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Irish Insider: Some things are surefire, but the unknowns matter

Mike Gilloon | Friday, August 25, 2006

Brady Quinn will have more interview requests than touchdown passes.

Tim McCarthy will appear at the end of the third quarter.

Tom Zbikowski will scare people.

Those are just a few simple, boring facts about the upcoming season.

It’s the unknowns that should make 2006 entertaining …

u Will Mike Richardson and Ambrose Wooden keep their jobs? A touted tandem of recruits entered the secondary battle this summer when Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil arrived on campus. Weis insists that the best players will play.

Richardson’s seniority and Wooden’s athleticism should keep them in the starting lineup. The best part is the push the two frosh will give the veterans in practice – a little competition always leads to improvement.

u Will Ronald Talley utilize the double teams faced by Victor Abiamiri and disrupt his side of the line of scrimmage?

Abiamiri has the recognition that goes along with being a Parade High School All-American and having the name ‘Victor’. But outside of his Alley in Alumni Hall, Talley is known only as No. 99 to opposing offenses. He needs to push the line of scrimmage backward and force teams to commit two blockers to him – just like Abiamiri.

u Can Travis Thomas lead the defense like Brandon Hoyte did a season ago? The Notre Dame defense surrendered many more yards than it wanted to in 2005, but it wasn’t for lack of toughness from the captain Hoyte and teammate Corey Mays.

With those two gone, Thomas will need to direct a unit that gave up 617 yards in the Fiesta Bowl – a game in which Thomas suited up at running back.

u Can Rhema McKnight return to form? The smart, speedy receiver hasn’t played in a game since last September’s Michigan contest. It should take him a week or two to shake off some rust, but he has the hands to be as reliable as Samardzija.

McKnight had only two games last season under Weis. If he stays healthy, there won’t be a secondary in the nation that can shut down McKnight, Samardzija and Quinn.

u How will experience affect the kickoff returners? David Grimes and George West have 26 minutes of playing time between the two of them. Grimes showed he had talent in several returns last season, but will their youth hurt them when the lights – and pressure – turn on at Georgia Tech.

u Can Weis control Irish egos?

A summer spent soaking up applause from Wrigley Field to Madison Square Garden means No. 83, No. 10 and No. 9 jerseys are flying off the racks in the Bookstore.

But does all the attention create focused athletes?

Weis’ biggest challenge is keeping Samardzija, Quinn and Zbikowski from believing their press clippings.

Quinn should have no problem. His golden Sports Illustrated cover doesn’t surprise him – any successful Notre Dame quarterback will receive loads of media attention.

And after getting pounded by everyone from Purdue to Pittsburgh during the Willingham era, Quinn is too sick of losing to let it happen.

For Notre Dame to survive a Yellow Jacket-Nittany Lion-Wolverine-Spartan September, Samardzija and Zbikowski must turn belief in their own abilities into belief in the team.

They handled last season’s relatively mild attention with class.

Now that they’re arguably the two biggest celebrities in college football, they will need Weis more than ever to keep them grounded.

Will Notre Dame win its 12th national championship? Vegas says it’s a safe bet. But for every pre-season magazine that has high expectations for the Irish, there is a reason to think they will fall short.

That doesn’t phase Weis. Nine and three wasn’t good enough for him last season.

Twelve and one won’t do this year.

The opinions in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Mike Gilloon at mgilloon@nd.edu