How does Falk measure up to CouGreat QBs?

I FREELY ADMIT I am biased when it comes to Luke Falk. In the spring of 2014, I pressed hard for a one-on-one interview with Falk, even though he was officially behind 4-star Tyler Bruggman on the QB depth chart. I saw him play for the first time in that 2014 Crimson and Gray game -- also the first chance Cougar fans had to see Falk throw. And I knew what I saw that day.

I didn't know it would come this far, this fast. But I did believe back in spring 2014 that Cougar fans needed to start seriously following the career of Falk. Sure, he had a lot to learn as quarterback back then. Still does. But Falk was already doing things in that spring game that are very hard to teach.

And I also know something else – it’s not too early to write this article.

I’m not trying to oversell here. Falk is still just a third-year sophomore, a former walk on and he still has many things to improve on. For starters, he needs to get rid of the ball sooner -- he’s taken way too many hits this season as a result.  But we now have a full collective season of data on Falk - 13 starts - and everyone who has paid a scintilla of attention this season to the Cougars can see WSU has a special player under center.

And CougFans ought to know.  WSU has produced many exceptional signal callers over the years -- so much so, I have a hard time keeping track of them all.  You can’t make a top ten list of WSU quarterbacks without leaving someone off who played in the NFL.  But when it comes to debating the greatest Cougar quarterback, I like to assign categories. Bear with me here:

For a career, my Cougar quarterback would be Jason Gesser, a natural leader and born competitor.  Gesser wasn’t the most physically gifted QB to ever don crimson and he often lamented how he wished he had just another inch or two of height. But the whole Cougar team took on the persona of the 6-1 field general.  Gesser was a winner.  I don't think he can be given enough credit for igniting the fire of WSU's string of 10-win seasons (2001-03).

For a single season, give me Drew Bledsoe. For my money, Bledsoe was the most physically talented passer the Cougs have ever had. He had prototype size, an NFL arm and everybody knew it.  But dynasties generally aren't built around guys like that, rock star quarterbacks can be a double edged sword.  Even teams like Stanford have had better runs with less physically impressive QBs like Kevin Hogan than they ever had with Andrew Luck.

For a single game, it is Ryan Leaf, hands down.  Leaf was the most physically dominant quarterback I’ve ever seen: watching him play was like watching a high school senior star go up against a group of seventh-graders.  Leaf was bigger and stronger than his opponents could handle, and he knew it.  With Leaf under center, you can beat anybody.  But Leaf was wound awfully tight and sometimes that hurt him on the field (and as he has freely discussed, off the field too). For that one game that you’ve gotta have, though, give me Leaf.

For one drive, it's really hard not to take Jack Thompson, the Throwin' Samoan himself. But after much soul searching, I’d take Connor Halliday – he lived for that stuff.  Halliday could melt down, sure, but needing to throw the ball 7-8 times in a row against a D that knew it was coming was something Halliday relished.  I like to think of him as “a naturally heroic SOB” and a guy who had way more confidence in himself than he probably should've - but that's also exactly what it takes to pull off a successful two-minute drill.

For one play, the man I choose to throw the ball is Alex Brink.  He had one of the most accurate arms WSU has ever seen and combined it with the steel nerves of a surgeon.  I never saw Brink get rattled under pressure. Whatever he may have lacked in physical attributes, such as a cannon arm, he more than made up for in focus.  So many big-armed, talented passers have wilted in big moments against the likes of UW and Oregon over the years, unable to control their anxiety or aggression.  Brink never had a problem with either one.  He was as cool a customer as you can get.

I BRING ALL OF THIS UP because I believe, and quite possibly in a short amount of time, every one of those categories is about to change for me. 

In each and every one, Falk is making a name for himself in my mind. And all indications are he'll continue on an upward glide path.

Gesser produced more wins than any other signal caller in WSU history, 24-10 as a starting quarterback.  But the 10-win season in 2001 that kicked it all off for him, that was his junior campaign.  Indeed, Gesser struggled to get the Cougs over the hump as a sophomore.  Before getting hurt in 2000, Gesser went 3-3 including a humiliating loss to Idaho and two overtime losses in Pac-10 play. 

With only eight wins under his belt, Falk still has a long ways to go to catch Gesser ... but he is off to a heck of a start.  Falk has eight wins in his first 13 starts. That’s exactly the same as Gesser, but Gesser had only four wins at the end of his sophomore season.  Falk could still notch 10 wins in this, his sophomore campaign.

No matter what happens in the final two regular season games and in the bowl, WSU will post a winning record overall, and in Pac-12 play.  That is rare for a sophomore QB in the Pac-12. And I've looked over the WSU record books and the only one I can find who did the same at Wazzu is three-time All-America quarterback Ed Goddard, who went 4-3-1 as a sophomore.  That was in 1934.

If the Cougars win out, this still won't be WSU's greatest season ever.  However, it might be its most remarkable.  Just look at the odds that Falk and the Cougars have overcome.  Vegas has placed WSU as underdogs in six of its first 10 games.  Four of those saw the Cougars as 10-point (or more) underdogs.

The Cougs have trailed in the fourth quarter in seven of 10 games this season.  And yet here they are, with Falk leading the way to a 7-3 mark. With the game on the line, Falk has been absolutely superb.  His only real blemish was against Cal, where Falk and the Cougs ran out of time. 

In the other nine games, Falk is 10 of 12 in fourth quarter chances to tie or take the lead. In those situations, he has completed 67 percent of his throws for 704 yards, 9 touchdowns and one interception.

We have additional data to conclude that Falk improves the more the pressure mounts.  For his career, with less than two minutes left in the game and WSU having the chance to tie or take the lead, Falk has completed 70 percent of his throws for 331 yards, 5 touchdowns, and zero interceptions.  He is a perfect five-of-five on  fourth down.

That’s the stuff of legend.  Quarterbacks this young don't do this.  To find comparable numbers you have to go outside WSU's impressive anthology of quarterbacks, to the likes of Mariota, Luck and Leinart. 

The only sure-fire way to stop Falk in the fourth quarter has been to get him off the field, as was the case at the end of the game against Portland State when Falk was injured (WSU's hopes ended with an interception as Falk was being treated on the sideline).  And UCLA seemed keenly aware of it last week.

No one can predict with absolute certainty how high Falk might soar. But I know enough to tell Cougar fans, and indeed all of college football, to start taking note, if you're not already.  This might be the kind of Cougar player you tell your grandkids about.

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