During the summer of 2005 Jared Zabransky was almost a household word in college football media circles. Both the reality of the past and hype of the future filled net, magazines, newspapers, and the airwaves, with a new quote from the quarterback about to lead the nation's most storied mid-major to the promised land of BCS parity a regular weekly event. Media outlets had to literally "take a number" and stand in line to get a few minutes with "Z."
Expectations by the Bronco faithful were sky high. Head coach Dan Hawkins was planning a book on his philosophy of coaching, scheduled for release after the season's end. Local Boise media outlets were talking trip to Pasadena. This was going to be "the year," beginning with a "put us on the map" game against an arguably suspect Georgia team that had an unproven QB and other "no-name" replacements vs. the rising Z star and a proven company of returning starters. By the time the Bowling Green home game rolled around, BSU would be sitting pretty in the top 10, if not top 5, of the relevant polls, on their way to rewriting the pundits' story lines about national college football powerhouses…or at least that was the word from optimistic Bronco boosters,
And then sometime shortly after 5 PM EST on September 3 Jared Zabransky threw his first pass into – or rather more correctly to – the UGA secondary…and the expectations of "glory to be" for the 2005 Boise State Broncos began an implosion both unexpected in its magnitude and resultant toll for both team and starting QB. Six painful turnovers later Coach Hawk was talking East Junior High, calling his publisher to hold the presses, and forever placing "full body cramps" into the medical dictionary, while Z backup Taylor Tharp did his best to let BSU leave Athens with some degree of respectability.
The rest of the 2005 season is history, ending as it began…with an interception of a Zabransky pass by the hands of the secondary of a nationally rated BCS powerhouse…and hopes for redemption and a new hard earned respectability quickly melting along with evidence of the MPC Computers Bowl hail storm...and a gutsy Z led Bronco comeback.
But the hope and optimism of spring practice quickly dispels the past when it comes to Bronco quarterbacks much as warming weather eventually banishes the gloom of winter. By fall there should be five signal callers on the depth chart, all with their own private and public expectations. Although there is little that has not already been rehashed scores of times in the Boise media and on Bronco message boards, here is some common wisdom (and hopefully a bit more) on the "Bronco Five":
Jared Zabransky (6-2, 203, Sr.)
Few will dispute that the tools to be a great college quarterback are there, just waiting to be tapped. The question though remains, much as an unwelcome ghost refusing to leave after a night's haunting: Can Z find the consistency and composure necessary to lead the 2006 Broncos? We aren't talking practice scrimmages here, but real games, when it really matters. Throughout the spring and summer of 2005 Z was sharp and effective, showing definite improvement over 2004…in practice. And that's indicative of the real potential downfall of the quick-footed #5…He has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde under game stresses, admittedly taking too much of the responsibility for team success on his own shoulders.
New head Coach Chris Peterson has indicated that Z is the QB to unseat as starter for '06, although all of the principals at the position will see time with the first team in spring practice. What Team Captain Zabransky (and the rest of his teammates) are pointedly aware of is that there will be a much shorter leash when it comes to any reappearance of problems so evident in '05. As a senior, this is "put up or sit down" time for the Z-man…and he knows it. The larger question will be whether he can cope with the "new pressure" of knowing that this is his "last shot" and relax enough to play up to his potential.
Show expected leadership
Check-off receivers, throwing to 2nd, 3rd, or 4th possibilities rather than letting defenses read the play with a telegraphing focus on one….In other words, utilize the multiplicity of talent in the BSU receiving corps
Taylor Tharp (6-2, 205, Jr.)
Much more of a by-the-book pocket passer than Z, Tharp was the center of attention for many that thought he had the tools and knew the playbook enough to lead the Bronco offense last year, especially after the losses of the first two games. Although there were flashes of the longed for vertical passing game sorely missed since the Ryan Dinwiddie days, #10 never really emerged as the answer to BSU's offensive inconsistency. Even in the second half of the scoring fest against the University of Idaho (during most of which Tharp led the team), it was much more of a Special Teams/Defense effort than a QB led comeback.
As a junior he needs to make the most of every opportunity to shine and standout from the current QB crowd. Staying away from the negative by not making mistakes will probably not be enough. Tharp must turn in a bit more than just a solid performance when given the opportunity, he must do the "I can do what you're looking for" things that force Coaches Peterson and Harsin to stop and take note both mentally and on their clipboards.
Step up and make the "big plays" when given the chance
Bush Hamdan (6-1, 196, So.)
Acknowledged to have the strongest arm in the Bronco QB stable, yet physically the smallest member of the group, the Gaithersburg, MD product has been patiently waiting for his few game opportunities, and made the most of them when given the chance. He has shown a certain poise expected of a leader while demonstrating a continuing developing knowledge of the complex Bronco offensive scheme.
It will be enlightening to see what he does with increased playing opportunities this spring and summer. The potential for him to be the heir apparent to the starting role for the 2007 season is real…and may be very dependent on what he does with the part-time roles given to him in '06. Should Z live up to expectations in '06, we may see a repeat next year of the '05 quarterback battle, when the much more orthodox, pocket passing Sanford battled the more "exciting" and less orthodox Zabransky. Although not possessing the extreme mobility of a Zabransky, he does bring more to the table in this area than Tharp does.
Battle Tharp for the acknowledged back-up position…and should Zabransky falter, assume the starting role
Nick Lomax (6-6, 220, Fr.)
After a full year as the acknowledged leader of the scout team, Nick Lomax is ready to test his skills in a larger arena. At 6'6'' he brings a size to the QB position that the Broncos have not had and according to some, sorely needed. Although his 220 weight could use a few more pounds of Pitman magic, his size, lineage (Pro Bowl NFL QB dad Neil Lomax), and standout red shirt performance are all part of a still developing aura of inevitable greatness.
Spring and summer/fall scrimmages should be instructive, but we probably won't see Nick in real game situations unless the Broncos are blowing the opposition away by 30 plus points. As Coach Peterson has indicated on multiple occasions, this is still a learning curve year for #15.
Continue to learn and be comfortable with the entire Offensive playbook
Michael Coughlin (6-4, 200, Fr.)
One of the prizes of the 2006 recruiting class for the Broncos, Michael Coughlin has the kind of HS stats added to his physical build and skills to make the most skeptical of football aficionados sit up and take notice. At 6'5" and 215 lbs. (Mira Mesa High School, San Diego, CA), Coughlin when asked about what he can do joining an already crowded Bronco QB scene says, "I'm a confident quarterback. I know I can make about every throw that's asked of me. They're all money for me." In his senior year he completed 119-of-195 passes for 25 touchdowns and just three interceptions. College Football News.com tabbed Coughlin The player who'll someday be a really big deal...
Begin to learn the BSU Offensive playbook
A Question that Must be Asked
Five quarterbacks on a rooster (four active, non-redshirt) are usually considered a bit much for most teams to carry. None of these young men appear to be on the edge of dropping out or going elsewhere. Will BSU carry all five into the beginning of the season? And if not, who is the most likely to leave?
The talents on display in the Zabransky-Tharp-Hamdan-Lomax-Coughlin stable are definitely worthy of more playing time than the circumstances that this single season will afford. Who sits by - or at best, stands by holding the clipboard – with nothing more to show than practice time? Three QB's with an additional at redshirt is doable. But four plus Coughlin?
The events of this spring and summer will tell the tale of "The Bronco Five"…quarterback expectations met or missed.