Yes, I know we're two days late for this week's edition of the Friday Forum but I have a good excuse. A spontaneous trip to the lake to celebrate my son's 14th birthday is the culprit that put us behind schedule. If you fault me for that then I'm kicking you off this site.
Now, for this week's task. As we 're now just a bit over a month away from kicking off the season we're going to be ranking the various position units in the Big 12. We figured that there wasn't a better place to start than at quarterback.
This one is kind of tricky because there is a couple different ways you can go when you're evaluating the actual QB units as opposed to simply the starter. Obviously, your starter is going to see a majority of the snaps barring injury so any ranking is going to be naturally weighted towards the projected starter. Then you have to take into account the talent surrounding them as yet another factor. So the respective starter will weigh heavily towards how I determine my rankings, but I will also explain who and why would be the team best prepared should their respective starter suffer a significant injury.
#1 - Texas A&M - Johnson is being billed as the star QB of the league this preseason and while he may not be deserving of all the hype, he is the likely favorite to be considered the "best" QB in the Big 12 at the end of the season. WR/QB Ryan Tannehill would likely be his primary backup should Johnson go down, so I wouldn't go so far as to say A&M would be screwed I also wouldn't want Johnson taking any unnecessary shots outside the pocket either.
#2 - Missouri - For some strange reason, people seem to be underestimating Blaine Gabbert headed into 2010. Gabbert put up very impressive numbers last year and did it while playing on a bum ankle for a majority of the season. I only give Johnson the nod as the #1 due to his talent at WR compared to the relatively unproven Mizzou WRs. Despite his considerable size, Gabbert is no statue in the pocket so the ankle injury seriously limited his effectiveness outside the pocket as well as his mobility to avoid the rush inside the pocket. Virtually no experience behind him, but as last year showed he can certainly play through pain so it's going to take a significant injury to keep him off the field. That said, if he does go down Mizzou's season goes down with him.
#3 - Oklahoma - Much like Gabbert, OU's Landry Jones put up very impressive numbers (especially for a freshman not expected to play) and yet I feel most people are overlooking the 2nd year signal caller. Now make no mistake, Jones has plenty he can improve on in 2010 and the unexpected year of experience he gained in 2009 has to give an advantage on doing just that. OU has talent behind Jones in RS FR Drew Allen and true FR Blake Bell, but both are completely unproven so if Jones does go down OU could be in serious jeopardy of repeating (or worse) that five loss season of last year.
#4 - Baylor - I'm giving Robert Griffin the benefit of the doubt here simply because he was such a dynamic athlete before his knee injury last year. By all accounts, Griffin has fully recovered and has also committed himself 100% to football (no more track) this offseason. I think you'd be hard pressed to find more than a handful (if any) players that have as much pressure on them heading into this season. Considering all that Griffin is capable of when healthy, I'd have to think Baylor would be at the top of the list of Big 12 teams that could least afford to lose their QB for a significant period of time.
#5 - Texas - Hey lookie there, UT isn't at the bottom of my list so maybe I do have some credibility after all. Wait, no? Oh well, something to shoot for then. Despite the apparent brain washing the rest of the country was subjected to after Gilly's underwhelming performance against Alabama, I remain a little more skeptical at his imminent arrival as "stud QB" than most. There is no doubt he has a wealth of talent, but I'm just blown away at the assumption he's stepping in with virtually no experience (and into a brand new offense no less) and not struggling on multiple occasions. If Gilly were to go down, UT would be in serious trouble relying on either 8th year senior Sherrod Harris, or one of two true frosh in Connor Wood (former OU recruit) and Colt Jr., er Case McCoy (unlikely to ever see the field in his career).
#6 - Texas Tech - Normally, you wouldn't think having essentially two starting senior QBs would be a bad thing. However, how do you get both enough snaps to keep them happy? This is a team replacing a local legend head coach and team chemistry is going to be a story line all season after the Adam James debacle. Both QBs have been a little injury prone in the past, so again the depth could easily play an important role in the Red Raiders success this season. By all accounts, they are going to make an effort to keep a similar offense in place but you have to assume that Tuberville will tweak things a little bit so is one a better fit for the offense over the other? Regardless, with two seniors and the amount of experience both have Tech would have to be the team best set up to replace their starting QB.
