewer than 20 points per game last season, also lacks experience but has a couple of veteran cogs in DE Jeremy Chase and LB David Mahoney and should progress quickly.
3   Army
The Black Knights, who snapped a 19-game losing streak last year with wins over Cincinnati and South Florida, will continue to build their ground-based attack around breakout RB Carlton Jones, who rushed for 1,269 yards in 2004. An inexperienced O-line may struggle early, though. Army was the nation's worst defensive team last season, allowing 490 yards per game, and will rely heavily on a senior-laden D-line.
4   Temple
The Owls had two bona fide studs last year in QB Walter Washington, who paced an upset of Syracuse, and LB Rian Wallace, but both players left early for the NFL. Former starter Mike McCann returns at quarterback, but Temple lost almost all of its experienced receivers. The defense has some strong points, most notably DE Mike Mendenhall, but they'll be going up against some of the most prolific offenses in the land.