(UHND.com) — Notre Dame heads into the 2006 season with the backup quarterback position up for grabs between incumbent backup David Wolke, sophomore Evan Sharpley, and incoming freshmen Demetrius Jones and Zack Frazer. The backup quarterback position being up for grabs is nothing new for Notre Dame though with the 1997 season being the last time the Irish went into a season with an established quarterback #2 on the depth chart.
A season ago Notre Dame’s backup quarterback position was won by sophomore David Wolke. Wolke, a sophomore in 2005, had just one career experience in meaningless mop up duty against Washington in 2004 and never threw a pass in a game before he competed a 28 yard toss against Purdue in more meaningless mop up duty.
For the 2002-2004 seasons, Pat Dillingham was the backup quarterback for the Irish. Despite being the backup for three seasons, Dillingham was not the kind of quarterback that could come in and win a big game if needed. Dillingham did lead the Irish to a comeback win over Michigan State in 2002 and starter and beat Stanford a week later, but he will be remembered more for how he played against Boston College and NC State that same year.
Against Boston College, Dillingham threw a horrendous interception that was returned for a touchdown and Notre Dame went on to lose 14-7. Against NC State he completed 19 of 37 passes with 3 interceptions. That’s what happens however when poor recruiting forces you to use a former walkon as your backup quarterback.
2001 may have been the closest Notre Dame has been to having a legit backup quarterback in this time span. Carlyle Holiday and Matt LoVecchio played musical quarterbacks that year however with each being equally as ineffective. Combined the two had just four touchdown passes compared to 11 interceptions. LoVecchio, the starter a season before who started his career 8-0 before getting shellacked in the Fiesta Bowl and never regain his confidence, something then offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers and head coach Bob Davie could not instill in him.
While LoVecchio was busy going 8-0 in 2000, the backup quarterback was anyone’s guess. Arnaz Battle started the year as the starter with no backup established behind him. When Battle broke his hand against Nebraska, converted Gary Godsey was tried as the starter. Godsey played admirably against Purdue, leading the Irish to a last second win. LoVecchio however took over midway through the Michigan State game however and Godsey moved back to tight end. LoVecchio went on to backup Holiday in 2001 and then transferred when it appeared Holiday would be the starter again in 2002.
In 1999, Notre Dame had Arnaz Battle as a backup quarterback. Battle’s only game experience heading into that season was the disastrous USC game in 1998 that saw the Irish get shut out by their long time rival.
Battle was the backup in 1998 as well as true freshman and the lack of experience at the position cost Notre Dame a BCS invitation when the 9-1 Irish lost to USC after starter Jarious Jackson went down with an injury taking a safety against LSU.
This takes us back to 1997, when Jarious Jackson was backing up Ron Powlus in Bob Davie’s first year. Jackson was the back in 1996 under Lou Holtz and completed 10 of 15 passes for three touchdowns in Holtz’s final season. Jackson backed up Powlus again in ’97 but didn’t much action while the Irish were finished 7-6-1.
2006 sees the Irish in much the same situation they have been in the past eight seasons, an unknown, unproven quarterback listed behind superstar Brady Quinn. Reports out of Spring practice have Evan Sharpley winning the backup quarterback battle early on over Wolke, but both will be pressed even more when Frazer and Jones report this summer.
Uncertainty at #2 this year however takes on more importance than other years however with Brady Quinn graduating at the end of the 2006 season. Developing a backup quarterback this Spring and Fall is one of the most important jobs for Weis and his offensive coaches.
The popular school of thought lately is that super recruit Jimmy Clausen, considered a lock for Notre Dame, will come in next Spring or Fall (depending on whether or not he tries for early admission) and start as a true freshman in 2007. Clausen however has yet to commit to the Irish and even when he does, he will have to fight off Jones, Sharpley, Frazer, and Wolke — a talented, but inexperienced group of signal callers.