#7 - Colorado - I'll be interested to see where my fellow participants have CU as I'm guessing my ranking is the highest among us. I could be wrong, but I think Tyler Hansen is probably one of the more talented QBs in the entire league. He's struggled, much like the team in general, but he's also been done no favors by his head coach either. Hawkins seemed ridiculously stubborn in continuing to run his son Cody out there week after week. Cody Hawkins is simply not capable of being a successful Big 12 QB, at least not at a program like Colorado where he isn't surrounded by elite talent. Hansen should have the reins from day one this year and I think that confidence will pay dividends for the Buffs this year.
#8 - Nebraska - Almost as odd as the slighting of Gabbert, is this assumption amongst those that cover the Big 12 that Nebraska's offense is going to be much improved this year. Not sure what has led anyone to believe that considering the offense will still be helmed by Zac Lee and/or Cody Green. The theory that "well they were so bad last year they have to turn things around this year right?" isn't really a ringing endorsement for a conference favorite. Is there still some unresolved bitterness from their combined performance of 7-14 for 39 yards w/ 1 TD being enough to squeak out a win over our Sooners last year? Yeah probably, but this offense and specifically the inconsistent (and that's being kind) play from the QB position was the only thing keeping the Huskers from a Big 12 championship last year (or more). Well, that and some always unbiased, motives that can never be questioned, Big 12 referees.
#9 - Oklahoma State - OSU heads into the season w/ a 35 year old QB looking to lead an offense that only brings back one significant threat from 2009. One quick question, so do you think next year we hear rumors about how OSU's aging QB is contemplating retirement and then says he's coming back and then says he's retiring only to announce shortly before the season he's coming back for one more glorious year? Seriously though, Chris Weinke called and he wants his reciting hairline back. Coach Oompa Loompa has decided that since Mike Leach is no longer in the league that somebody needs to keep his offense alive and a seriously rebuilding OSU team is gonna give it a go. However, the big difference being Leach always had talent at WR and this OSU team does not. So expect Old Man Weeden to struggle and not just with remembering to take his pills every day. Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I'll be here all week and remember to tip your server!
#10 - Iowa St - So I go on over to cyclones.com to check out the roster and much to my amazement, the Cyclones have seven QBs listed on their current roster! Wow! Arnaud, the lone senior, was shaky at times last year but appears to be unchallenged as the starter heading into the season. Arnaud is talented and Iowa St. has an excellent head coach looking to get this team to back-to-back bowl games for what I have to assume would be the first time in a long time. Little to no experience behind Arnaud despite the fact he apparently has six backups.
#11 - Kansas - Sooner fans may remember Kale Pick from our game last year in Lawrence and his brief appearance during that game. If I'm not mistaken, he ran the same play (QB draw/sneak) two, if not three times in a row, to less than impressive results. He's certainly got some big shoes to fill replacing Todd Reesing as well as the offense losing some serious talent at the skill positions. Pick is more mobile than Reesing was so I would expect if he's able to secure the starting gig that KU would do a lot with him on the move to try and get him outside the pocket. The Jayhawks have a JUCO transfer and RS FR behind Pick, so the drop off would probably not be that great were Pick to miss an extended period of time.
#12 - Kansas State - Without a doubt, the worst collective unit in the league. Sorry Wildcat fans, but if you're reading this I seriously doubt this is news to you. Carson Coffman struggled all season in 2009 and has given KSU fans no reason to expect significant improvement in 2010. Expect to see plenty of the Wildcat formation lead by all Big 12 RB Daniel Thomas in the Little Apple this year.
1 - Missouri - When healthy, Blaine Gabbert showed that he has what it takes to have a huge year for the Tigers.
2 - Baylor - Griffin didn't get much of a chance to play last year and he has significantly less to work with than many of the other QB's in the Big 12, but he has a solid receiver in Kendall Wright and as much talent as any other QB in the conference.
3 - A&M - Jerrod Johnson makes a lot of mistakes, but the Aggies have as much young talent at the skill positions as any team in the Big 12. The possibility of starting multiple true freshmen on the offensive line should be keeping Johnson up at night.
