Don't Expect Clausen to Have Senior Moments at Notre Dame
The Double D was in the midst of a 17-hour journey between South Bend and Eugene on Thursday (perhaps I just should have driven?), so it missed Charlie Weis' post-practice presser with reporters.
One of the subjects Weis broached was what has become everyone's favorite parlor game around the Gug: Will Jimmy Clausen return for a senior season? "We're not even going to address the subject until the first week in December," my man Brian Hamilton reports Weis saying on chicagobreakingsports.com. "We've already addressed the fact that we're not going to address it. So we're just worrying about the next five games, starting with Washington State. First of all, let's see how we play. But we'll revisit it then."
Whether No. 7 would be a topic of indecision me molesta (i.e., "Should I Stay or Should I Go?") has been obvious for some time. Lately, though, the prospect that his good buddy No. 23, Golden Tate, might also enter the NFL Draft after this season has also become -- as some Irish fans might phrase it -- cause for concern.
"Golden has another set of encyclopedias, because we're dealing with baseball, too," Weis said. "Golden and I had a long talk in the summer before the season. We went over football, baseball, this year, next year, we covered a lot of territory. And we also decided we would revisit it in the first week in December, after the season had played out."
Irish fans undoubtedly would love both No. 7 and No. 23 to play their senior years. They would argue that, after such humble beginnings when both were thrown into the fire as freshmen -- Clausen was sacked nearly 50 times while Tate, a converted running back, only knew one route and caught just six passes all season -- it would be poetic to see them lead the Irish to a BCS bowl and for one, if not both of them, to be invited to the Heisman ceremony. And none of that, based on what we've seen the past eight weeks, is impossible.
My gut feeling? No. 23 stays. No. 7 goes.
Clausen leaves for the following reasons: 1) The fresh-in-our-minds lesson of Sam Bradford. 2) The failure of other high-profile quarterbacks such as Colt McCoy, Jevan Snead and Tim Tebow to evolve this season. Some would even say all three have regressed. 3) Because he very well could be the first quarterback chosen, and 4) He's ready.
About a month ago I asked Weis, "What does Jimmy still need to learn to earn his 'football diploma'?" Weis understood the nuance of the question precisely, and his response was effectively that Clausen is close. Currently, Clausen is No. 2 in the nation in passing efficiency despite playing on a bum toe and despite being without arguably his most dangerous weapon (Michael Floyd) for more than half the season. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes versus just two interceptions and neither pick was the product of a bad read or a poor throw. Both were as much, if not more, the receivers' fault.
In short, even without the ability to be nimble or mobile -- not that he's ever going to be Jake Locker in that regard -- and without his top playmaker (it seems sacrilege even to type that in the wake of what Tate has done), Clausen has been the best quarterback in the nation this season.
The money will never be greener. And next season the offensive line loses three starters. That fact is the reason that Clausen will hear the name "Sam Bradford" ad nauseam the rest of the way. The Oklahoma quarterback won the Heisman Trophy in 2008 and, in ESPN draft expert Todd McShay's first 2010 mock draft in May, Bradford was his No. 1 overall pick.
The Sooner offensive line broke in four new starters this season, though. In the first half of the season opener against BYU, Bradford sprained his throwing shoulder badly. Five weeks later he played his only complete game, versus Baylor, and then the following Saturday aggravated the injury in the first quarter against Texas (on a play that looked eerily similar to the BYU hit, by the way).
Bradford is tall, athletic, brilliant and uncannily accurate as a passer. But now he has durability issues. It would seem incomprehensible to anyone who departed planet Earth any time before August and just now returned, but Clausen could be selected ahead of Bradford should both come out in April.
Again, it's just my gut, but this is why I think Clausen was so upset following the USC loss. He's a southern California kid with a lot of buddies in the Trojan locker room. He sorely wanted it on his resume that he'd beaten USC, just once, and he also realizes that if he completes one of his final three passes against the Trojans, the Heisman Trophy is all but his.
And now Clausen is supposed to decide whether to risk a Sam Bradford redux versus the prospect of beating USC, winning the Heisman (even though he still has a chance to do so this season) and perhaps playing for the national championship next season? No. 7, as he walked off the field wearing his helmet and occasionally spewing out an epithet to no one in particular, but simply out of frustration, was coming to grips with the reality that something that was right there in his grasp may be forever out of reach.
Charlie Weis is a college coach, but he is also a bottom-line NFL guy. Weis will do nothing to appeal to the be-true-to-your-school sentiment when it comes to this decision.
Clausen had three years as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. And so will fellow southern Californian Dayne Crist, who is currently a sophomore (as Weis said earlier this week, "Everyone else calls them redshirt freshmen, we call them sophomores." Potatoes, po-taht-oes, Charlie).
The Heisman is still on the table. If Clausen can lead the Irish to victories at both Pitt and Stanford, if they can go 5-0 the rest of the way with him putting up numbers similar to those he's posted so far ... then at worst it'll be between him and McCoy. By the way, if Clausen has anything less than 400 yards passing and four touchdowns playing inside a dome against the worst defense he has seen all season Saturday in San Antonio against Washington State, I'll do Mark May's laundry. Also, Floyd will likely be back for Pitt and Stanford.
Enjoy Clausen while you can. Remember the Alamodome. Remember the six straight weeks in which Clausen led the Irish back from a fourth-quarter deficit with a go-ahead touchdown pass (save the USC game, which was ironically the greatest comeback he engineered). Remember that he still has yet to throw a second-half interception.
And when it ends? I just hope that when Jimmy -- who has handled the scrutiny that goes along with being the Irish QB exceedingly well the past two years (he had to answer a stretch Hummer question as recently as Wednesday) -- departs, the last sight is of him being driven down Notre Dame Avenue in that same Hummer, his head poking out of the sun roof, a grin from ear to ear, as he gives every media person who ever questioned him a "How do you like me now?" glare.