August 8, 2005

Quarterbacks poised for big years

This isn't considered the year of the quarterback, but that may change by the end of the season.

While the position lacks a deep number of sure-fire pro prospects, there are a number of signal callers poised for big seasons in 2005 and a handful will be considered leading Heisman candidates.

The talent under center also is well spread out across the country. Six different conferences, including the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, MAC, Pac-10 and the SEC, are all represented on Rivals.com's list of the top 10 quarterbacks.

1. Matt Leinart (USC)

There is no argument as to who the top quarterback in the nation is. The 2004 Heisman trophy winner and college football's current golden boy turned down millions and the chance to possibly be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft for the opportunity to lead USC to an unprecedented third straight national title.

No other quarterback will be surrounded by a better group of weapons than the 6-foot-5, 225-pound lefthander, who has a great chance to be the first player to win a second Heisman since Ohio State's Archie Griffin accomplished the feat in 1974 and 75. All-American and fellow Heisman candidate Reggie Bush is back along with Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith - possibly the top receiver tandem in the nation - and 1,000-yard rusher LenDale White.

The only real question mark surrounds who will be calling the plays for Leinart and the Trojan offense. Highly regarded offensive coordinator Norm Chow left for the NFL and receivers coach Lane Kiffin has moved into Chow's old spot. If Kiffin can gel quickly with Leinart, look for him to put up even better numbers.

2004 stats: 3,322 passing yards (65% completion percentage), 33 touchdowns, six interceptions.

2. Vince Young (Texas)

The return of Young, Rivals.com's No. 1-ranked recruit from the class of 2002, is the main reason the Longhorns are the favorite to win the Big 12 for the first time since 1996 and one of the top contenders to dethrone the Trojans.

One of the nation's biggest running threats regardless of position, the 6-5, 230-pound junior has a career average of 6.7 yards per carry. He ended last season with his best performance ever, rushing for 192 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-37 win against Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Young also will get his chance to answer the critics who continue to question his passing abilities. With the loss of star running back Cedric Benson, Young will have to throw the ball more and make more big decisions.

2004 stats: 1,849 passing yards (59% completion percentage), 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 1,079 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns.

3. Reggie McNeal (Texas A&M)

If Division I-A defensive coordinators voted on which quarterback they fear facing the most, McNeal's name might land on the top of that list. Arguably the top dual-threat signal caller in the nation, he emerged as one of the Big 12's elite players in 2004, beating defenses with his arm and legs nearly every Saturday.

The 6-2, 215-pound senior, who was Rivals.com's No. 1-ranked athlete from the class of 2002, reportedly added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame in the offseason, and with better accuracy and more consistent performances this fall, he could lead the Aggies to a major bowl game.

2004 stats: 2,791 passing yards (58% completion percentage), 14 touchdowns, four interceptions, 718 rushing yards, eight touchdowns.

4. Omar Jacobs (Bowling Green)

Meet the MAC's latest great quarterback. Many believe that 6-2, 224-pound Jacobs will follow Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich's out of that conference and to a starting job in the NFL.

Jacobs put up far better stats than any other quarterback last season. That's even more remarkable considering that Buffalo was the only other Division I-A school to offer the junior a scholarship (it was actually former Bowling Green and current Florida coach Urban Meyer that made the other offer).

2004 stats: 4,002 passing yards (67% completion percentage), 41 touchdowns, four interceptions, 300 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns.

5. Drew Tate (Iowa)

Don't have a running game? Not even a little bit? That won't be a problem as long as Tate is running your offense.

The Hawkeyes finished 116th out of 117 Division I-A teams in rushing yardage last season, but still managed to go 10-2, capture a share of the Big Ten title and beat LSU, 30-25, in the Capital One Bowl. The 6-0, 180-pound junior, who hadn't started a game until last season, was the biggest individual reason. He didn't make many flashy plays or put up huge stats, but he consistently engineered key scoring drives and made clutch plays when needed.

Voted the Big Ten's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Tate makes Iowa one of the main contenders in the Big Ten again, and with an improved running game, they Hawkeyes could land in a BCS game.

2004 stats: 2,786 passing yards (62% completion percentage), 20 touchdowns, 14 interceptions.

6. Tyler Palko (Pittsburgh)

Two games into last season, nobody would have thought Palko's name would have landed anywhere near this list. But the fiery signal caller who grew up just outside Pittsburgh survived a shaky start to lead the Panthers to six wins in their last seven regular-season games - a stretch that landed them in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 6-2, 220-pound junior looked like one of the nation's top players during that stretch, and while he must adjust to a new coach and new offensive coordinator who are committed to running the ball more this fall, another strong season is likely. Both of the Panthers' top receivers return, including the dynamic Greg Lee, who averaged 108 receiving yards per game.

2004 stats: 3,067 passing yards (56% completion percentage), 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions.

7. Chad Henne (Michigan)

This highly touted recruit arrived at Michigan with a lot of hype but no one could have predicted just how big of an impact he would make right away. He started his first game and became the first true freshman quarterback in Big Ten history to lead a team to a league title, tying a school record with 25 passing touchdowns along with way.

Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr has reopened the starting quarterback job with the return of healthy junior Matt Gutierrez, but expect the 6-2, 225-pound Henne to stay under center. He has a chance to be one of the top quarterbacks in school history.

2004 stats: 2,743 passing yards (60 % completion percentage), 25 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

8. Chris Leak (Florida)

No quarterback in the nation may be poised for bigger improvement this fall than Leak. With the arrival of offensive guru Urban Meyer, the 6-0, 210-pound junior will be running much more dynamic schemes and passing the ball more.

With some of the top offensive playmakers in the SEC to work with, Leak could be a dark horse candidate for the Heisman.

2004 stats: 3,197 passing yards (59% completion percentage), 29 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

9. Bruce Gradkowski (Toledo)

This 6-2, 210-pound senior has been overshadowed by Jacobs and many of the other great quarterbacks the MAC has produced in recent years, but look for Gradkowski to start grabbing a piece of the national spotlight.

Arguably the most accurate quarterback in the nation, he has completed more than 70 percent of his passes in the last two years. A solid decision-maker, Gradkowski rarely makes a big mistake.

2004 stats: 3,518 passing yards, 27 touchdowns (70% completion percentage), eight interceptions, 191 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns.

10. Sam Keller (Arizona State)

A lot of quarterbacks would love to trade places with this 6-4, 233-pound junior, who in his first start led the Sun Devils to a 27-23 win against Purdue in the Sun Bowl last season.

Arizona State has a recent history of producing quarterbacks with huge offensive numbers and with the return of receiver Derek Hagans and tight end Zach Miller - both Rivals.com's All-Americans - that should continue.

2004 stats: 606 passing yards (59% completion percentage), five touchdowns, one interception.



 

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