This is one of the most eagerly anticipated weekends of the college football season. At least if you’re a Seahawks fan wanting to watch some quarterbacks. Whether you believe the Seahawks will pick first or seventeenth in the draft next year, I think we can all agree that it’s time to start seriously judging the possible 2012 quarterback class. My schedule tomorrow includes LSU vs West Virginia, USC vs Arizona State and Oklahoma State vs Texas A&M. Five high profile quarterbacks, four of which compete against another.
Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
Smith’s an under-rated passer who is more polished than people think. He’s not a spectacular athlete like Cam Newton, but he’s efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over. Dana Holgorsen’s appointment at WVU could prove to be the greatest shot in the arm for Smith’s pro-prospects. Many players with less talent thrived under Holgorsen in the past and already we’re seeing a fast start for the Mountaineers’ – three wins in which the quarterback has completed 70% of his passes for 1008 yards, seven touchdowns and just the one interception. Even so, those numbers came against Marshall, Norfolk State and Maryland. On Saturday, a SEC powerhouse is in town.
LSU have looked dominant so far and can make a strong case for being the strongest team in the nation. Their success so far owes a lot to an excellent defense which will test Geno Smith with pressure up front and a secondary that ranks among the best. West Virginia are a good overall team capable of causing an upset here, but this could be a career-making day for their quarterback. Scouts will come back to games against the top opponents, so if Smith can impress here it’ll leave a lasting impression. I’ve seen some signs that he could be the third best 2012 eligible quarterback, tomorrow will determine whether talk like that is premature.
Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
I’ve been quite vocal in my support of Barkley having elite potential as in my mind there’s no doubt that he belongs alongside Andrew Luck at the top of the 2012 class (of course, if he chooses to declare). USC’s three games so far have all been at home and they’ve all come with some element of struggle, but Barkley has remained a consistent force almost dragging his team onwards. He’s completing 69% passing and already has nine touchdowns and just one pick. He’s set two significant records – passes completed vs Minnesota in week one and he equaled the record for touchdown passes (five) against Syracuse.
Arizona State will offer a tougher test on the road, but it’s the kind of test Barkley should overcome if he’s as good as advertised. There are still some growing pains at USC with a number of young players coming through the ranks. If Barkley can avoid some of the inconsistent moments we witnessed as a true sophomore last year, I don’t understand how anyone can see him as anything other than an elite talent. He doesn’t have the great size and his arm strength is good rather than great. However, he does an incredible job for a true junior running through progressions like a pro. He’s accurate, he senses pressure with such consummate ease. He’s a playmaker in the truest sense. So can he drive his team past Vontaze Burflict and co?
Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
I saw Osweiler perform once last season and was impressed just enough to keep him in the back of the memory bank going into 2011. I received a number of emails after week two when ASU defeated Missouri in overtime with people waxing lyrical about this lanky quarterback who looked like the real deal. At 6-8 and 240lbs, he’s way above the recognised height for a NFL quarterback. Even so, he doesn’t look too awkward to warrant complete abstinence from pro-projectors. He followed up the Missouri win with a less spectacular 17-14 loss at Illinois where he completed 55% passing and threw two interceptions compared to just one scoring pass.
He’s a junior so could declare for the 2012 draft but this is really his first season as the confirmed starter. It would take something spectacular to expect he’d declare after this season, but he’s one to watch nonetheless even if it’s with an eye to 2013. I’m looking forward to seeing how he duels it out with Matt Barkley, particularly if the USC quarterback is on top form and keeps the scoreboard ticking over. Osweiler will have the home field advantage, so can he make it pay?
Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
A lot has been written about Tannehill this week. Todd McShay gave him a late round grade, Rob Rang disagreed, then McShay addressed the situation by suggesting he actually meant to offer a 3rd or 4th round assessment. Rang went one further and said Tannehill could leapfrog Barkley as the #2 ranked QB behind Andrew Luck, a proposal I respectfully disagree with in a strong way. Against Southern Methodist we saw a quarterback picking apart a weaker opponent whose secondary basically played like they’d spent the summer on a beach. He was less spectacular against Idaho after a week two bye, but still clocked up another win. That’s an 8-1 record since taking over the starting gig last year, with the only defeat coming in the Cotton Bowl to LSU.
Tomorrow’s test could be the best environment to track Tannehill’s performance. He’ll be facing an offense that has maintained it’s production levels despite the departure of Dana Holgorsen to WVU. Brandon Weeden has turned the ball over a few more times than expected this season, but he’s still throwing bombs to future first round pick Justin Blackmon. Joseph Randle has also emerged as a dangerous weapon for OKSU adding another dimension to an already potent offense. Can Tannehill keep up if it becomes a slug-fest? Will he be able to strike up a connection with Jeff Fuller that’s regressed a bit to start the year? Can he justify the praise he’s received this week by continuing to win and by being the better quarterback on the day?
Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
Every time I bring up Weeden, I feel obliged to mention his age. It’s the big white elephant that just won’t get out of the room because he’ll turn 29 in his rookie year if he makes it to the NFL. He had the opportunity to turn pro this season as a 27-year-old but decided to return to Oklahoma State, you can only presume after discussing things with the draft committee. If he truly coveted a career in the NFL and if it was a realistic proposition, I suspect he would’ve declared. I’m not sure this has ever been about forging a career in the pro’s rather than taking an opportunity to get back to school and play some ball after his baseball career stalled.
Even so, some people are giving out generous mid-round grades. He is a talented player, if not a spectacular physical specimen. He’s benefited like others before him in a pass-obsessed system that always generates production. He’s turned the ball over a lot this year – six interceptions compared to eight touchdowns. He threw two picks in a close 38-35 win over the Aggies last year. The Oklahoma State offense has continued to be a relentless machine of production and that should remain the case tomorrow. It’s an interesting match-up between two big name quarterbacks and you suspect at least will be getting a lot of draft attention after tomorrow’s meeting.