T-Time: QB is more important than ever in college ball

first_imgBoth Tagovailoa and Lawrence are back in 2019, a true miracle from the football gods. Tagovailoa has a score to settle and Lawrence has to go out and prove he’s not a one-hit wonder like so many frontmen from the 1980s who shared his hairstyle. We’re past the days of Alabama grinding out opponents with the run game en route to the national championship. It’s highly possible that last year’s playoff featured not one, not two, but three quarterbacks who will be selected No. 1 overall between 2019 selection Kyler Murray, Tagovailoa (eligible in 2020) and Lawrence (eligible in 2021).  Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Jake Fromm, Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert. To find a better crop of quarterbacks in college football, you’d have to look back to 2003 when Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Matt Leinart lit up their respective campuses. This influx of quarterback talent came about due to a variety of factors — the advent of quarterback coaches and camps, more spread offenses and rule changes that benefit offensive players. Whatever the cause, to win a national title in 2019, teams need to have an elite quarterback.  In recent history, this hasn’t always been the case. Since Alabama remains college football’s measuring stick, that means that the rest of the nation now needs an elite defense, a physical running back and a NFL-caliber quarterback to hang with the Tide.  I’m over 600 words into this column and I’ve barely touched on Oregon’s Justin Herbert, who many analysts thought would be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Instead he decided to return for his senior year, making the Ducks instant contenders for the title. Throughout his career, Herbert has missed several games and struggled with consistency — he completed just 50% of his passes in a loss to Arizona in 2018 — but the physical tools have always been there. And Oregon now has enough talent around him to return to the glory years of, like, five minutes ago (OK, five years ago).  Alabama and Tagovailoa must go through Jake Fromm and Georgia, their stoutest competition in the Southeastern Conference over the last two seasons. Fromm may not possess the athleticism or arm talent of his Hawaiian counterpart, but statistically, the junior is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football. Last season, Fromm ranked fifth nationally with a 171.3 passer rating and completed 67.4% of his passes, good for ninth in the country according to USA Today. He’s led the Bulldogs to big leads over Alabama in each of the last two seasons, but each time they slipped on banana peels at the finish line like one would in a Mario Kart race. This is a put-up or shut-up year for Fromm, who’s always been steady but now needs to add more wow-factor to his game. Like Lawrence and Tagovailoa, he’s expected to be a first round draft choice whenever he decides to make the leap to the NFL.  It’s never easy to predict what will happen in college football, but this much is clear: 2019 will be defined by the quarterbacks.  The tides turned, however, in the 2018 National Championship game. Georgia had Alabama on the ropes in the first half, stifling Hurts to the tune of three completions on eight pass attempts. Saban had seen enough and replaced Hurts with the dynamic freshman Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa tossed three touchdowns in a come-from-behind win that would forever etch him into college football lore. Since that game, Saban has had a bona fide offensive weapon at quarterback for the first time in his tenure.  In 2018, Clemson found its guy in Trevor Lawrence, and it worked. Standing 6-foot-6 with long blonde hair, Lawrence looks more like a guy playing a quarterback on TV than an actual quarterback. But he doesn’t just look the part. Lawrence threw for six touchdowns and no interceptions over two games in last year’s playoff, ultimately torching Alabama in the title game. By out-dueling Tagovailoa, Lawrence and Clemson beat Alabama at its own game.  Alabama head coach Nick Saban built a dynasty by pairing elite defenses with punishing run games. Since 2009, he’s won rings with placeholders like Greg McElroy, A.J. McCarron and Jake Coker. None of these players were bad per se, but none were elite prospects. They also have just four NFL starts between them. Add in Texas’s Sam Ehlinger, who wears out opponents with his physicality like a 240-pound running back, or Hurts, who transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma to replace Murray. Hurts looked like a vastly improved player when he came in for Tagovailoa in the 2018 SEC Championship Game. Now he’s under the tutelage of Lincoln Riley, who coached the last two Heisman Trophy winners and No.1 overall draft picks. No big deal or anything.  It may seem inevitable that Tagovailoa and Lawrence will meet again for a national title. After all, Clemson and Alabama have faced off in each of the last four playoffs. But they won’t be without competition on the road to New Orleans.  Trevor Denton is a senior writing about sports. He is also a former sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other Thursday.last_img

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