As the proliferation of quarterback coaches, elite quarterback camps, young quarterbacks are seemingly developing at quicker paces.
Last season, the redshirt freshman Jameis Winston dazzled in an immaculate debut win over Pittsburgh. Against a vastly inferior opponent, the 2013 incarnation of Winston orchestrated the offense with the ease of Michael Eric Dyson reciting A Cat In The Hat.
Oklahoma State was a different story for Winston, who played a mistake-ridden first half.
Fortunately, Winston flashed his latent athleticism during a run that rivaled anything we saw out of early Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley against Clemson, to remind everyone of his otherworldly skillset.
Winston’s demolition of Pitt foreshadowed the trail of destruction he would leave in his wake en route to FSU’s third national championship in program history.
However, at 20 years old, Winston is old news in this Twitter age. The Heisman has gone to a redshirt freshman for two consecutive seasons and the expectation is that we can’t predict who will rise up to challenge Winston because we hadn’t seen him play yet.
Thanks to the omnipotence of sports media and the Internet, we’ve been inundated with more footage and coverage of the Heisman Trophy winner than we ever saw from Heisman winners of yesteryear. We’ve been conditioned to look forward. We rebuild pre-teen stadiums, display less patience for losing coaches and anoint younger coaches as prodigies even quicker than ever.
Week one is about identifying what and who is next. Now we have a better idea about any possible competition for Heisman votes.
The first major matchup of 2014 introduced the nation to Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill, however, a few other greenhorn starters got lost in the shuffle.
Rich Rodriguez’s offenses are most known for their lithe, quarterbacks, but six years ago he also recruited Tajh Boyd and Geno Smith to succeed Pat White.
Rodriguez ditched the Mountaineers for Michigan before Smith could begin scratchin’ the record books like DJ Jazzy Jeff. Denard Robinson’s crazy legs and unreliable throwing arm became the latest signature of Rich Rod’s scheme, however, balanced quarterbacks have always been central to his spread option attack.
Anu Solomon may be the most highly-touted prospect he’s ever coached up. Since Rodriguez has arrived in the Tucson desert, he’s made due with spare parts. Fifth-year senior Matt Scott piloted the Zona offense as if he was Fred Flinstone drivin’ an old whip—with his arms and legs.
BJ Denker was great with his feet, but last season, he set the passing game back 1,000 years with his inaccuracy while Solomon, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2013, redshirted, watched and waited.
Scott and Denker were simply bridges to Anu era. In the meantime, Ka’Deem Carey became the life of the Wildcat offense. NFL franchises have franchise players. College football programs scour the planet for program changers. Not since Pat White burst onto the scene as a freshman has Rich Rod been able to develop a quarterback for the duration of his career.
Two years ago, Michigan won the Big Ten with Rodriguez’s players—and is still starting another one of his recruits at quarterback.
On Friday night in the desert, Solomon started out a little overexcited as he threw bullets when touch passes were needed on Zona’s first two 3-and-out possessions. While some waited for one of the plethora of upperclassmen backups to step in and relieve the plucky freshman, Solomon calmed down, showed the poise of a teenage Russell Wilson and proceeded to carve up UNLV for 425 yards, and four touchdowns (of 39, 63 and 92 yards) not including 50 yards on the ground. Right out of halftime, Solomon connected on
Eventually, Solomon will help make Arizona a player in the Pac-12. Rodriguez has been doing everything in his power to temper expectations by continuously criticizing his young quarterback, but that’s not going to work anymore. This time, it looks like Rich Rod will be around to witness the entire process.
In limited action, Clemson’s future quarterback Deshaun Watson, the nation’s No. 1 freshman dual threat quarterback, didn’t get the start, but quickly struck on a 30-yard touchdown pass that spiraled between two defensive backs into Charon Peake’s arms with the electricity of a lightning strike from Zeus.
Watson may not be Clemson’s guy yet, but it’s clear that he is the chosen one.
Like Harris at LSU, head coaches would prefer not to thrust true freshman into featured roles against ranked foes. It’s more likely that Miles and Dabo Swinney will be easing their true freshman into more prominent roles as the season progresses. Clemson hosts South Carolina State next week and LSU will be challenged by Sam Houston State, which makes it more likely that their Similac quarterbacks should receive significant action against FCS competition.
