After a couple banner seasons from Big 12 quarterbacks, the 2010 season will feature a new cast of quarterbacks trying to make their mark.
Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Zac Robinson and Todd Reesing all finished their careers as school record-holders. McCoy graduated as college football's all-time winningest quarterback. Bradford won a Heisman trophy and set records while keeping the scoreboard numbers rolling in Norman. And Robinson and Reesing's names are splattered all over their respective schools' record books, with Reesing finishing his career as the Big 12's No. 5 all-time passer.
But that doesn't mean that the conference has a void in talent at the position. Bradford's shoulder injury allowed Landry Jones to come in and demonstrate his talent last year. It will be his team this year. And quarterbacks like Jerrod Johnson at Texas A&M, Blaine Gabbert at Missouri and Robert Griffin at Baylor means that the league will continue to have top-notch players at the signal calling position.
So which conference teams have the best quarterback units?
1) Texas A&M
Jerrod Johnson came into the league with a reputation as a great athlete and runner, but someone whose passing skills needed to improve. Now a senior, he's a high-octane passer who probably wouldn't rate among the top running quarterbacks in the league. Johnson threw for nearly 3,600 yards last year, finishing with a sterling 3.75-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio by hurling 30 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. But the Aggies have depth here as well, with junior Ryan Tannehill serving as the backup. Tannehill, who led A&M with 46 catches last year, is more accurate in the short-passing game than Johnson, but lacks Johnson's deep ball. He's also an excellent athlete, as evidenced by his standing among Texas's A&M's receivers — he sits seventh in school history in receiving yards with two seasons remaining.
Other schools may have a better No. 1 quarterback than Robert Griffin (arguments could be made for both Landry Jones of Oklahoma and Blaine Gabbert of Missouri), but neither of those two schools has Baylor's depth at the position. Griffin's ACL injury, suffered in week three, might have cost the Bears a shot at being bowl eligible. Not only did the injury hurt the Bears in the passing game (Griffin had connected on 65 percent of his passes for 481 yards and four touchdowns to no interceptions in less than five halves of play), but it also dented the running game by removing Baylor's top runner. This year, Griffin is back, and by all indications, he's hungry. But the Bears will also have a better backup plan, with sophomore Nick Florence returning after throwing for close to 1,800 yards and setting the school single-game record for passing yards. His TD-INT ratio of 2-3 (six touchdowns, nine interceptions) left something to be desired, but he performed admirably in a difficult situation.
Landry Jones found himself in a similar situation to Florence last year, when Sam Bradford went down with a shoulder injury. But Jones, who also played without top target Jermaine Gresham at tight end, made better lemonade from his lemons. Oklahoma went just 8-5, but the Sooners were able to allow Jones to develop, He passed for close to 3,200 yards, while throwing for 26 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Sure, the then-redshirt freshman struggled at times, especially on the road. In six regular season games away from Norman, Jones completed just 54.6 percent of his passes for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns to nine interceptions. In his five regular season games at home (Bradford played one game, against Baylor), Jones completed 62 percent of his throws for 1,532 yards and 18 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Jones then ended the year with a 418-yard passing day in the Sun Bowl. Should Jones go down, the Sooners will turn to either redshirt freshman Drew Allen or incoming freshman Blake Bell.
4) MissouriGabbert lived up to his five-star billing in his first year as a starter, throwing for 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Perhaps most importantly, Gabbert showed toughness, fighting through an ankle injury that hampered him for much of the year. What he'll have to show in 2010 will be that he can succeed without top target Danario Alexander, who accounted for almost half of Gabbert's passing yardage (1,781 yards of 3,593) and more than half of Gabbert's touchdowns (14 of 24). To do so, Gabbert will have to spread the ball around more, something he's capable of doing. He'll also have to work on his accuracy — completing 59 percent of your passes in a high-percentage spread offense won't quite cut it. Missouri has arguably the worst backup situation among the top few conference quarterback units. Gabbert's backup is walk-on Jimmy Costello. Behind Costello sits one redshirt freshman, Ashton Glaser, and two true freshmen in James Franklin and Blaine's younger brother, Tyler Gabbert.
5) TexasThis is our highest ranking for a team with a new starting quarterback. But Garrett Gilbert showed something when he nearly led the Longhorns back from the dead in the National Championship game against Alabama. Despite a rough, rough start, Gilbert connected on three vital passes when it counted the most. First, he hit Shipley for a 44-yard touchdown, then connected again with Shipley for a 28-yard score. And his two-point conversion connection with Dan Buckner brought the Longhorns to within 24-21 with more than six minutes to play. That Gilbert, a 6-foot-4 signal caller with fantastic physical gifts, didn't roll over when facing an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit against one of the top defenses in the country, as a true freshman, is an indicator of his character. Now, he'll lead a team with the weapons around him to allow him to settle in more comfortably. Still, Gilbert's progress could be the difference between Texas having a nice 10-win season and ending the year in the title game yet again. There are certainly worse backup situations than having a fifth-year senior in Sherrod Harris to come in and steady the ship in problem situations. True freshmen Connor Wood or Case McCoy will likely be groomed as the quarterbacks of the future.
Best of the Rest
8) Nebraska — Senior Zac Lee battled injuries in 2009, but was less than inspiring, causing coaches to open up the QB battle in the spring. Sophomore Cody Green is his most likely competition, with athletic redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez also providing a push.
9) Oklahoma State — The Cowboys tapped 26-year-old junior Brandon Weeden as the signal-caller to follow school record holder Zac Robinson. True freshmen Johnny Deaton and Nathan Sorenson will battle it out for the right to be Weeden's backup.
10) Colorado — It seems obvious that mobile junior quarterback Tyler Hansen gives the Buffaloes a better chance to win than undersized pocket passer Cody Hawkins. But don't tell that to Hawkins's dad, CU Coach Dan Hawkins, who claims it's a battle between the two for the starting spot. Expect Hansen to win the job, but don't be surprised if he has a quick hook.
11) Kansas — Kansas coach Turner Gill has declared an even competition between sophomore Kale Pick, redshirt freshman Jordan Webb and JUCO transfer Quinn Mecham. Don't believe it. Pick, who can defeat defenses with his legs as well as his arm, left the spring as the leader. Webb, an undersized but accurate operator out of the spread, is Pick's main competition.
12) Kansas State — The Wildcats haven't announced their No. 1 quarterback yet, but it appears the edge would go to Carson Coffman, based on Coffman's huge game in the spring game. But that performance likely had more to do with a lack of depth on Kansas State's part — Coffman played against the second-string defense — than it did with any great skill on Coffman's part. Coffman, who was benched after a poor non-conference showing last year, leads walk-on Sammuel Lamur and sophomore Collin Klein, who played receiver last year for the job.
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