Thursday, July 31, 2008

2008 Opponent Position Preview: Quarterback | by Pat

And just like that, it's nearly August. The kickoff to fall practice is one week from today and the start of the college football season is a mere 30 days away. So let's get cracking and dive right into the BGS Opponent Position Previews and get started with the Quarterbacks. As always, the number in parentheses following the QB's name is where Phil Steele ranks him. And as always, feel free to chime in with any additional info or corrections in the comments section.

SAN DIEGO STATE - Ryan Lindley. 2007 stats: Did not play. RS Freshman. New Starter.

After sitting out the 2007 season, Ryan Lindley was named the presumptive starter at the conclusion of spring practice and gets the uneviable task of replacing four year team captain and current New England Patriot Kevin O'Connell. There isn't much to go on with the 6'3" 205 pound QB as he has yet to attempt a pass in college. Going back to the high school recruiting reviews of him, Lindley reportedly has a strong arm and has shown an above average ability to read a defense. He might develop into a solid starter, but it's asking a lot to expect too much of him by the time the Aztecs travel to Notre Dame Stadium. Depth: Close behind Lindley on the depth chart is junior college transfer Drew Westling. Aztec coach Chuck Long said it's still possible that Westling could beat out Lindley in fall camp and be the starter for the first game against Cal Poly on August 30th. Last year at Southwestern College, Westling threw the ball 325 times for 173 receptions, 2,087 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. The only scholarship QB to actually throw a pass for the Aztecs last year is sophomore Kelsey Sokoloski. However, he is currently slotted as the third string QB for the Aztecs.

MICHIGAN - Steven Threet. 2007 stats: Did not play. RS Freshman. New Starter.

Michigan's quarterback situation was thrown for a loop following the hiring of spread option oriented coach Rich Rodriguez and the transfer of strong-armed Ryan Mallett. While the competition for the starting gig will continue through fall camp, the leader so far appears to be Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet. Threet is a big dropback QB at 6'6", 230 pounds, but that isn't exactly a great fit for an offense that prefers a quicker, more mobile quarterback. When he does drop back to pass, Threet has the skills to succeed, but his inexperience and less than ideal fit for the offense will likely hinder him early in the season. Depth: Pushing Threet is a mix of quarterbacks that present two different options. Sticking with the more classic drop-back model is walk-on Nick Sheridan and junior David Cone. Sheridan is quicker and more mobile than Cone or Threet, but lacks their strong arm. Cone is the slowest of the lot and likely will find himself buried on the depth chart. Presenting a different option are senior running back Carlos Brown, who played quarterback in high school, and freshman quarterback Justin Feagin, a legitimate run/pass threat out of Florida. Both have the speed to excel in the spread option offense but both are very raw as passers. It's likely one or both will see the field at QB in some capacity next season, but it would be asking a lot of them to provide more than a few snaps a game by the time the Wolverines roll into South Bend.

MICHIGAN STATE - Brian Hoyer. (#48) 2007 stats: 223-376, 2725 yards, 20 TDs, 11 INTs. RS Senior. Returning Starter.

The Fighting Irish will finally face a veteran quarterback in the third week of the season in Spartan fifth year senior Brian Hoyer. 2007 was Hoyer's first year as a starter and he did a respectable job until a four interception bowl game against Boston College. He still finished with a 2-1 TD/INT ratio, but only threw 14 touchdowns versus 10 interceptions against teams with winning records. Now a returning starter the interceptions should drop and his completion percentage should get above 60%. Depth: The Spartans lost both of last year's backups to transfer as Nick Foles and Connor Dixon left for Arizona and Duquesne, respectively. That leaves Michigan State pretty thin at QB with redshirt freshman Kirk Cousins as the lone backup. Heralded Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol is likely the future, but he will have to sit out this year.

PURDUE - Curtis Painter. (#2) 2007 stats: 356-569, 3846 yards, 29 TDs, 11 INTs. Senior. Returning Starter.

