Shortly after Notre Dame hired Syracuse assistant Kevin Rogers
as its offensive coordinator last spring, Fighting Irish
quarterback Jarious Jackson got a phone call from Donovan
McNabb, the former Orangemen signal-caller now with the
Philadelphia Eagles. "He said he'd learned a lot from Coach
Rogers and basically to pay heed to what he says," Jackson says.
"I said, 'Well, you just went Number 2 in the draft, so you must
know what you're talking about.'"
Jackson will need to play like a top NFL prospect for Notre Dame
to land a BCS berth. The Irish lost 12 starters and will play
road games at Michigan, Purdue and Tennessee. But Jackson, a
6'1", 228-pound fifth-year senior, has a habit of rising to the
occasion. Last year, his first as a starter, he completed 104 of
188 passes for 1,740 yards and 13 touchdowns with just six
interceptions. He also dazzled with his powerful running style
and ability to make plays out of nothing. "Jarious is like
Donovan," Rogers says. "He's a tough competitor. He always feels
like he can make a play."
Aiding Jackson will be two speedy tailbacks: junior Tony Driver,
a former Parade All-America running back who played strong
safety in '98, and sophomore Tony Fisher, a former Ohio Mr.
Football. They'll run behind a rebuilt offensive line that looks
to be quicker than--if not quite as mammoth as--past Irish
units. The receiving corps lacks a game-breaker but boasts an
All-America candidate in 6'3" junior tight end Jabari Holloway.
On defense the Irish have switched to an attack-oriented 4-3
alignment. The front four of Lamont Bryant, Brad Williams, Lance
Legree and Anthony Weaver could be Notre Dame's best since the
early '90s, while 6'5", 275-pound junior defensive end Grant
Irons, a converted linebacker who has bulked up 50 pounds since
his freshman year, is poised for a breakthrough.
With the D looking strong, coach Bob Davie will take some
chances on offense. Rogers plans to borrow from Syracuse's
option playbook, with an emphasis on ball fakes and
misdirection. "It works," Jackson says. "When we watch films,
sometimes I have to rewind to see who's got the ball."
Whether those fakes work on anyone other than the fans in Row 30
remains to be seen. Given Notre Dame's lack of speedy receivers
and its rugged schedule, however, one thing is clear: If Davie
is to contend for a national title this season, he'll need more
than a little trickery. He'll need the luck of the Irish.
1998 record: 9-3 (Independent)
Final ranking: No. 22 AP, No. 22 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
OFFENSE 30.0 221.5 177.5 399.0
DEFENSE 20.3 143.4 207.1 350.5
Schedule strength: 20th of 114
Sept. 4 at Michigan
An upset of the Wolverines at the Big House would prove the
Irish are for real and earn them a spot in the Top 10.
Nov. 6 at Tennessee
Jackson versus Tee Martin could end up being the best
quarterback matchup of the season.
The Bottom Line
Jackson and the defense will keep the Fighting Irish in most
games, but they will be hard-pressed to match last season's 9-3