SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Brady Quinn was confused when his uncle gave him a USC cap the day the quarterback signed to play at Notre Dame.

“Then he told me, ‘Look at the hat, being one of your biggest rivals, and just remember every day when you’re preparing to go there that there’s someone out there always looking to beat you. Every day they are trying to get better than you, and that’s what you’re going to face every day over the next four years when you go play there,”‘ Quinn said.

Quinn keeps the hat on his desk as a reminder.

Coach Charlie Weis says Quinn learned the lesson well. Weis describes his quarterback as the hardest working player at Notre Dame. The senior spends much of his Mondays – the team’s day off – studying film of opponents. But Quinn doesn’t just study harder than his teammates.

“Nobody works harder in the weight room. No one,” Weis said.

Added bulk

Quinn hasn’t grown an inch in college but has put nearly 25 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-4 frame. He’s also grown into one of the nation’s top passers. Under Weis he progressed from a quarterback who completed a little over half his throws and struggled to win games into a leader who has repeatedly bailed the Irish out of trouble and found ways to lead them to victories.

“Obviously most teams only go as far as their quarterback,” Irish safety Tom Zbikowski said. “We’ve got a great one. That two-minute drill comes easy to him where he can just drive down the field and score touchdowns.”

In his first two seasons, Quinn threw for 26 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Last year he threw for 32 TDs and seven interceptions. So far this year he has thrown for 32 TDs and five interceptions.

Quinn said the biggest thing he’s learned from Weis is an aggressive mind-set.

“Really just trying to go after defenses and not allowing yourself to get complacent. Keep striving for more and more and more, more points, more yards, more everything, really going after them, not just settling for a field goal,” he said.

Like Brady

Quinn reminds USC coach Pete Carroll of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, another student of Weis.

“It’s the same notebook,” Carroll said. “He’s ready for the next level, as ready as he can get in college. Everything about him is good. He’s got good touch and he takes care of the ball and moves well also. He’s got all the elements.”

Quinn has 11,340 career passing yards and needs just 49 Saturday against USC to pass former Trojan quarterback Carson Palmer for 12th on the all-time NCAA list. Quinn ranks 10th on the all-time list with 90 TD passes.

Quinn, who already owns 35 school records, could become the first Irish starting quarterback to lead the team to 30 wins, breaking the mark set by Tom Clements (1972-74) and Ron Powlus (1994-97).

Even though the Irish have a chance for their best finish in more than a decade, some have described Quinn’s performance this season as disappointing. Weis thinks Quinn, who was tagged by many in the media as the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, may have been a victim of too much hype.

“I think any time it’s hyped, you’re the best player this, you’re going to win the Heisman, all that other stuff – because it looks as though it’s going in Troy’s (Smith) direction, people look at that like that’s being a failure,” he said. “My answer to that is, let’s wait until draft day and see where he ends up that day.”

Before he worries about the draft, Quinn has some business to finish at Notre Dame. He has lost to the Trojans three times, and the Irish have lost four straight to their longtime rival. Quinn is hoping to end that streak Saturday when the sixth-ranked Irish (10-1) face No. 3 USC (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10).

“Going into this game, that’s definitely one of the things that’s on my mind,” Quinn said. “That’s been helping me kind of stay motivated and focused really on what we have in front of us.”

That and the USC cap on his desk.

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