Official Husker Locker Blog
2010 Jul 08
BIG 12 PREVIEW: Ranking the Big 12 Quarterbacks
What a magnificent decade for the league’s signal callers. Three Heisman Trophy winners - Eric Crouch, Jason White and Sam Bradford. Two more runner-ups - Josh Heupel and Vince Young - won national titles in 2000 and 2005, respectively.
Texas’ Colt McCoy - also a Heisman runner-up in 2008 - became the winningest quarterback in college football history. Mike Leach disciples Kliff Kingsbury and Graham Harrell rewrote the record books at Texas Tech. Brad Smith and Chase Daniel altered the destiny of Missouri. Todd Reesing reinvigorated Kansas. Ell Roberson delivered Kansas State and Bill Snyder its only Big 12 title.
No lead was too big for them. No time remaining on the clock was too little. When their aim was on, these pistoleros left a lot of dead defenses in their wake.
But injuries to Bradford and Baylor’s Robert Griffin took two of the stars off the stage. Tougher league defenses - spearheaded by Nebraska’s Bo Pelini - initiated a subtle change in 2009. Reesing suffered through his worst season right when he should have peaked. Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson struggled through injuries and inaccuracy. Ndamukong Suh wrenched Blaine Gabbert’s ankle so badly the Missouri sophomore wasn’t the same for a month. In the Big 12 Championship, Suh also reduced McCoy to a big-eyed, fast-footed Colt on the run. Tech sampled three different quarterbacks, settling on none. Then Leach was fired and a defensive-minded replacement, Tommy Tuberville, was hired in his place.
With that change as a backdrop, and in a year of transition - the last for Nebraska and Colorado - here are our rankings for Big 12 quarterbacks.
Projected Starter: Blaine Gabbert (3,593 yards passing, 24 TDs, 9 INTs)
Strengths: Gabbert is our preseason pick for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. When healthy, he’s mobile enough to evade a pass rush and he already possesses the league’s best arm. Gabbert also has the bulk of his offensive line returning. We see 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns for the junior. Weaknesses: Zero proven depth. The backup is likely to be true freshman James Franklin.
Projected Starter: Landry Jones (3,198/26/14)
Strengths: Bradford’s injury opened the door wide for Jones to get a full year of relatively low-pressure experience. He has a good arm, guts and pocket presence. He’ll also have his four top receivers back. Weaknesses: Jones was an iffy decision-maker at times, and he seemed to hurried by OU’s no-huddle offense. The Sooners also have no proven backup.
3. Texas Tech
Projected Starter: Taylor Potts (3,440/22/13) or Sticks Sheffield (1,219/14/4)
Strengths: The Red Raiders have two proven starters, each of whom have played in, and won, important games. In a limited sample, Sheffield was brilliant, arguably the Big 12’s best quarterback. But he got hurt during a win at Nebraska and played sparingly thereafter. Potts looks more the part, but throws balls into coverage. Weaknesses: Two potential starters doesn’t necessarily make one great player. Plus - what does Tech become without Mike Leach to coach the offense? The “Air Raid” system wasn’t complicated, so perhaps Potts and Sheffield don’t miss a beat.
4. Texas A&M
Projected Starter: Jerrod Johnson (3,579/30/8)
Strengths: A senior, Johnson has all the tools - size (6-5, 243), arm strength, mobility (506 yards rushing). On occasion - such as in a 49-39 loss to Texas - he’ll throw passes so pretty and perfect you wonder if he’s the nation’s best quarterback. Weaknesses: But other times, he locks in on his target, or throws wildly high or wide of his intended receiver. Johnson passed roughly 40 times per game, and dropped back to pass 50 times per game, so he had tons of opportunities afforded to him by the Aggies’ terrible defense.
Projected Starter: Robert Griffin (2,090/15/3 in 2008)
Strengths: Griffin tore his ACL in the third game of the 2009 season, but if he’s healthy, he’s one of the fastest, most exciting athletes in the Big 12. He limits mistakes, too, rarely throwing interceptions. Backup Nick Florence played pretty well for a freshman, completing 62 percent of his passes and engineering a 40-32 upset of Missouri. Weaknesses: Griffin will have to trust his knee, and that may take several games - or perhaps as long as a season. In 2008, he scrambled around too much and took bad, drive-killing sacks.
