Best quarterback conferences
You don't have to watch many NFL games to realize that elite quarterbacks can be developed at any level, not just in the BCS power conferences. This week's top 10 list is a ranking of the leagues with the best groups of QBs for the 2008 season.
- Big 12: This is a clear top choice thanks to a lot of heady leaders who make smart decisions and have proven to be very accurate with the ball. The league has four guys with legit Heisman hopes in Chase Daniel, Sam Bradford, Graham Harrell and Colt McCoy. A fifth, Todd Reesing of Kansas, is as tough and as sharp as they come, although I expect KU to backslide some this year. Behind those five is plenty more talent that probably could merit all-conference consideration in any other league save for the SEC. In fact, 10 of the league's top 11 passers return. Depth-wise, this is better than it's ever been for the Big 12.
- Big Ten: This is the opposite of the SEC and Big East -- conferences in which there is one big star and then a lot of unproven QBs in the mix. The Big Ten has more than its share of solid returning starters, but Purdue's Curtis Painter (29 TDs, 11 INTs) is the closest thing to a headliner. Behind Painter is Ohio State's underrated Todd Boeckman and Indiana's dual-threat talent Kellen Lewis, who merely had a 28-10 TD-INT ratio while also rushing for 736 yards. Beyond those three, there is a little drop-off to MSU's Brian Hoyer, Iowa's Jake Christensen, Illinois' Juice Williams and Northwestern's C.J. Bacher. It's not a great group, and it might've dropped to third had Lewis not been reinstated at IU.
- SEC: Tim Tebow is a superstar and by himself carries the league above a few other conferences with more experience overall. Georgia's Matthew Stafford is going to be a three-year starter and has the arm and the size but still has to display more accuracy and keep cutting down on the turnovers. And after those two, it gets thin, although Arkansas' Casey Dick was better than some probably think and he should improve a lot under Bobby Petrino. Expectations are high for Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton and Ole Miss' Jevan Snead, but they're still unproven. Alabama's John Parker Wilson has been around for a while but has been shaky, and the rest are even more suspect as Auburn, LSU and South Carolina all have big question marks behind center. I could see this group moving into the No. 2 slot by midseason, but for now, there's just too much uncertainty to put the SEC above the first two leagues.
- Big East: The best player in the conference, WVU's Pat White is a dual-threat wiz whom many NFL observes are projecting as a WR, while Louisville's Hunter Cantwell, a guy who hasn't played much, is someone they are insisting has first-round talent. Forgotten in the shuffle are USF's gritty Matt Grothe and Rutgers' Mike Teel, who has the receivers to put up big stats this year. That should make for a very good top four. If Cincy's Ben Mauk had been cleared by the NCAA, the Big East would've moved up one spot here.
- MAC: The league's top seven passers return from 2007, including marquee talents Dan LeFevour of CMU and Nate Davis from Ball State, who both could start at probably 90 percent of the BCS conference programs around the country. Lost in the shadow of the big two QBs is Bowling Green's Tyler Sheehan, a talented 6-4, 230-pound junior, who appears to be another future NFL quarterback. As usual, this is a very underrated bunch.
- Pac-10: The traditional No. 1 on this list is on the downside of the cycle as Oregon, USC and UCLA all have to replace starters. ASU's Rudy Carpenter bounced back nicely in 2007 (25 TDs, 10 INTs) but he'll need major improvement from his O-line if the Sun Devils are going to make a run at the top 10. Arizona's Willie Tuitama adapted well to Sonny Dykes' up-tempo passing game, but the Cats still need a lot of work before people take them very seriously. Washington's Jake Locker is the most exciting QB out West, but he must make big strides improving his 47 percent completion mark if the Huskies hope to go bowling. Locker and USC's Mark Sanchez are the key guys for this group to make a big move up.
- WAC: Don't scoff. There are some big, accurate QBs in the WAC. Sure, the league lost Colt Brennan, but the WAC returns three stud QBs in Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (19 TDs, 3 INTs); Fresno's Tom Brandstater (15 TDs, 5 INTs) and NMSU's Chase Holbrook (70 percent, 3,866 yards). Brandstater has a chance to flash his talents against a trio of BCS conference schools in the first month of the season and might create a lot of NFL buzz by then.
- ACC: The league which has been thin at QB for the past few years took a big hit when BC's Matt Ryan moved on to the NFL. Clemson's Cullen Harper is the closest thing the ACC has to a star QB right now. In fact, you know it's bad when the guy many are touting as the next-best QB, FSU's Drew Weatherford, is no lock to hold on to his job. The conference does have a handful of promising young QBs who might elevate the ACC in a year or two, but it seems like we've heard that before.
- MWC: BYU's Max Hall is the class of the league, having thrown for 3,848 yards with 26 TDs and just 12 INTs. Utah's Brian Johnson is next but his TD-INT ratio was only 11-10. New Mexico's Donovan Porterie is a guy worth keeping an eye on.