Curtis Painter threw for a thousand more yards than the next more prolific QB in this preview. However, like Brian Hoyer, Painter built up many of his stats against the weaker competition on the Purdue schedule. Consider he threw 20 touchdowns versus 4 interceptions against teams with losing records (and 2 of those INTs were against ND) while throwing only 9 touchdowns versus 7 interceptions against teams with winning records. He'll throw for a ton of yards again in 2008 and push for multiple Big Ten passing records, but will have to improve against the better teams on the Purdue schedule to be a true star. Depth: Junior Joey Elliot doesn't have much game experience, but has been in the offense for the past three years and has seen the field on occasion. Pushing Elliot is redshirt freshman Justin Siller, though both will have to wait until next season to really see the field much.

STANFORD - Tavita Pritchard. 2007 stats: 97-194, 1114 yards, 5 TDs. 9 INTs. Junior. Returning Starter.

Tavita Pritchard started last year as a backup but became the starter when normal starter T.C. Ostrander suffered a stroke. His first start was the unforgettable upset of Southern Cal, but even that isn't going to keep his starting job safe for 2008. Heading into fall camp he hasn't been named the de facto starter and will have to earn it. He certainly has the leg up on his competition as he has more experience than any of the other quarterbacks on the roster. However, that experience was paired with uneven performance. In the seven games he started last year, only once did he throw more touchdown passes than interceptions. Depth: Mentioned by Coach Harbaugh as co-#1 with Pritchard as practice starts is redshirt sophomore Alex Loukas. More of a scrambler than Pritchard, Loukas has yet to play in his two years at Stanford but has enough talent to push out the returning veteran. Making things more complicated is Michigan transfer Jason Forcier. Another run-pass quarterback, Forcier is currently slotted as the third string QB as he recovers from some spring injuries. If Stanford's offensive line proves to still be pourous, an athlete like Forcier might be an intriguing option. Last but not least is heralded recruit Andrew Luck. It's doubtful he'll see the field much early in the year, but he could very well have the best career of all the quarterbacks on the roster.

NORTH CAROLINA - T.J. Yates. 2007 stats: 218-365, 2655 yards, 14 TDs. 18 INTs. Sophomore. Returning Starter.

In his first year as starter last season, then freshman T.J. Yates got off to a great start, throwing nine touchdowns and only three interceptions. But then the bottom dropped out and he threw zero touchdowns and five interceptions in his next three games. His attempts and yardage were impressive and schools records to boot, but like most first year starters he threw too many picks to be truly effective. Recovery from surgery forced him to miss spring practice which certainly won't help his development. Depth: Junior Cameron Sexton was the starter for a few games in 2006, but lost his job to Yates last season. Now he's in a fight for the backup spot with redshirt freshman Mike Paulus. A highly recruited player, the 6'5" 215 pound Paulus probably has the highest ceiling of any of the quarterbacks on the roster. It's possible that if Yates struggles, Paulus might finish the season as the starter.

WASHINGTON - Jake Locker. (#19) 2007 stats: 155-328, 2062 yards, 14 TDS. 15 INTs. RS Sophomore. Returning Starter.

Probably the biggest name on this list along with Southern Cal's Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker is being compared to Florida's Tim Tebow everywhere you look. A fantastic athlete, Locker has the size to fight through tackles, the speed to blow by unsuspecting defenders, and great vision when he does tuck and run. The 6'3" 225 pound Locker was nearly a 1,000 yard rusher on his own with 986 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs last year. Where he fell a bit short in his impressive debut last season was his completion percentage, which wound up at 47%. Like many of the other rookie QBs in this preview, he also threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Perhaps some of that can be blamed on his surrounding cast, but in order to fulfill some of the All-American expectations being lobbed his way, he'll need to show much improved accuracy and a sizable drop in interceptions. It would be a bad idea to bet against him doing so. Depth: Redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch is more of a traditional pocket passer so if he gets into the game he won't be a threat to tuck and run like Locker. He also hasn't thrown a pass in college, which makes for a pretty big gulf between Washington's starting and backup QB. The fight for the third spot on the depth chart will be between walk-on Taylor Bean and two freshmen, Luther Leonard and Dominique Blackman, who still has yet to be declared academically eligible. In other words, behind Locker on the depth chart are four (or maybe only three) young and inexperienced players who have yet to attempt a collegiate pass.