Not everyone has that luxury in Week 2.
JT Barrett was unspectacular against Navy and the Buckeyes looks more vulnerable than ever. Next week, the Buckeyes will host Virginia Tech, which broke in Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer over the weekend. If Barrett can’t accelerate his learning curve, the Hokies could be stomping on Ohio State’s playoff aspirations.
On the other end of the totem pole was Wake Forest’s John Wolford. The true freshman unexpectedly usurped the quarterback depth chart and looked nothing like the Florida high school quarterback who eclipsed Tim Tebow’s state passing records.
Memorize this number: 97 yards. That’s the totality of Wolford’s production on the night against Louisiana-Monroe. Wolford attempted 11 rushes, but was also sacked seven times, giving him total of minus 40 yards.
Woeful Wolford's offensive impotence had the Wake Forest offense out there long enough for linebacker Brandon Chubbs to register 18 tackles.
The only true freshman besides Wolford to earn a start was Miami’s Brad Kaaya, who closed out the weekend with a dismal performance while getting crushed behind the offensive line, going 12-of-22, for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
There would have been a third if Les Miles had decided to go with the freshman Brandon Harris, who has seemingly outplayed, took just three snaps in one series.
Harris’ invincibility was obscured behind the relative ineffectiveness of phenom running back Leonard Fournette who toted the rock eight times for 18 yards. Many prognosticators believed he had the potential to become the SEC’s top running back. Instead, he’s not even the No. 1 back in his own position meetings.
Georgia Southern at NC State
Georgia Southern has been an FCS powerhouse for decades and has benefitted from recruiting out of a football-rich state. However, the transition to FBS football was expected to be rocky. Instead, they matched up with NC State and held the league until Jacoby Brissett tossed his third touchdown to Matt Hayes with 1:37 remaining in regulation to tie NC State with Georgia Southern. The extra point put them ahead one.
35 seconds later, Georgia Southern had gone 4-and-out.
Washington at Hawaii
The season opener against a Hawaii tea that went 1-11 last season was supposed to be a tune-up. We knew Washington’s defense would be a force of nature, however, the offense minus Keith Price, suspended starting quarterback Miles Cyler and Bishop Sankey dragged a trail of excrement across Aloha Stadium’s field for four quarters.
After John Ross found himself underneath a deep arching Jeff Lindquist pass (who 16 incompletions to just 10 completions) in the third quarter, Hawaii was only able to convert two field goals as Washington held on for a 17-16 lead.
Washington would hang on for a victory thanks in part to a first down conversion that should have been ruled out of bounds short of the marker.
West Virginia vs. Alabama
It’s still not clear whether this final result was about the underestimation of West Virginia or the overestimation of Alabama. What was expected to be the Jameis Winston Backup Bowl turned into the Blake Sims Hour starring Lane Kiffin as his Andy Richter.
Sims’ battle with Jake Coker (apparently, he’s no longer Jacob) will continue next week according to Saban, but it was the Crimson Tide’s renowned defense that looked shockingly soft.
Appalachian State couldn’t give the people a sequel to 2007 while simultaneously pounding the nail into the coffin of another Michigan head coach. Instead one unknown program in one of the United States’ fastest growing city and an FCS dynasty satisfied our upset fix.
UTSA over Houston
It seems like every program outside of Texas is gearing up for an offensive arms race. Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Houston, Baylor and SMU are among the nation’s most prolific offenses. However, on Saturday, a rising program delivered the weekend’s top upset. The University of Texas at San Antonio is embarking on just its fourth season, but delivered a resounding blow to the Houston Cougars during a 27-7 rout.
North Dakota State over Iowa State
For the fifth year in a row, the three-time defending FCS national champions clinched a victory over a Power 5 conference foe. The Bisons absolutely eviscerated Iowa State on their way to a 34-17 victory, also gaining twice as many yards (253 to 503) as their FBS big brothers. FCS’ No. 1 team should get top-25 FBS votes.