Five players to watch
By Times Staff
Published September 1, 2006
Sr., Notre Dame, Quarterback
He's about to become a four-year starter, but it was a breakout season under the tutelage of new coach Charlie Weis in 2005 that turned Quinn into a household name (among football fans, at least) and a Heisman candidate. He was 292-of-450 for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns. The Irish return four of their six offensive linemen, and with a talented group of wide receivers led by Jeff Samardzija, as long as Quinn stays healthy, you most likely can pencil him in for a trip to New York in December.
Jr., USC, Wide receiver
He and teammate Steve Smith make up one of the best receiver tandems in the nation. Last season Jarrett had 91 receptions for 1,274 yards and a school-record-tying 16 touchdowns. Granted, he had a Heisman Trophy quarterback throwing the passes, but his track record speaks for itself (55 catches, 13 touchdowns as a freshman). When you're playing with Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, it's easy to get overlooked just a bit. But if relatively inexperienced quarterback John David Booty can get Jarrett the ball often enough, expect this All-American to garner an even bigger part of the spotlight this season.
Jr., Oklahoma, Running back
Two years ago he set an NCAA freshman record with 1,925 yards and finished second in the Heisman voting. Although he rushed for 817 fewer yards last season as a sophomore, Peterson still led all Big 12 rushers with 1,108 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. He has the power and speed that make a big-time running back dangerous to opposing defenses. He's fully recovered from the high ankle sprain that hampered him last season and could become more of a threat after spending the offseason working on receiving skills. If he gets a little space in the open field and catches a pass, look out. If plans work out, he'll be a serious dual threat.
Sr., Mississippi, Linebacker
Okay, you see Mississippi and immediately you're skeptical. Don't be. Willis is the real deal, considered by many to be the best middle linebacker in the SEC. He led the nation last season in solo tackles (9.0 per game). At 6 feet, 270 pounds, he's quick and athletic. Although he missed the spring while recovering from foot surgery, Willis is poised to lead the Rebels' climb out of the SEC West cellar.
Sr., Notre Dame, Wide receiver
He broke a 35-year-old school record with 77 receptions for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns (both records). A consensus All-American, he makes the kind of catches that keep SportsCenter in business and is highly productive, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. Expectations are high in South Bend, and having Samardzija on the receiving end of Brady Quinn's passes is a big reason why.
- ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times staff writer