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2008 Early Independent Lookaheads
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Posted Feb 18, 2008

Here's an early look-ahead at each Independent team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

2008 Independent Early Lookaheads

Army | Navy | Notre Dame

2007 Pages
- 2007 WAC Early Lookbacks & Recaps
2007 Independent Season | Army | Navy | Notre Dame

Why to get excited: This should be the year QB Carson Williams finally grows into the passer everyone expected him to become when he was a top recruit a few years ago. Now he's a junior and has had time and experience to grow. Overall, the team does a decent job of rotating in players to prepare them for their junior and senior years, so most of the key holes should be filled without much of a problem. Most.
Why to be grouchy: Will Williams have anyone to throw to? The one real FBS talent on the team last year was Jeremy Trimble, who was a tremendous playmaker who made the offense go from time to time. Now the Black Knights have to find a number one receiver, has to replace the interior of the offensive line, and three starters in the secondary including tackling machines Jordan Murray and Caleb Campbell.
The number one thing to work on is: Holding on to the ball. The defense did a decent job of taking the ball away forcing 14 fumbles and seven interceptions, but the offense gave the ball away in bunches with 14 fumbles and 17 interceptions. Williams needs time to throw, and he might not get it unless tackles Brandon Cox and Mike Lemming, the two returning starters up front, are far better.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Jeremy Trimble
Biggest defensive loss: S Caleb Campbell
Best returning offensive player: QB Carson Williams, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Frank Scappaticci, Sr.

Why to get excited:
Paul Johnson might be gone, but the offense should still be just as potent under Ken Niumataolo. He might not be Johnson, but he showed against a hot Utah team in the Poinsettia Bowl loss that he can prepare a team. It helps to get both quarterbacks, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and Jarod Bryant back, while there are good backs waiting in the wings, like Eric Kettani, to take over for producers like Adam Ballard and Reggie Campbell. Seven starters return on defense, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... this wasn't a good D last year especially against the pass. Yes, three starters are back in the secondary, but the pass defense was 119th in the nation, dead last, in pass efficiency defense and allowed 263 yards per game. The running back stars can be replaced, but the four starters gone off the offensive line will be missed in a big way. 
The number one thing to work on is: Generating a pass rush. Navy will never have top-flight corners and it'll never be a brick wall defensively, so it needs to do everything possible to manufacture pressure to hurry up quarterbacks and screw up opposing offenses. That wasn't easy to do last season coming up with a mere 12 sacks and struggling to make plays against the run.
Biggest offensive loss: C Antron Harper
Biggest defensive loss: LB Irv Spencer
Best returning offensive player: QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Sr.
Best returning defensive player:
S Wyatt Middleton, Soph.

Notre Dame
Why to get excited: The Irish might not be at a BCS level after an abysmal 2007, but there's a huge sigh of relief over the biggest question mark: recruiting. After the tremendous haul brought in by Charlie Weis and his staff, there's reason to get excited about the future as the talent-level is getting to where it needs to be. Yes, last year was a nightmare, but ten starters are back on offense and seven return on defense. As bad as things were, the defense was night-and-day better than it was in 2005 and 2006, but that went totally unnoticed because of the offense's woes. Schedule-wise, four of the first five games are at home with the road game a not-that-bad trip to Michigan State. The two road games to follow the first five games? North Carolina and Washington. In all, the Irish play six teams that didn't go to a bowl.
Why to be grouchy: The team still might be a year away. Because of the relatively light schedule, the final record should be a bit of a mirage to set the expectations way too high for 2009. That's fine, because the team should be much, much better in two years. It'll be better this year, it can't be worse, but the offense isn't go from being completely inept to a juggernaut overnight. There's still a mega-question mark about the offensive line that was abysmal from start to finish. The skill players are there, but will they have time to work? 
The number one thing to work on is: Establishing Jimmy Clausen as the man. The 2008 recruiting class brought in some top quarterback prospects, so there's obviously a concern that Clausen really might not be the superstar many assumed he'd become from day one. To be fair, he had absolutely no time to operate and was working with a brand spanking new group of receivers. Brady Quinn never had any time, either. Clausen has to start making everyone around him better, get the ball out of his hands sooner, and become the star the program can revolve around for the next three years.
Biggest offensive loss: TE John Carlson
Biggest defensive loss: S Tom Zbikowski
Best returning offensive player: QB Jimmy Clausen, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Maurice Crum, Sr.