Handicapping New College Quarterbacks
by Trevor Whenham - 08/25/2007
At the start of every college football season there is nothing that causes more frustration and confusion than young quarterbacks taking the reins at an elite program. You never know if a player is going to step in and shine from the start, or if he is going to take a few games to settle in and find his mojo. Plenty of money is lost each year by making the wrong assumption. The best solution, of course, would be to just avoid betting on any programs in this position until you know how the new general will command the troops, but where's the fun in that? Sometimes you feel like you have to bet on a game despite major quarterback questions. To help your decision making process at the start of this season, here's a look at five major programs looking at new faces and their chances of success early on:
Sam Bradford, redshirt freshman, Oklahoma - Despite having to play without Adrian Peterson, I am fairly optimistic about the chances of Bradford to do well. He's a talented and athletic player who emerged as the starter from a tough three-player race. He steps into a team that has long shown the ability to help a decent quarterback win. Despite Jason White's Heisman, Oklahoma has not been a school that has had superstar pivots recently, yet they have been extremely successful under Bob Stoops. The biggest advantage Bradford has is one of the most advantageous early schedules a team of the caliber of Oklahoma could possibly have. The five games that precede the annual showdown with Texas include just two major conference teams, and they are a Miami squad that seems destined to disappoint this season, and a Colorado team that was terrible last year and has an unproven quarterback of their own. Beyond that, the team will face more intense competition in scrimmages than they will against North Texas, Utah State and Tulsa. Bradford will have almost half of the season to ease into his role, and he has the luxury of a loaded team around him to make it easier. Even with a green starter Oklahoma has the strong potential to be very, very good this year.
Ohio State - As I write this it isn't yet known who will be Ohio State's QB, but with Troy Smith trying to make an NFL roster, it is certain that there will be a new one. There are three players vying for supremacy - junior Todd Boeckman, sophomore Robbie Schoenhoft, and redshirt freshman Antonio Henton. It seems at this point like Boeckman will win the race to start the season, but his position will be far from secure. He isn't a flashy quarterback, but he knows coach Jim Tressel's system well, and he is a textbook type of player. That kind of predictability appeals to Tressel. None of the players have been able to secure the majority of the work with the first string, though, so it seems very likely that their will be some juggling at the position unless the first starter establishes himself early on. Luckily for the program, their first five opponents are even easier than Oklahoma's - Youngstown State, Akron, Washington, Northwestern, Minnesota. By the time a real opponent comes along Tressel should have a workable solution figured out.
Matt Flynn, Senior, LSU - Replacing JaMarcus Russell is not going to be an easy task, but Flynn stands a good chance of succeeding. He doesn't technically belong on this list with the other players here because he has one career start, and it was very impressive. He led the Tigers to a 40-3 destruction of Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl. That was a long time ago, though. Flynn has looked solid so far this summer, and he has the tools, and the incredibly talented team around him, to succeed and live up to the very high expectations heaped on his team. The problem for LSU will not be Flynn, but rather what happens if Flynn gets hurt. Sophomore Ryan Perrilloux is the backup. He was the No. 1 recruit in the nation on many lists coming out of high school, but he has been very disappointing in college and inspires very little confidence at this point. This is a case then, where the Tigers are worth an automatic look with Flynn, but require much more hesitation if he misses action.
Notre Dame - It's not very kind of me to say, but I think that coach Charlie Weis is making such a big deal of his quarterback race to keep his name in the press, because his incredibly disappointing upcoming season isn't going to get him much attention. Weis says that he has made the decision about who will start, but he isn't saying who it is. Apparently he won't even tell Evan Sharpley, Jimmy Clausen, or Demetrius Jones who it will be until they are about to take the field against Georgia Tech, but if you believe that then I have some swampland to sell you. Whoever it is, the results aren't going to be pretty. The Irish have been terrible in big games the last two years, and they have holes all over the field this year. The quarterback, whoever it is, will struggle to win more than seven or eight games, but it certainly won't be his fault. The most logical choice would probably be super-recruit Jimmy Clausen. If it is him then the important thing to watch will be how well he holds up under the ridiculous pressure he will face. Brady Quinn did fine, but Ron Powlus didn't.
Boise State - I don't want to limit my talk of elite programs to those from major conferences. Boise State showed the world how good they were last year, and they have the schedule and the talent to do it again. With Jared Zabransky trying to cut it in the NFL, the starting position is a toss-up. Sophomore Nick Lomax and freshman Kellen Moore show promise, but the starter will either be senior Taylor Tharp, Zabransky's backup, or junior Bush Hamdan. The beauty of the Boise State system, though, is that it shouldn't matter in either case. Zabransky was solid, but he was no Dan Marino. The offense is very well designed, and running back Ian Johnson, a legitimate Heisman candidate, is there to pick up the slack and get the attention of opposing defenses. Unless both quarterbacks are a complete disaster, the Broncos should be 11-0 when they face Hawaii to end the season.