Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where Have All the Quarterbacks Gone?

They say misery loves company, so the one consolation for Gopher fans in our plight of having to endure Adam Weber and a "new and improved" yet still completely anemic offense, is that we're not alone. And not just in the Big Ten, but nation wide, quarterbacking has been underwhelming in 2009- and "underwhelming" is probably being too kind. 2009 has so far been the Year of Crappy Quarterbacking, which is pretty amazing considering that before the season started, this was supposed to be THE year of the quarterback!!

Think about it: entering the season, for the first time ever, college football was returning the top three Heisman finalists from the previous season, and all were quarterbacks on great teams: Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy of Texas, and some guy named Tim Tebow for Florida (maybe you've heard of him? The second coming of Jesus according to some). Yet Bradford barely made it out of the first half in OU's opener against BYU before suffering a serious injury to his throwing shoulder (and after reinjuring it last weekend against Texas, might be done for the year). The Indestructible Tebow sustained a concussion against Kentucky, and while he made it back after the bye week to beat LSU, his passing stats for the season have been underwhelming thanks to a lack of effective options at receivers (outside of TE Aaron Hernandez). McCoy wishes he could blame injury on his subpar season- yes, the Longhorns are undefeated and might still run the table to get into the National Title game, but McCoy's numbers have been down. He threw only eight picks in all of 2008, but already has six this season, and threw for 3859 yards and 45 total TD's last year, yet in 2009 is on pace for only 3384 and 26 total TD's. His completion percentage is still a gawdy 73.4%, but is down from his amazing 76.7% of a year ago.

Perhaps it's just a lack of big-name star quarterbacks on the good teams this year? In the top 10, only Tony Pike of #5 Cincinnati and Jacory Harris of #10 Miami have had anything any resembling a great season, yet because Cincinnati is, well, Cincinnati, and Harris is just a sophomore who has had a couple of big games but doesn't have jaw-dropping stats, they're not getting much love nationally.

In the Big Ten, it's not that the quarterbacking has been underwhelming- it's been downright awful so far. And like the perception of signal-callers nationally heading into the year, what makes it so disappointing is that nobody expected a down year for Big Ten signal callers with SO many starters returning. Yet it's happened, as Penn State senior QB Daryll Clark has been the only returning starter who's come anywhere close to meeting or exceeding expectations. To say Clark has been the best QB in the Big Ten this year would be the understatement of understatements- Clark has been excellent and no other QB in the Big Ten is even close. The voters for All Big Ten second team QB should abstain this year, and just leave the spot blank, or just give first AND second team honors to Clark, because nobody else deserves it. No really, nobody. There hasn't been anyone else you could really call good, just a few guys who haven't been awful.

If you look at the passing efficiency numbers for the QB's in the conference the top of it is void of the four returning veteran starters that were supposed to battle Clark for Big Ten quarterbacking supremacy and player of the year honors: Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State, Illinois senior Juice Williams, Minnesota junior and 2008 Big Ten second team QB Adam Weber, and Iowa junior Ricky Stanzi. The results for these four range from unmitigated disaster to merely being just good enough.

Pryor is ninth in efficiency with just 10 TD passes, eight picks, and a comp% of 56. Williams, who led the conference in total offense last season as a junior, has already been benched and has been so bad he doesn't rank in the top 10 in efficiency. Neither does Weber, who has more picks (9) than TD passes (6) along with the worst completion percentage (55.6) of any starter in the Big Ten. Even if Gopher head coach Tim Brewster doesn't want to admit it, he's been a big reason why Minnesota ranks ninth in scoring offense and dead last in total offense with only 293.7 yards per game. Stanzi has been good when he's had to be, as evidenced by leading the Hawkeyes fourth quarter comeback against Wisconsin last week, but his numbers are certainly- say it with me-underwhelming. He's 7th in efficiency with 11 TD's and eight picks while completing only 59.2% of his passes and leads an Iowa offense that's eighth in scoring and ninth in total yards. And the sad thing is, he's probably the second best quarterback in the conference right now.

That's because the new starters in the rest of the league haven't been much better. Sconnie starter Scott Tolzien set the world on fire in the first five weeks when he was the Big Ten's top rated passer, but has really struggled the last two weeks in losses to Ohio State and Iowa. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol lead the top-ranked passing attack, yet neither has been good enough to grab the starting job outright. Purdue fifth year senior Joey Elliott leads everyone in yards (1856) and TD's (14), but is also first in INT's (10) and is eighth in efficiency. Northwestern's Mike Kafka has proven he can throw by completing 67% of his passes but still has only 9 TD's to four picks, and Indiana's Ben Chappell is third in yards (1664) and completion percentage (63.4), but also has just eight TD's against seven picks and is 10th in efficiency.

The biggest surprise, and the one real bright spot other than Clark, has been Michigan true freshman Tate Forcier. His numbers don't jump out at you with just 1027 yards, 57.6% and 9 TD's, but he's fourth in efficiency and has kept his turnovers to a minimum with just four picks, and has already led a number of fourth quarter comebacks for the resurgent Wolverines. Doing that under all the pressure of being the starting quarterback at Michigan as a true freshman, you could certainly make a worst choice for the second best QB in the conference so far, but I'm not sure you could do any better. Because of Iowa's record, Stanzi would probably get the nod for second team, which really says something about how disappointing the quarterbacks have been if he or Forcier are in the running for the #2 spot right now.

With five games left and the meat of the schedule still to come, there's going to be plenty of opportunities for all of these signal callers to step up and win some games for their teams. So far, it's been a story of who's quarterback hasn't been the best, but whose haven't been the worst. See Gopher fans? Our quarterback might be bad so far, but we're far from alone. In 2009 in the Big Ten, quarterbacking misery really does love company.


Anonymous said...

Stanzi's a redshirt JR.

Anonymous said...

Umm...when did Tebow miss 2 games? When did he miss one game???

Jeff said...

Tebow missed the two games against...um...you know...see this is why I need an editor. Or just do more research before posting. Probably the latter. He got knocked out of the Kentucky game but then had a bye week, not a missed game. Not sure how I confused the two. I blame the play of Adam Weber and me having to watch it. Thanks for pointing out the obvious on Tebow and Stanzi. Corrections made.