Monday, August 03, 2009

2009 Opponent Position Preview: Quarterbacks | by Pat

For the past few years, the first week of August has meant sticky, hot summer days, barbeques, and the sudden realization that I need to get cracking on the opponent position previews. This year Kevin has graciously agreed to help me out, but the format should stay the same as we work our way through the best and worst players who will line up against Notre Dame in just over a month's time. As always, we start with the quarterbacks and welcome any and all feedback in the comment section.


Colin Kaepernick. (#6) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 208-383, 2849 yards, 22 TDs, 7 INTs.

The tallest quarterback the Irish face this year could also be the best. A 6'6" redshirt junior, Colin Kaepernick is a quality passer with a QB efficiency score in 2008 (132.01) that was practically identical to Jimmy Clausen's (132.49), but his real threat is with his legs in Nevada' Pistol offense. Consider only two QBs in nation had more rushing yards than Kaepernick's 1130 and only seven players total had more rushing touchdowns than his 17. His 7.02 yards per carry average was also good for 12th in the nation. Subtract out his sack total yardage (16 sacks for -120 yards) and his rushing average jumps to 8.6 yards/carry, second in the nation only to Florida's Percy Harvin. Depth: While Kaepernick sat out spring practice nursing an injured ankle, two redshirt sophomores took all the snaps in the bid to earn the backup QB role. Tyler Lantrip and Luke Collis only combined for two pass attempts in the 2008 season, but a split spring of 1st string snaps should speed up the development of both. Lantrip is listed ahead of Collis heading into fall camp, but that could all change in the leadup to the first game of the season.


Tate Forcier.
Freshman. New Starter.
2008 stats: N/A

It's a new beginning in Michigan as a freshman will likely lead the Wolverines against ND in early September. Newcomer Tate Forcier enrolled in Ann Arbor early and received a majority of the first team snaps. With a strong showing in their spring game, he's the leading starter candidate in the wake of the transfer of last year's starter Steven Threet. Generously listed at 6'1", 187 pounds on the roster, Forcier is a skinny and elusive runner for Michigan's spread offense with some demonstrated accuracy while on the run. While he will certainly make freshman mistakes, he could surprise some people when improvising outside of the pocket. Depth: The starting job is still technically open, giving former walk-on Nick Sheridan a chance to beat out Forcier. Sheridan did start four games last year, but a broken leg early in spring practice cost him valuable snaps. He has the game experience that Forcier lacks after passing for 613 yards last season on 63 of 137 passing, but lacks the ideal athleticism for the spread. Senior David Cone is a holdover from the dropback passing Lloyd Carr era and not an ideal fit for the offense either. Freshman Denard Robinson will need some work as a passer, but is incredibly fast and will be dangerous running the ball. It wouldn't be surprising to see him get a few snaps even if Forcier wins the starting job. This past spring Robinson finished 3rd in Florida in the 100m dash and his personal best during the track season was good for 2nd best in the nation.


Kirk Cousins. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 32-43, 310 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT.
Keith Nichol. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: Sat out transfer year.

The starting QB job in East Lansing is still up in the air after a two-way battle in the spring. Redshirt sophomores Kirk Cousins (right) and Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol split time in the spring as each worked to replace the graduated Brian Hoyer. Both earned praise for their strong springs, but neither moved ahead of the other. Cousins has the advantage of actually playing in a collegiate game while Nichol is a bit more of a threat with his feet. In all likelihood, there will still be a bit of a position battle by the time the Spartans play ND. It's always good to have two competent choices, but lack of a clear starter can sometimes cause problems of its own. Depth: The loser of the battle for the starting spot will take the backup job while incoming freshman Andrew Maxwell presumably will take the #3 spot.


Joey Elliot.
RS Senior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 8-15, yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.

What was supposed to be a spring competition to replace Curtis Painter ended quickly when likely frontrunner Justin Siller was dismissed from Purdue for academic violations. That left redshirt senior Joey Elliot as the winner by default. A career backup behind Painter, Elliot has played in a handful of games the past three seasons and would have played even more last year had he not injured his shoulder in October and sat out the rest of the year. He certainly has experience, but with a coaching change, he'll be learning some of the new plays along with everyone else. He's a bit quicker on his feet than the past few Purdue QBs, but it will be his passing skills that he'll need to improve to help Purdue win. Depth: He might not take the starting job by the Notre Dame game, but redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush is pushing for the starting job should Elliot falter or get off to a slow start. At 6'5" 222 pounds, TerBush is a big pocket passer with a stronger arm that Elliot. At the very least, he will probably get a few series against Notre Dame as the staff tries to turn him into the future starter of the Boilermakers.