PITTSBURGH - Bill Stull. 2007 stats: 14-20, 177 yards, 1 TD. 0 INTs. RS Junior. Returning Starter.

Pittsburgh has an interesting quarterback situation. Bill Stull was the opening day starter last year, only to be lost for the season due to a thumb injury on this throwing hand. He's back and the presumptive starter, even though he actually has the least amount of experience of the four quarterbacks competing for the starting job. Depth: Pushing Stull will be former star recruit sophomore Pat Bostick (#53). He was forced into action last year as a freshman and responded with 155 completions on 353 attempts for 1,500 yards in eight starts. His TD/INT ratio was poor with 8 touchdowns against 13 interceptions so like many of the other younger quarterbacks on this list, he will need to show better decision making if he wants to supplant Stull as the starter. Sophomore Kevan Smith actually started the first three games after Stull went down, but will likely compete with junior college transfer Gene Cross for third string status. At the very least, Pittsburgh has a number of quarterback options with a few starts under their belt.

BOSTON COLLEGE - Chris Crane. 2007 stats: 2-4, 28 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs. RS Senior. New Starter.

Replacing the successful Matt Ryan will be a tall task for the inexperienced Chris Crane. He did start a game against Buffalo in 2006, so he's not as inexperienced as his 2007 stats imply, but it will still be a brave new world for him as the full time starter. At 6'4" 235 pounds he's a big QB who is just quick enough to probably see some runs called specifically for him. He's also a 5th year senior so while he may not have faced many tense game situations, he's hardly new to college football. He should do better than many might expect and prove to be a solid manager of the offense for the Eagles. Depth: Redshirt freshman Dominique Davis had a strong enough spring to move into the backup spot and signals the transition to more mobile quarterbacks favored by offensive coordinator Steve Logan. Behind him currently is junior college transfer Codi Boek, another dual threat style quarterback.

NAVY - Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku Enhada. 2007 stats: 55-98, 952 yards, 8 TDS, 5 INTs. Junior. Returning Starter.

The QB who replaces Roger Staubach as the answer to the "last Navy QB to beat Notre Dame" trivia question, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku Enhada returns for his third year as Navy's starter. In addition to his improved passing last season, the Midshipmen senior rushed for 834 yards and 12 touchdowns on 180 attempts. A veteran with plenty of game experience, Kaheaku Enhada will help Navy ease into the post-Paul Johnson years. He will continue to make solid decisions with the ball this year and will likely push his TD/INT ratio even higher in the right direction. Depth: Senior Jarod Bryant is a top notch backup who will see the field even if he isn't lining up at quarterback. When he's not playing running back or on special teams, Bryant will provide experience and leadership at the QB position for the Midshipmen. His 94 carries last season were good for fourth on the team and he even found time to attempt 31 passes, completing 17 of them for 252 yards.

SYRACUSE - Andrew Robinson. 2007 stats: 154-292, 2192 yards, 13 TDs. 7 INTs. Junior. Returning Starter.

Syracuse is in the middle of a horrible run, but junior Andrew Robinson is one legitimate bright spot. Despite his team's performance and the fact he was a first time starter last season, he still managed to throw more touchdowns than interceptions. He also saved the best for last when he completed 62% of his passes against a solid Cincinnati defense for 419 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions in Syracuse's final game of the season. His numbers should only improve this season if Syracuse can find a running game to compliment him and he should make much better decisions with the ball. Depth: The name of the backup, Cameron Dantley, should be familiar to ND fans as the former walk-on is the son of Irish hoops legend Adrian Dantley. He won't push Robinson for playing time, but provides a more mobile threat with eight games worth of experience which could come in handy for 'Cuse as Notre Dame was the only team that let up more sacks.

SOUTHERN CAL - Mark Sanchez. (#17) 2007 stats: 69-114, 695 yards, 7 TDs. 5 INTs. RS Junior. New Starter.

