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Monday, May 14, 2007
Can't wait to see these things this fall

By Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Three Things I Can't Wait To See This Fall Among Independents
Ivan Maisel
Mark Schlabach
1. When Charlie Weis and his staff took over at Notre Dame and assessed the talent, they thought that 2007 -- the first post-Quinn season -- would be a year when the Irish took a step back. Now that it's here, Weis has only 10 returning starters, no experience at quarterback and four of the Irish's first six games on the road. Looks like a step back from 9-3 and 10-3 to me.

2. No matter whom Weis names as his starting quarterback, the most chips he will place behind an inexperienced man will go behind defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. The 37-year-old has been a coach for six years, following an eight-year career in the NFL. Brown is well-respected and comes from the same Parcells-Belichick tree (three years on Al Groh's staff at Virginia) that bore Weis. Still, it's a big step.

Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada3. This is the year to catch Navy, where coach Paul Johnson must rebuild his defense and his offensive line. But with Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada established at quarterback, and Army and Air Force dealing with new coaches, the Midshipmen should win their fifth consecutive Commander-In-Chief's Trophy. After all, if a wizened head like Bobby Ross couldn't turn it around at Army, what can be said for his replacement, former NFL stalwart Stan Brock?
Jimmy Clausen1. Even by Notre Dame's standards, few freshmen have been as highly touted as quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Will he turn out better than older brothers Casey (quarterback at Tennessee) and Rick (quarterback at LSU and Tennessee), who were largely mediocre during their college careers? Clausen will have every opportunity to start this season for the Fighting Irish, who must replace record-setting quarterback Brady Quinn. But without Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, do the Irish have enough talent to help him win?

2. Can Paul Johnson do it again at Navy? The Midshipmen must replace nine starters on defense and a few regulars on the offensive line. But with quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and a handful of talented slotbacks returning, there is no reason to believe the Midshipmen can't win at least six games, which would earn them another trip to the Dec. 20 San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. If that happens, will the rest of college football recognize that Johnson is truly one of the best coaches in the land?

3. Can Western Kentucky keep defending national champion Florida under 100 points in its Sept. 1 opener in Gainesville? Hilltoppers coach David Elson took the unusual step of asking eight returning seniors to redshirt during the team's first season in Division I-A. Playing the Gators on the road, without the heart and soul of the team no less, is quite a debut.