Jake Locker. (#12) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 50-93, 512 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.

Perhaps the biggest name QB facing ND in 2009, redshirt junior Jake Locker is back after injury knocked him out for most of the 2008 season. A tough, strong runner and excellent team leader, all that remains for Locker is to improve his accuracy and completion percentage. If he can do that while mastering new coach Steve Sarkisian's playbook, he will be one of the toughest QBs that ND will face all season long. Early returns from spring ball suggest the transition is going smoothly for Locker. At the very least, he will be one of the harder QBs to bring down behind the line of scrimmage given his size, strength, and mobility. Depth: After Locker went down in the fourth game of the season last year, redshirt sophomore Ronnie Fouch started the final eight games of the season. His numbers weren't great (113-250, 1339 yards, 4 TDs, 13 INTs), but he gained valuable game experience, something most backup quarterbacks lack. If Washington needs to rest Locker for a play, series, or game, they won't have to turn to an untested replacement and hope for the best.


Aaron Corp. (#16)
RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 2-4, 14 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.

In the three-way battle to replace Mark Sanchez, redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp held off two competitors who were both ranked the #1 QB in their respective recruiting class. The next step for Corp will be to use the embarrassment of riches surrounding him on offense to keep the Trojan offense from skipping a beat. He won the starting job in the spring by not pushing the issue and playing as mistake free as possible. With the Trojans talent, that's a realistic way to keep playing, but at some point he will need to press a bit more and lead the team. How he will perform then is still in question. What helps is that the 6'4" 195 pound Corp is very athletic and will be able to pick up some yards with his feet if he's flushed out of the pocket. Depth: Finishing second to Corp in his first semester on campus, early enrollee Matt Barkley has a decent shot of taking the starting job away from Corp by the time the Trojan visit South Bend. Pete Carroll kept raving about the freshman and it very well may just be a matter of time before Barkley becomes the next multi-year starter for the Trojans. Rounding out the depth chart is redshirt junior Mitch Mustain (#35). He saw more game action than Corp last year, but wasn't able to capitalize on it in the spring. At the very least, he gives the Trojans a very deep and talented bench.


Justin Tuggle / Codi Boek / David Shinskie
2008 stats: N/A

There might not be a team in the nation with more questions marks at quarterback than Boston College. The starting job is wide open and none of the contenders have taken a single snap under center in college. Presumed starter following spring practice Dominique Davis left BC after being suspended from the team for academic reasons. In his wake is youth, inexperience, and a wide open QB race. More importantly, none of the options have taken a single snap under center. Redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle, son of Pro Bowler Jessie Tuggle, was supposed to push Davis this past spring, but had his ups and downs going just 2 of 7 in the final spring scrimmage. Junior college transfer Codi Boek (right) is the only one of the three main challengers who actually played football last season, but rather than at QB, he played fullback and special teams for the Eagles. The 6'3" 220 pound Boek will need to now transition back to QB, a spot he played at Idaho State and American River Junior College. His spring scrimmage showing wasn't much more impressive than Tuggle, going 2 for 10. The latest addition is 25 year old minor leaguer turned college freshman David Shinskie. Giving football a try, Shinskie has the maturity and physical development edge over his teammates, but hasn't played competitive football since his senior year in 2002. Depth: There are a few more options, but the odds are stacked against them. Freshman true freshman Mike Marscovetra will start practice in the fall, not giving him much time to get up to speed. Redshirt junior Billy Flutie is the only one of the bunch who has actually attempted a pass for BC, doing so during trick plays from his WR position last season. Odds are though he will stay at receiver for the Eagles.


Marshall Lobbestael.
RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2008 stats: 53-103, 571 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs.