The winner of Southern Cal's spring QB derby, redshirt junior Mark Sanchez will finally get a chance to run the Trojan offense. Game experience is always highlighted in this preview and Sanchez did get some when John David Booty went out with injury in the middle of the last season. Including the Notre Dame game, Sanchez started three games before returning to the bench. He also saw limited action in five others. The ND game was the highlight of his season as his 4 TD passes and 0 interceptions against the Irish are a drastic improvement over the 3 touchdown passes and four interceptions he threw in his other two starts. He should be much improved though after a spring and fall camp of getting all of the first string snaps in practice and is in line for a very solid 2008. A better athlete than the past few Trojan quarterbacks, Sanchez will be very tough to defend on the frequent QB rollouts that have been a hallmark of the Trojan offense as of late. The difference between a solid year and a star year will come down to his decision making and how efficiently he runs the offense. Depth: The dropoff behind Sanchez isn't all that much as Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain (#32) is now eligible and will be a solid 1B to Sanchez's 1A. Mustain has even more starting experience than Sanchez thanks to an 8-0 record as a freshman Razorback and gives Southern Cal the most enviable QB depth chart in the nation. Redshirt freshman Aaron Corp will work for playing time too, but while he's a more mobile option than Sanchez and Mustain, he's not a threat to beat out the upperclassmen.

2008 Opponent Quarterback Analysis and Ranking

Looking back through this list, there just aren't a lot of great quarterbacks lining up against the Irish in 2008. While last year's schedule featured six different starting quarterbacks ranked in Phil Steele's Top 25, this year only four starters are ranked in his Top 50. A lack of experience is the major reason for the less than scary QB gaunlet. Consider that only half of next year's likely starting quarterbacks have more starting experience than Jimmy Clausen. Only two teams, Purdue and Navy, feature quarterbacks entering their third year of starting. Even among the eight listed returning starters, three are still fighting for their job and could be on the bench by the time they play Notre Dame.

As ND folds Jon Tenuta's blitz-heavy philosophy into the defensive play-calling, the desire to put constant pressure on the opposing quarterback will likely pay dividends given the inexperience of many of the targets. Not only should sacks go up in 2008, but interceptions as well if ND truly is on the path to improvement. Everyone on the defense will likely get into the action as ND will bring blitzes from all angles in an attempt to keep opposing quarterbacks from getting into any sort of comfort zone.

One area that might be a bit of a concern is the threat of the running quarterback. As ND focuses on collapsing the pocket and making the QB feel pressure from all sides, opposing coaches will probably counter by having their QB roll out more to give him more room to operate. As mentioned earlier, Southern Cal will make great use of Sanchez's mobility. Navy as always will keep their quarterback running around and Michigan will join them this year in keeping the Irish defense on its toes. Jake Locker will continue to run the ball like a more elusive fullback and don't be surprised to see Boston College's Chris Crane use his large frame to get a few extra yards on the end of a scramble. Even Stanford's Tavita Pritchard ended the year with positive rushing yards despite being sacked 23 times. There aren't any dual threat quarterbacks in the mold of Pat White on the schedule, but there are a number of athletic quarterbacks that aren't just going to be immobile statues in the pocket. The Irish defense, especially the linebackers, will have to counter this with solid tackling when the opportunity presents itself.

On to the rankings where I'm once again leaning heavily on starter experience and talent with team depth also a big factor. Potential matters, but I tend to give production the nod, especially for teams that play ND early in the season. As much as possible I try to keep the offensive system and competency of the head coach out of the rankings.

1. USC - Not much experience for Sanchez, but having Mustain as the backup gives SC the top spot.
2. Purdue - Painter is a talented passer and the most experienced QB on this list.
3. Washington - Locker is a star in the making, but it's a big dropoff to the second string.
4. Michigan State - Hoyer is experienced, but the team depth is nearly nonexistent.
5. Navy - Kaheaku Enhada will continue to lead with smart decisions and Bryant provides solid depth.
6. Pittsburgh - A mix of experienced players, but no clear cut leader yet.
7. Syracuse - Robinson has potential and should be a much improved QB this season.
8. North Carolina - A bit of a wildcard at this point. Will Yates improve or give way to Paulus?
9. Boston College - Crane should be adequate, which is important give the lack of depth behind him.
10. Michigan - Plenty of options, but none without drawbacks.
11. Stanford - Pritchard is experienced, but rarely was impressive.
12. San Diego State - A completely inexperienced QB on a rebuilding offense.