I read a very interesting article the other day written by former University of Washington QB Brock Huard. Huard suggested that unlike the NFL, elite quarterback play has not been a prerequisite for championship success in college football in recent seasons. He points out that Tebow and Newton were spectacular during their title-winning seasons, but Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Greg McElroy, LSU’s Matt Flynn and Florida’s Chris Leak were more of the “game manager” variety of QB than star passers. Compare that to the NFL’s last seven Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks: Joe Flacco, Eli Manning (twice), Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rogers and Peyton Manning. These names are synonymous with elite quarterback play. As Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider describes it, “they tilt the field.”

The QB Position in College Football is Important

Huard certainly brings up some good points, but I would argue that the quarterback position in college football is far more important today than it was 10 or 15 years ago. True like any other position it is still just another piece of the handicapping puzzle, and depending on the QB’s supporting cast, it may be a smaller piece at that. However the examples that Huard uses in his article are of elite teams that possess elite personnel at other positions.

And how many teams in the country possess this elite supporting cast that allows a “game manager” to lead them to the National Championship? Probably the same dozen or so teams we make reference to in our conference familiarity discussion. For the majority of other teams in college football, good QB play is imperative.

Handicapping the QB

After defense, QB is the first thing I look at when capping a game. Because of the way teams play defense nowadays, with all the different looks and blitz packages they throw at you, a QB has to be able to make reads.

I believe college QB’s can be broken down into several categories, including:

  • Elite. Think Andrew Luck and RG3 two year’s ago or Tajh or Aaron Murray this year. These are the players that not only have NFL talent they also have several years of starting experience under their belts. Not only are they physically talented, they are also smart and do not make mistakes. At the college level, “they tilt the field.”
  • College Elite. Think Keith Price of Washington. These players may have border line NFL talent, but they are excellent college QB’s.  I would also consider “System QB’s” among this group. How many NFL QB’s did Texas Tech produce in the Mike Leach era? None? But Kliff Kingsbury and Graham Harrell were two of the best college QB’s of all time.
  • Experienced Game Managers.  Here is where you can insert those SEC QB’s we mentioned earlier. Experience at QB, typically, is extremely valuable. However, a “game manager’s” surrounding cast has to be taken into consideration. A good game manager better have a good supporting cast on offense with a good running game (like Alabama did in 2011) to help ease the pressure, otherwise they’re going to struggle at some point in the season.
  • Talented but inconsistent. This could be a result of inexperience or in the case of someone like ex-South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia, they are just a head case. It is frustrating wagering on or against these types of QB’s because you really never know what to expect.
  • SUCKS! Let’s face it, some teams just have bad quarterbacks. When was the last time Penn State or UCLA had good quarterback play? Look at how quickly Texas fell from National Title contender to middle of the Big 12 standings after Colt McCoy graduated. 

Handicapping the Supporting Personnel

We have already discussed the importance of a QB’s supporting cast. It is another piece of the handicapping puzzle that must be thoroughly analyzed. Despite Andrew Luck’s first round talent, he still wouldn’t have been able to put up the numbers he did without having the luxury of working behind one of the best OL’s in college football.

Another piece of the puzzle that I believe is important when analyzing the QB position is the coaching. The coaching is of course important when analyzing the entire team, but it irks me to no end when some coaches ask a mediocre talent to do more than he is capable of instead of game planning around the things that he can do. 

Obviously the quality and value of a team’s QB play is going to be affected by the level of the competition. A good example of this from last year was the Baylor/Texas Tech game. RG3 was injured early and experienced backup Nick Florence comes in and has a career day against a very, very bad Texas Tech defense. Baylor also had a pretty good offensive supporting cast to ease the burden on Florence. However what would have happened if this particular game were against OU or Texas (two teams that Baylor beat with RG3)? I doubt the outcome is the same. A team may be able to get by with mediocre QB play against poor to mediocre competition, but they will be exposed against the better teams.



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