- C-USA: This league will feature plenty of guys chucking it around the yard against mediocre defenses. There are three returning QBs who last year passed for at least 25 TDs (Rice's Chase Clement; SMU's Justin Willis and UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe), and with new coaches June Jones at SMU and Larry Fedora at Southern Miss, expect to see even bigger passing numbers from this group. Watch out for Memphis' Arkelon Hall, a juco transfer who inherits a team loaded with talented targets.
- Sun Belt: With apologies to FAU's Rusty Smith, a guy who could start for some top-25 teams, the rest of the conference doesn't have the kind of talent as the other bigger leagues, although North Texas' dynamic Riley Dodge, a spread-option prodigy, bears watching.
• What's taking so long for the NCAA to find out what happened in the Reggie Bush case? David Wharton headed to LA to try and get some answers.
• Arizona is No. 1 in something. The Cats program has the assistant whom coaching peers voted, according to a poll on the Football Scoop site, as the "best coach to talk ball with." Sonny Dykes (46 percent) easily outdistanced Wisconsin's Charlie Partridge (21 percent) and Clemson's Dabo Swinney (18 percent). Obviously, when you see the voting percentages, you see that the choices were limited in this poll.
• Middle Tennessee State Coach Rick Stockstill said an early signing period would help major Bowl Championship Series programs, but not those in lower divisions, like his.
"I can't go out in May and evaluate kids but the coaches at Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia -- the kids are going to their camps," Stockstill told Maurice Patton. "So the early signing date helps the BCS schools. If we're going to offer a kid or take a kid's commitment in the summer, when have I had a chance to see him or talk to him? I think it hurts the mid-major schools."
As I've said a few times before, I think the early signing period, especially if it's in November or December, will do much more harm than good.
• Little Marshay Green, a former WR, might win a starting CB job for Ole Miss this fall. According to David Brandt, Green is up 15 pounds to 180 now.
Having been around the Ole Miss program for the past two years, I can attest the Rebels need a lot of help at CB. Next to LB and QB, it was their biggest hole in 2007. Senior Dustin Mouzon was pretty steady, but the guys opposite him were constantly targeted by opposing offenses. Maybe Green, one of the SEC's more dangerous kick returners, can be an answer.
• Can LSU FS Curtis Taylor become a leader for the young Tigers secondary? Randy Rosetta examines the big DB's story:
"Shouldering those duties will mean some adapting for Taylor. Naturally low-key and less vocal than Craig Steltz, Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon, Taylor will have to be more outspoken as the secondary jells.
'Curtis has some new faces out there with him, but he's earned everyone's respect, so we'd like him to take more of a leadership role,' LSU co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Doug Mallory said. 'The younger guys are going to look up to him because he's played a lot of football, and because we constantly talk about communication on the field, we need him to be more vocal than he's been in the past.
'Sometimes when you've a player who's not as comfortable in a scheme, you tend to not be as assertive because there might be a doubt. Curtis is ready to be more assertive because of everything he learned last season.'"
• Michigan State quarterback Nick Foles will transfer to Arizona in time for the fall semester. Foles must redshirt this season but is expected to compete for the job Willie Tuitama will vacate in 2009. As some of you probably recall, Foles was one of the prospects I covered in Meat Market. He was a very likeable guy and comes from a supportive family in Austin. He'd once been committed to ASU, and one of the pluses in that is his father owns some restaurants in Arizona.
• Linval Joseph, known to some around ECU as "The Incredible Bulk," has shed 73 pounds and is now an impressive 6-foot-6, 300-pound hulk, writes A.J. Carr:
"'I feel 100 percent better,'" said Joseph, a sophomore DT who made the 2007 Conference USA's all-freshmen team. 'I can breathe easier, tie my shoes, get in and out of a car without struggling, take off my shirt and feel comfortable about myself and it's easier to get dates.'"
• Dan, a reader from Louisiana, e-mailed in to say that Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.) isn't the only school to have some famous second-generation talent, pointing out that New Orleans' Brother Martin High's football team has the sons of former Saints stars Dalton Hilliard and Pat Swilling.
• Oregon will open as a double-digit favorite against Washington, while Oklahoma State will be a 6-point favorite in its game at Seattle's Qwest Field against Washington State, reports Bob Condotta.
I actually think Oklahoma State should be the one favored by 10.5, and the margin on the Ducks' game against U-Dub probably should be down to 6.
• Expect to hear a lot about how inexperienced the FSU offensive front is. This is a story from the Tallahassee Democrat:
"The Seminoles' depth chart is so loaded with freshmen on the offensive line (of its 10 available scholarship linemen, six are first-year players) that the 6-foot-5, 278-pound Will Furlong could be considered a veteran. Although he didn't play a down last season while redshirting, he does have that pivotal year of practice experience under his belt heading into 2008. 'I'm used to being a leader, but last year I stepped back,' he said. 'So it's kind of weird that I'm back in that role when normally there are guys who are 22 or 23 years old that are normally in that position while I'm only 19.'"
• I saw "Eastern Promises" last night. It was decent although probably a bit too violent for some. It kept my attention a lot more than "The Bucket List," which was a disappointment.