Dec. 4, 2006
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis thinks he knows who is going to win the Heisman.
It isn't Brady Quinn.
"I think Troy Smith will win, and I don't think it will be close," Weis said.
That's not a knock on Quinn. Weis has no doubt Quinn is the better quarterback and more valuable to No. 11 Notre Dame (10-2) than Smith is to top-ranked Ohio State (12-0). He just doesn't believe most Heisman voters share that view.
Weis thinks the problem is the meaning of the term "most outstanding college football player."
"Troy Smith happens to be the best player on the best team, or the most valuable player on the best team that's undefeated. It's tough to argue with that," he said.
But Weis believes it's hard for anyone to be better than Quinn has been for the Irish. Quinn hit on 274 of 432 passes, a 63.4 completion rate, for 3,278 yards and 35 touchdowns, throwing just five interceptions.
Quinn already won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the nation's top senior quarterback. He finished fifth in the nation in points responsible for (18.5 a game), seventh in pass completions per game (23.5) and ninth in passing yards per game (273.5). He also led the Irish to comeback victories over Michigan State and UCLA.
"I think what makes him special, that really separates him from a lot of other players, is he has that special something that only those rare quarterbacks have," Weis said. "I can't really explain what that special something is, but he's got it."
Quinn has plenty of tangible qualities as well. He set 35 school records at Notre Dame. He also has brought glamour back to the quarterback position at Notre Dame. His face adorned nearly as many magazines over the summer as a supermodel, and his name has been in the mix as a Heisman candidate all season.
His fourth-place finish in Heisman balloting last season was the highest for an Irish player since Rocket Ismail came in second in 1990. The last Irish quarterback to finish higher was Joe Theismann, who finished second to Stanford's Jim Plunkett in 1970.
Notre Dame used to be a quarterback factory. Angelo Bertelli and John Lujack won Heismans in the 1940s. Paul Hornung won a Heisman for an Irish squad that went 2-8 in 1956. John Huarte started one season and won a Heisman in 1964.
Even Irish quarterbacks who didn't win were well known.
Terry Hanratty was followed by Theismann.
Others included Joe Montana, Steve Beuerlein, Tony Rice and Ron Powlus. But Rice and Powlus never made it in the NFL. When Beuerlein retired before the 2004 season, it left two former Notre Dame quarterbacks still in the NFL: Arnaz Battle and Carlyle Holiday - both finished their careers at Notre Dame as receivers, the position they play in the pros.
Weis has no doubt Quinn will change that. He believes Quinn could be the first Irish player taken first in the NFL draft since defensive end Walt Patulski was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1972. The last Irish quarterback taken first was Hornung by Green Bay in 1957.
Quinn acknowledges there were times he wasn't sure he would be successful. Under coach Tyrone Willingham, Quinn's best passing days always came in losses. The Irish finished 5-7 and 6-6 in Quinn's first two seasons.
"When you're hitting lows like that, so far you're halfway through your college career and you're not having the type of career that you thought you were going to have," he said. "We just never really put it together the way we could, and then finally we got a coaching staff and a coach who could come in here and get us to put things together."
The knock on Quinn this year was he didn't live up to expectations. From his sophomore to junior seasons, Quinn saw his completion rate jump from 54.1 percent to 64.9 percent, his touchdown passes increase from 17 to 32 and his passing yardage from 2,586 yards to 3,919.
With a veteran offensive line and returning starters at receiver and halfback, many expected that trend to continue. Quinn did throw for three more touchdowns, but his completion rate dropped slightly to 63.4 percent and his passing yardage dropped by 641 yards. The Irish, who were ranked No. 2 in the preseason, lost two games by 20 points or more, and Quinn threw three interceptions and fumbled against Michigan.
Quinn believes the preseason publicity might have hurt.
"Any time someone is trying to give someone an award before the season starts, even through the whole preseason, All-American teams, all that kind of stuff, it's so premature," he said.
The usually modest Quinn knows that what he has accomplished at Notre Dame should help the Irish in the future.
"Any time you have the quarterback at Notre Dame playing well, I think it's going to be good for college football. It's good for the university. It's good for everything really that the place stands for," Quinn said.
Weis, who already has a commitment from highly rated high school quarterback Jimmy Clausen of California, said Quinn's effect will be felt for years.
"I think that he's made it easier for us to recruit quarterbacks because his play has gotten everyone's attention," Weis said.
No matter how the Heisman vote comes out, no one will convince Weis that anyone was better than Quinn this year.
"I can't imagine any player in this country being more important to his team than Brady Quinn is to ours," Weis said. "Maybe that exists. I just can't imagine it."