6. Iowa State
Projected Starter: Austen Arnaud (2,015/14/13) or J.T. Tiller (376/1/4)
Strengths: Both players are mobile and capable of creating plays on the run. Tiller is more dynamic and has the bigger arm. Arnaud is smarter and manages the offense better. ISU only took 16 sacks last year because of their athleticism. Weaknesses: Both throw interceptions and complete fewer than 60 percent of their passes. The Cyclones’ real strength in 2009 was their defense; the offense will be more exposed in 2010.
Projected Starter: Garrett Gilbert (310/2/4)
Strengths: Gilbert is a sturdy, big-armed talent who impressed UT coaches in the spring with his leadership. In the BCS title game loss to Alabama, he took some awful licks and still threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Weaknesses: Gilbert is a pocket quarterback with little experience, and Texas has been giving up an average of two sacks per game for the last three seasons - and that was with Colt McCoy in the shotgun! Bottom line: It’ll take time for the Longhorns to adjust to Gilbert’s skills and develop a running game. It’ll be a rough first half for the sophomore. Texas has no depth behind him, either.
Projected Starter: Tyler Hansen (1,440/8/7) or Cody Hawkins (1,277/10/11)
Strengths: Hansen shows flashes - brief, mind you - of becoming a pretty good quarterback. He’s mobile, athletic and can throw a good deep ball. A full season with a solid offensive line would do him good. Hawkins, as a backup, is smart and capable of leading a touchdown drive. Weaknesses: Hawkins just isn’t tall enough (5-11, and that’s pushing it) or mobile enough to excel in a West Coast Offense; he took a ton of awful sacks in 2009. So did Hansen, for that matter. Accuracy is a problem for both.
Projected Starter: Zac Lee (2,143/14/10) or Cody Green (317/2/2) or Taylor Martinez
Strengths: Variety? Options? On a serious note - Lee, if healthy after elbow surgery, has a strong, reasonably accurate arm and throws a good-to-very-good deep ball. Green possesses a lot of raw tools, plus some running ability. Martinez is a mystery, an X-factor who could end up as Wildcat quarterback some of the time. Weaknesses: Lee was an iffy decision-maker at best. His running style opens him up for knockout shots from safeties. Green didn’t look ready for primetime in 2009, and there’s no guarantee he will now. Martinez hasn’t taken a snap. Finally, there’s this question: Are they all really suited for the same offense?
10. Oklahoma State
Projected Starter: Brandon Weeden (248/4/1)
Strengths: Weeden, a former professional baseball player, will bring maturity to the role, and OSU’s new offense, based on the “Air Raid” attack, should produce some gaudy numbers for the junior. We’re walking a bit out on a limb here, but we think the Cowboys lucked into a pretty good quarterback. Weaknesses: Aside from a fourth-quarter comeback over CU - Weeden did look pretty darn good - he’s obviously unproven. There is no Plan B who isn’t a freshman.
11. Kansas State
Projected Starter: Carson Coffman (860/2/4)
Strengths: Coffman had a good spring and he seems to be a good playaction passer. Good arm. Weaknesses: Struggled with accuracy early in the season. He’ll be throwing to all-new receivers. KSU is a running team -despite the Wildcats’ gaudy spring passes stats - so Coffman will be asked to manage the game, limit turnovers and let Daniel Thomas do the rest. Behind Coffman, the backup is a converted wide receiver and possibly a true freshman.
Projected Starter: Kale Pick (22/0/0 167 yards rushing)
Strengths: Pick is mobile and has a sturdy size (6-1, 208). He worked as an option back next to Reesing in some games last year. He appeared to surge ahead in spring camp. He’ll enjoy KU’s best offensive line in several years, if that’s any consolation. Weaknesses: Little experience and his backups, Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham, don’t have any.
Check Out Our Full Big 12 Preview: Big 12 Coaches, Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Lines, Defensive LinesCommentary, 12 Best Players, Ten Overrated Players, Ten Underrated Players
Permanent Link to this Blog Post