4 - Oklahoma - If only Landry Jones can start playing as well as he has against bad defenses against good defense then he will have a very good season. Another year running the offense and what should be an improved offensive line will make that happen.
5 - Texas - Garrett Gilbert showed that he has the talent and the "stones" in the National Championship game to be the next big thing at Texas. The question is, when will the Longhorns develop a running game?
6 - Texas Tech - Whether the Red Raiders go with Taylor Potts or Steven Sheffield the focus will be on the change that Tommy Tuberville makes to the Air Raid offense. Can Texas Tech keep up the pace on offense without Mike Leach? Not a chance.
7 - Colorado - It's sounding more and more like Tyler Hansen will finally get his chance to start the season as the leader of this team. He and newcomer Toney Clemons will try and turn around one of the worst offense's in the Big 12.
8 - Kansas - The post Todd Reesing era starts now. Kale Pick looked decent when he saw the field last season, but the big question is what kind of offense will Turner Gill have the Jayhawks running?
10 - Nebraska - Cody Green of Zac Lee. Outside of the bowl game, neither QB has shown that he can be anything more than just average.
11 - Oklahoma State - Likely starter Brandon Weeden looked like he had some potential when he saw the field in '09, but he certainly won't live up to the former quarterback Zak Robinson.
12 - Kansas State - You don't even have to know who K-State's QB is going to be, just know that he will be handing off to Daniel Thomas A LOT.
- Texas A&M - We learned last year how fragile a quarterbacking unit can be once a starter goes down to injury. A&M's Jerrod Johnson threw 30 touchdowns last year and broke the 300 yard barrier mark 6 different times. The other thing that put A&M over the top in QB's is that their backup (Ryan Tannehill) is also their leading receiver.
- Missouri - Blaine Gabbart's 24 touchdowns to 9 interceptions wasn't bad for a first year starter in the Big 12. Should he show steady improvement from last season to this season he could have the Tigers finding their way back into the Big 12 Championship game. Back up quarterback play could plunge the Tigers to the very bottom of this list should Gabbart go down because waiting behind him is a former walk-on.
- Baylor - Uncertainty over how Robert Griffin returns from a season ending knee injury from last season is the only thing keeping Baylor from topping this list, for me. Should Griffin provide the dual-threat that the Bears are expecting, coupled with backup sophomore Nick Florence, then Baylor may just have the top QB unit in the conference.
- Oklahoma - Keep in mind that the only Sooner quarterback to have a better freshman season than Landry Jones in now the richest rookie in NFL history. In what's becoming the theme in the Big 12, things get dicey once you move past #1 in the depth chart.
- Texas Tech - We know how Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield can do in Mike Leach's wide open spread attack but what they'll do in Tommy Tuberville's new offense remains a mystery. Both are seniors with starting experience.
- Texas - If you live anywhere outside of Burnt Orange Nation then you think that Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert had an average, at best, performance in the BCS Championship Game. Senior Sherrod Harris sits behind Gilbert.
- Iowa State - Austen Arnaud is the Big 12's most experienced quarterback. He's started 23 of ISU's last 25 games and his senior season will be his second in Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman's spread attack. Bonus points if you can name the backup quarterback for the Cyclones without having to look it up.
- Nebraska - Zach Lee struggled at the helms of the Husker offense last season with a touchdown/interception ratio of 14/10. Cody Green made a bit of a push to take over and may very well do so this fall.
- Oklahoma State - Zac Robinson has departed and the Cowboy faithful are putting all of their eggs (and possibly Mike Gundy's job) in the Brandon Weeden basket. Behind him is freshman Jeremy Smith.
- Colorado - The Buffs get this spot ahead of the Kansas schools because they do have a returning starter. Tyler Hansen took over for Cody Hawkins last season and the two will enter the fall still at #1 and #2 but unless the o-line can improve from giving up 44 sacks last season it may not matter who is under center.
- Kansas - How much faith do you want to put in a quarterback who has the last name of Pick? The Turner Gill era at KU will begin with Kale Pick at the helm and freshman Jordan Webb backing him up.
- Kansas State - Carson Coffman started four games for the Wildcats last year where he threw 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He finished the spring atop the depth chart with a traffic jam behind him where as many as three guys (including a true freshman) are in the mix.