One would expect senior quarterbacks to rate higher overall and this was indeed the case. The landscape of college football has changed so much from the 1970's and 1980's. The passing game has evolved over the last several decades and more teams are now attacking via the passing game.
Veteran quarterbacks were once a premium in the past but young gunslingers are now making their mark early on during their collegiate careers. A higher number of underclassmen are forging their way, becoming starters early on during their careers. Sam Bradford of the University of Oklahoma was the nation's leading passer this past season as a freshman. Behind Bradford was true sophomore, Tim Tebow from the University of Florida, finishing the 2007 season with a 172.5 QB rating.
Inside the Numbers...
Of the 797 quarterbacks rated by the NCAA this decade, 263 were seniors or 32.9 percent. Junior quarterbacks made the list 261 times followed by 196 sophomores and 77 freshmen. Here is a breakdown of the classifications.
Taking the top 10 percent of the 797 quarterbacks based on quarterback rating, 35 of the 80 quarterbacks were seniors (43.7 percent). The juniors had 21 quarterbacks in the top 10 percent followed by 16 sophomores and only eight freshmen. Looking at the top three percent, senior quarterbacks lead the way with 10 quarterbacks along with six juniors, seven sophomores and two freshmen.
Four of the top 10 quarterback ratings this decade were underclassmen. Bradford of Oklahoma had the fourth best rating this decade. Freshman Rudy Carpenter of Arizona State compiled the fifth best rating this decade during the 2005 season and Tim Tebow of Florida was close behind at number seven. Florida quarterback Rex Grossman, as a sophomore in 2001, led the nation in passing.
Looking at the highest touchdown ratios this decade, 13 of the top 25 quarterbacks this decade were underclassmen and six of the top 10 were underclassmen. In fact, Bradford's touchdown ratio of one every 9.1 pass attempts was the best this decade. Also in the top 10 were Grossman, Justin Willis of SMU, Matt Leinart of USC, Tebow and Colt McCoy of Texas.
It's no longer a veteran's game...
The numbers clearly indicate the majority of the top quarterbacks in the nation have been upperclassmen but they also point to an increase of underclassmen playing at a higher level of performance. In 1979 the NCAA established the current quarterback rating formula. During the decade of the 1980's only 16 percent of the nation's top 10 quarterbacks were underclassman. It increased to 21 percent during the 1990's and is currently at 29 percent this decade.
From 1980-1989 only four freshman quarterbacks made it into the nation's top 10 based on their efficiency rating. There were only two during the 1990's but nine have cracked the top 10 this current decade. So why is there an increase in productivity of underclassmen quarterbacks? Several factors immediately come to mind. Playing opportunity has increased with the limitation of scholarships. The passing game has evolved over the past several decades and many pass offenses are designed to be quarterback friendly. The rules of the game have also changed, creating a natural increase in productivity.
Coach Tony Franklin's offense is a prime example of a passing scheme designed to minimize the quarterback's responsibilities. The quarterback and receivers simply need to be on the same page when it comes to adjusting their routes based on the look given by the defense. The coaching staff signals in any audible made, taking the pressure off the quarterback so that he can solely concentrate on executing the new play. All three Auburn quarterbacks improved during spring practice, which is a positive indicator Auburn's passing game should flourish this season, despite the lack of experience.
In the event Kodi Burns wins the starting job or takes the majority of snaps this upcoming season, it's good to know there has been an increase in productive underclassmen at the quarterback position. In the past, having a young starter at quarterback would have been a major concern but the results of this current decade would indicate there is a higher probability of success than in past decades. The combination of his athletic ability and sound coaching within a passing scheme designed to simplify the quarterback's responsibilities, Auburn just might have a winning formula on offense for 2008.