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Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Updated: May 10, 5:55 PM ET
Can't wait to see these things this fall

By Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde
ESPN.com

Three Things I Can't Wait To See This Fall From The Independents
Ivan Maisel
Pat Forde
1. It's easy to assume that Notre Dame's defense will improve. Coach Charlie Weis says the deficit can be made up in part with better communication. But the way that USC's Dwayne Jarrett sliced past Ambrose Wooden on fourth-and-9 late in last season's thriller suggests the solution might lie in recruiting. How quickly can bigger-stronger-faster players be integrated into the defense? This year? That's what I want to know.

Brady Quinn2. Irish haters, be warned. Don't read about Brady Quinn, who has earned a first-round bye in Heisman Madness. The senior quarterback has size, skills and a personality that you can bring home to mom. That said, Quinn had better be sharp from the get-go. Georgia Tech, Penn State and a revamped Michigan defense under new coordinator Ron English really will test Quinn before the autumnal equinox.

Paul Johnson3. Navy coach Paul Johnson is the best coach in the country who never gets a sniff at the big-time jobs. If the Midshipmen knock off a Tulsa or a Stanford or a Rutgers, Johnson will attract attention. If they knock off Notre Dame, he'll have to fight the suitors just to get out of his car.
1. Last time we saw the Notre Dame defense, it had burn marks after Ohio State's wide receivers streaked through it. The Fighting Irish are a legitimate national title threat -- if that unit has upgraded its secondary speed and its ability to rush the passer without excessive reliance on blitzing. The defensive line returns all its starters, so look for an improved pass rush. It might be the missing link between South Bend and Tempe, site of the national championship game.

2. Speaking of waking up the echoes: For the first time in what feels like forever, Notre Dame has the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite in quarterback Brady Quinn. Opening the season against 2005 bowl teams Georgia Tech, Penn State and Michigan could make or break Quinn's candidacy. Either way, the potent combination of ND QB and Heisman hype should let Quinn know what Matt Leinart's life was like last season.

3. How does Navy move on from the rape allegation and upcoming court-martial of its quarterback and 2005 MVP, Lamar Owens? The seriousness of the alleged crime, and the identity of the alleged perpetrator, are a blow to the prestige of an institution always hailed for being an exemplar of student-athlete propriety. Navy doesn't figure to look as impressive on the field or as shiny off the field after this.