Not Many Names, But Plenty of QB Plans In Big 12
By Mike Casazza
A year ago, when the Big 12 was perhaps in its passing prime, seven of the league’s 10 teams were represented by a quarterback at the league’s media days. When the season started, Geno Smith, Collin Klein, Landry Jones, Seth Doege and Nick Florence did not disappoint.
Casey Pachall was off to a 4-0 start at TCU before he was arrested and suspended the rest of the season and Kansas’ Dayne Crist — well, that one didn’t work out.
But that doesn’t mean Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis has given up on transfers. His latest acquisition, former BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, was a team representative at the league’s media days last week, as was Texas quarterback David Ash for the Longhorns.
And that was it for the passers.
The other eight teams left their quarterbacks on campus and for good reason. Just about all of them are either clueless or quiet about the identity of an eventual starter. Only two other coaches were willing to identify a starter.
One was Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, who knows as well as anyone sophomore Sam Richardson started only two games last season and will be running a new, Pistol offense this season.
The other was Baylor’s Art Briles, who will use the same offense and expect the same sort of success from junior Bryce Petty that Florence and Robert Griffin III had before him.
“A reasonable expectation, first thing that popped into my mind, is break every Baylor record there is offensively, which is what we expect him to do and what he plans to do,” Briles said. ”I don't know what expectation anyone would have other than doing that, which equates to winning every football game we step on the field with, which needs to be his expectation along with ours.”
These are the plans before the plans, and this is a necessity when there are so many new starters and so many questions at the league’s marquee position.
Ash was 9-3 a starter last season, but he had trouble with consistency and knows nine wins isn’t enough at Texas. On top of that, Texas is asking him to man the controls for a new up-tempo offense.
Kanas is throwing the keys to Heaps and trusting he won’t crash the ride Weis has tricked out with transfers and redesigned parts.
The rest of the league has contingencies in place, beginning at the top. Preseason favorite Oklahoma State has similarly skilled options in senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh. The Cowboys will trust secrecy until the time is right, a decision no doubt influenced by playing Mississippi State in the opening week, but it’s easy to see both quarterbacks playing.
“The one advantage we have in our offense is in practice, and even in games, we get a number of reps because of our tempo,” coach Mike Gundy said. “We expect to play very fast this year, so we'll work both guys. We feel very comfortable with them.”
TCU has a rehabilitated Pachall back this season, the media’s pick for the preseason all-conference team. He is not yet the pick of coach Gary Patterson, who said his team might use Pachall and sophomore Trevone Boykin, who was 3-6 as the starter last season. Boykin was so good in the spring that Patterson said he wants to make opponents think about the sophomore and his running.
“Going into a ball game, if he's going to play some, you can't just say that your game plan is all about a guy that's a thrower and he hands it off and he does a great job checking and has a strong arm,” Patterson said of Pachall. “I think you have to get ready for both of them, just like we've done for other schools in this conference if they have a guy that can throw it and a guy that does a better job running.
“For a defensive guy, that's a different animal because you've got to put a lot more work into it.”
It’s a similar story at Oklahoma, where many expect to see junior Blake Bell named the starter. Coach Bob Stoops is not among that group and insisted Bell will battle sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight in camp. Whether Bell starts will affect the successful short-yardage and goal line Belldozer package the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Bell starred in the last two years.
“You put Kendal or Trevor back there to run it, they're faster,” Stoops said. “So you've got more options there of what you're able to do with them. Or if they happen to hit a crease, they're not likely to be caught very soon. So there's some of that to consider, and it gives (Bell) a break or gives him an opportunity to avoid taking too many hits.”
Kansas State and West Virginia haven’t offered many hints about who will play. There’s a notion KSU junior college transfer Jake Waters is the passer and sophomore Daniel Sams is the runner, but their teammates say they’re more alike than that and basically do the same things, which means the offense will look less like it did under Klein and more like it did under, say, Josh Freeman.
The Mountaineers actually are being honest when they say they aren’t sure because they haven’t even practiced with one of their possibilities. Redshirt freshman Ford Childress and junior Paul Millard went at it throughout spring practice, but then Clint Trickett graduated early at Florida State and transferred to WVU with two seasons of eligibility. Childress has the most potential, Millard the most experience in the offense and Trickett the most college experience. For coach Dana Holgorsen, it’s merely a matter of picking one — he will not rotate — and plugging him into a system that’s always produced gaudy numbers.
“I like where we're at with it and look forward to getting there and being able to coach them,” Holgorsen said. “I'm not going to put a timetable on it. When one of those guys steps up, we're going to name the starter and move forward with reps.”
The system basically is the same at Texas Tech, where Kliff Kingsbury is the new head coach after playing quarterback there while Holgorsen was his position coach. Sophomore Michael Brewer played well last season in an offense that isn’t much different, and he can do what Kingsbury treasures and make plays with his feet, not entirely unlike Johnny Manziel did last year. Brewer and true freshman Davis Webb, who opened eyes in the spring, will extend their competition the first two weeks of camp, when Kingsbury said he’ll make a pick.
“We did that last year at Texas A&M and it worked out a little bit for us,” he said. “Hopefully, we have that same success.”