With the 2006 football season winding down, the urge to play the numbers game will become more and more gripping on the Irish faithful. However the opportunity to hold onto the stars of this season won’t last forever, and before you know it our favorites on the field will be gone.
The upcoming schedule features the opportunity for the team to shine before the climax of the season, a regular season finale in Los Angeles against the USC Trojans. The Irish should be favored by no less than 2 touchdowns in any of their next 4 contests, causing some pundits to question the quality of the schedule. Rather than worry about what Jeff Sagarin has to say about the competition, the Irish faithful should sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
For 5 more regular season games the Irish will send out seniors who have turned turmoil from the previous regime into star status across campus and throughout the nation.
We get see Brady Quinn suit up in Gold and Blue, throwing darts to receivers in the end zone just five more times, a small number in comparison to his 40 career starts for the Irish. As he challenges Tory Smith for the Heisman Trophy, Quinn will run around the field with a smile on his face in the high energy style that has helped him win the hearts of the Irish during his four years as the starting quarterback.
We get to see Jeff Samardzija nabbing the ball from the sky with one hand as a frog would catch a fly. Samardzija was buried in the depth chart with Tyrone Willingham as coach but broke out in a big way under the new offensive system that accompanied Charlie Weis last year. Samarszija’s flowing mullet and nickname of “the shark” has added to his status as fan favorite, but it is his All-American ability that has set him apart as one of the best receivers in the nation. That talent showed again this past week as he pranced through the UCLA secondary, beating triple team coverage to get the winning touchdown for the Irish.
We get to see Tommy Zibikowski, the mohawk wearing, hard hitting, safety who brought his golden gloves skills onto the gridiron. Zibikowski came to Notre Dame as one of the most heralded recruits in the 2003 class and has not disappointed. His punt return in the 2005 match up with USC was a microcosm of his style; a mix of speed, strength, and pure grit that would boost him into successes on the football field. With little chance of a return next season, the safety will most likely finish out his career in the next few months.
We get to see players who will be leaving after a fifth year with the program. Mike Richardson came to the Irish as an unheralded, one-star recruit in 2002 and has developed into a fantastic tackler at the nickelback position. On the other hand, Rhema McKnight came to the Irish as one of the top receivers in the country in that same class. McKnight has proved he was worth the accolades, leading the Irish in receptions in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The list could go on and on. Victor Abiamiri led the nation in sacks as a sophomore in 2004 with 15 total. Abiamiri hasn’t let up despite regularly facing double teams, leading the Irish in sacks in the current season. Travis Thomas has been a leader in all three facets of the game; as a running back his first three seasons and as the special teams captain and starting linebacker this year. His selflessness proved to be his most endearing quality after making the move to defense in his final year, a move that has helped to add speed on the defensive side of the ball. Derek Landri has filled the spot in the middle of the defense line, starting 32 games at defensive tackle in his 5 years with the program.
So as the season starts to wind down the BCS standings will play out as they may. With long chances of a spot in the BCS championship game, try to refuse the urge to number-crunch and just enjoy the final few games we have with the seniors. Without trying to write off next season before this season is over, many fans realize that a rebuilding year awaits. The frustrations that may lead the way next year should push to enjoy the successes on the field even more this year. So sit back, whether it be on a bleacher at the stadium or in a recliner at home, and take in all you can from the senior stars this season. The memories you will leave with will last much longer than you may believe.