A look at the nation's best quarterbacks heading into the 2006 season.
1. Brady Quinn--Notre Dame. 2005 stats: passing: 64.9 CMP%, 3,919 yards, 32 TDs, 7 INTs: rushing: 90 yards, 1 TD.Many experts have already anointed Quinn with the "likely to be the NFL No. 1 pick" label for next season. As Matt Leinart can attest, however, the label does not ensure that Quinn will be the first quarterback drafted next season, and thus Quinn will still have a lot to prove to the NFL. Quinn certainly made the leap last year from blue-chip high school prospect to solid NFL prospect. With another year of coaching from Charlie Weis, Irish fans expect Quinn to break most quarterback school records and establish himself as perhaps the greatest Notre Dame quarterback in school history. Still, at least two questions remain.
First, can Quinn handle the megawatt spotlight this year as a Heisman favorite and leader of a national championship contender? With nearly every game scheduled to be on national TV, Quinn will need to remain focused on football while blocking out media distractions.
Second, can Quinn win the "big" game? His stellar performance in a losing effort against No. 1 Southern Cal last October hints that he can. But his unspectacular performance against Ohio State in his only BCS game also suggests that some questions remain as to whether he can dominate a truly top-ranked defense.
What To Look For In 2006: Can Quinn withstand early defensive tests against Michigan and Penn State and keep the Irish in National Championship contention?
2. Drew Stanton-Michigan State. 2005 stats: passing: 66.5 CMP%, 3,077 yards, 22 TDs, 12 INTs: rushing: 338 yards, 4 TDs.By the end of September, 2005, Drew Stanton seemed poised to make a run at the Heisman and possibly lead Michigan State to a Big 10 title. In his first four games, Stanton led Michigan State to a 4-0 record and a No. 11 ranking while accumulating WAC Conference-type statistics. Stanton threw for 13 touchdowns against only 2 INTs, completing 73 percent of his passes for 1,184 yards in those four games. Tall, elusive and strong-armed, Stanton had emerged as an All-American candidate after past duty as a rare athletic quarterback who also played special teams.
A close loss to Michigan (34-31) the following week, however, reversed the fortunes of both Michigan State and Stanton. Michigan State lost five of their remaining six games to finish 5-6, and Stanton threw for only eight touchdowns in the last six games while tossing nine INTs. Nonetheless, Stanton's raw skills and NFL size have scouts talking about Stanton as a potential NFL first round pick in 2006.
What To Look For In 2006: Can Stanton rebound in 2006 to lead Michigan State to a surprising Big 10 title?
3. Troy Smith-Ohio State. 2005 stats: passing: 62.9 CMP%, 2,282 yards, 16 Tds, 4 INTs: rushing: 611 yards, 11 TDs.Prior to the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, Troy Smith may not have been viewed as one of the top returning quarterbacks for the 2006 season, but Smith had a star-making performance against Notre Dame that could be compared to Vince Young's electrifying performance in the previous year's Rose Bowl against Michigan. The 2005 Rose Bowl previewed both Young's rise from NFL suspect to top five NFL pick and Texas' national championship last season.
The expectation in Columbus is that Smith's Fiesta Bowl performance, (342 yards passing, two long touchdown passes and 66 yards rushing) will likewise propel Smith into strong contention for the Heisman in 2006. Like Vince Young, Smith is a threat on every play both passing and running the football. Despite losing nine starters on defense, Ohio State expects to be a pre-season favorite for the National Championship, and Smith's continued improvement as a passer will do much to determine Ohio State's fortunes as a contender.
What To Look For In 2006: Will Smith respond to the challenge of both losing Santonio Holmes to the NFL and possibly having to produce more offense in 2006 to cover for a rebuilding Ohio State defense?
4. Brian Brohm-Louisville. 2005 stats: passing: 68.8 CMP%, 2,883 yards, 19 Tds, 5 INTs: rushing: -36 yards, 4 TDs.Touted as a darkhorse Heisman candidate in 2005, Brohm's somewhat disappointing season abruptly ended when he injured his right knee against Syracuse, causing him to miss the Cardinals' last two games. Although Brohm was not available for spring practice, team reports suggest that Brohm will be ready for the beginning of the 2006 season. Despite losing three of his top receivers, it is expected that Brohm will team up with Michael Bush to lead one of the NCAA's most high-powered offenses. Brohm will be tested early at home against the University of Miami. The Big East title (and a BCS bid) will likely be decided later in the year in an early November home game against West Virginia.
What To Look For In 2006: Has Brohm fully recovered from injury to establish himself as a potential NFL first-round pick and lead Louisville to BCS contention in what is expected to be a weak Big East Conference?
Others Quarterbacks To Watch: Drew Tate (Iowa); Jordan Palmer (UTEP); Brandon Cox (Auburn); Chad Henne (Michigan); Sam Keller (Arizona State); Pat White (West Virginia); Mark Sanchez or John Booty (USC); and Graham Harrell (Texas Tech).