Under the Weight of Great Expectations

Nov. 8, 2006

By Chris Huston

Special to CSTV.com


Chris Huston

The Heisman Pundit breaks down the top players for CSTV.com.
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Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn entered the 2006 football season as the prohibitive favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. 


Coming off a dazzling junior year in which he helped revive the most storied program in college football, Quinn was viewed as the sport's new Golden Boy, a mega-talent destined to follow in the footsteps of the great Irish quarterbacks who preceded him.


He had everything you could want in a Heisman candidate: outstanding name recognition, an NFL future, even matinee-idol looks.  Many thought that this season would be a coronation of sorts, with the awarding of the 72nd trophy a mere formality. 


But as even the most seasoned politician can attest, great expectations can sometimes be the heaviest burden to bear in any race. 


And so it happened that the Irish found itself up against a buzzsaw in Game Three, a Michigan squad that--unbeknownst at the time--would go on to win its first 10 games.  A dominating 47-21 Wolverine win washed away the invulnerability that had surrounded Quinn's quest for the Heisman.  


His performance against Michigan was disastrous.  He threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.  The idea of Notre Dame being a serious national title contender was thrown out the window.


Many seemed to think that Quinn's Heisman hopes were dust as well.  Ohio State's Troy Smith assumed the mantle of front runner and Quinn was relegated as an also-ran in the minds of many in the media.


But there is another narrative in college football--as well as in politics--that is just as compelling as the idea of the Golden Boy.  It's the narrative that has come to define Quinn's 2006 season.


Comeback Kid


The week after the Michigan loss, the Heisman focus moved to Columbus.  Meanwhile, the Irish went to East Lansing to take on an enigmatic Michigan State team that had beaten Notre Dame in rude fashion the year before.


Things started out poorly against the Spartans.  As the fourth quarter began, the Irish trailed Michigan State, 37-21.  A season once filled with promise seemed on the verge of collapse. 


Then, something magical happened.  As the rain poured down, Quinn started making big play after big play.  On the day, he threw for 319 yards and five touchdowns.  And when the clock struck zero, the scoreboard read:  Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37.   It was a comeback for the ages.


The season was saved.  Sure, it was clear that the Irish weren't the juggernaut that many had expected them to be.  At times, they looked downright ordinary.  The defense had holes and the running game lacked game breakers.  Even Charlie Weis' innovative offensive schemes had apparently been caught up to by opposing defenses.


But still, there was Quinn.  He was the difference maker, the one thing that kept Notre Dame from being just a run-of-the-mill team hoping for a trip to the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl.


He was no longer the Golden Boy leading a dominant squad on a crusade to the national title.  Instead, he became the captain of a bunch of misfits gutting their way back to relevance and a BCS bid. 


He was the Comeback Kid.


The Stretch Run


The Irish reeled off five more wins following the comeback against Michigan State.  Quinn produced more magic in a 20-17 win over UCLA, leading the Irish on a last-minute scoring drive to break the Bruins' hearts.


Slowly, but surely, his stats improved.  Since the Michigan game, he has thrown 19 touchdowns against just one pick.  On the season, he now has 2,579 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions.  In other words, he is on pace to surpass the totals of his remarkable junior season.  Despite perceptions to the contrary, he is meeting the expectations heaped upon him before the season, even if his team is not.


So what of the Heisman?  Can he still win?


It would be a true come-from-behind achievement, but it can be done.  However, his Heisman destiny requires that the very team that hurt his chances the most must come to his rescue.


Michigan plays Ohio State on Nov. 18 in Columbus.  The Wolverines need to beat the Buckeyes--thus giving front runner Troy Smith his first loss--for Quinn to have a shot.


If that happens, then the Heisman spotlight will once again turn to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.


On Nov. 25, the Irish play USC.  If Quinn leads Notre Dame to a win over the Trojans, then he will have executed the ultimate Heisman comeback.  Two weeks later, he will be in New York to collect his trophy.


Just as we all expected he would.



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