Four different quarterbacks started games for WSU last season as injury -- including a fractured spine on opening day starter Gary Rodgers -- and poor play kept any of them from getting a solid hold on the starting spot. Redshirt sophomore Marshall Lobbestael appeared to be the best of bunch, taking over the starting spot for three games until hurting his ACL and MCL and being forced to sit the rest of the season. Rehab kept him out of contact drills in the spring, but if he's back to being 100% healthy, he's a likely candidate to be the starter at least early in the season. Depth: Redshirt senior Kevin Lopina started before injuring his back and losing his job to Lobbestael and then started the rest of the season after Marshall's knee injury. He has a shot to beat out Lobbestael in the fall, but his awful 0 TD, 11 INT showing in 2008 isn't a positive indicator for the Kansas State transfer. Sophomore J.T. Levenseller saw some time at QB last year as a backup, but will probably slide to 3rd on the depth chart if Lobbestael and Lopina can stay healthy all year long.


Ricky Dobbs.
Junior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 9-16, 212 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.

As always, the passing stats for Navy's quarterback aren't terribly important. How they do on the ground is far more important, and in the case of junior Ricky Dobbs, he was excellent. Despite only playing in eight games in a backup QB role, Dobbs finished the season 3rd on the team in rushing (495) and tied for first in rushing TDs (8). Nearly half of those yards came against SMU when he picked up 224 yards and 4 TDs on 42 carries. ND fans might remember him as the QB who engineered the late Navy comeback that just fell short. Half of his season pass attempts came against the Irish as well. With a strong arm and frequent mentions of his leadership skills, Dobbs's main challenge will be to master the decision making needed to execute Navy's flexbone offense. Depth: Sophomore Kriss Proctor was a multi-sport star in high school in California and recruited by a few other colleges for defense. But he chose the Naval Academy and now is the next in line to line up under center when Dobbs needs a break.


Bill Stull.
RS Senior. Returning Starter.
2008 stats: 188-330, 2356 yards, 9 TDs, 10 INTs.

The only game redshirt senior Bill Stull missed last year was the Notre Dame game. He started the other 12 and so far has the lead in the race to be Pitt's starting quarterback for 2009. However, a lackluster 2008 culminating in getting yanked in Pitt's bowl game after going 7 for 24 for 52 yards doesn't give him the firmest footing for keeping the starting job. Despite his faults, he keeps winning the starting job, so he must be doing something right. Depth: Pushing Stull for time will be junior Pat Bostick. It was Bostick who QB'd Pitt last year against ND while seeing time as a backup in five other games. He also started eight games in 2007 as a freshman, so he does have legitimate experience. The former highly-regarded recruit just hasn't been able to get over the hump and beat out Stull. With the ND game later in the season, perhaps he will have pulled ahead by then. Redshirt freshman Tino Sunsuri is a local product and more athletic that Stull or Bostick, but will probably have to wait another year before getting a serious shot at the starting job.


Zach Frazer. (#29). RS Junior. New Starter.
2008 stats: 46-83, 536 yards, 2 TDs, 6 INTs.

UConn's starting quarterback should be a familiar name to all as ND transfer Zach Frazer will be the man under center to start off the Huskies 2009 season. A backup last season, Frazer did wind up starting two games while appearing in five overall. He won the starting job for 2009 during the spring but whether or not he is still starting by the time they play ND depends on him improving his 1/3 TD/INT ratio and how well he picks up UConn's new no-huddle, up-tempo offense. Depth: Pushing Frazer for the starting job is redshirt sophomore Cody Endres. Like Frazer, he started two games last year in a relief role and, like Frazer, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns (39-84, 441 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs). The upside is that UConn has two quarterbacks with starting experience. The downside is that throwing a combined 9 interceptions against 2 touchdowns isn't going to instill much confidence this fall, especially when you add in a revamping of the offense.


Andrew Luck
. RS Freshman. New Starter.
2008 stats: redshirted

It's not often a player with no game experience can beat out a two-year returning starter, but that is what happened at Stanford. Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck emerged from spring practice as the Cardinal's likely starting QB for the 2009 season. The 6'4" 235 Luck has a bright future, however he will still have to overcome the usual stumbling blocks that every first-time starter hits. His 5-TD performance in the Stanford spring game set expectations pretty high though and with nearly an entire season to play before facing the Irish, he could quickly develop into a tough QB opponent. Depth: Redshirt senior Tavita Pritchard may not be the starter on opening day, but if Luck fails to build upon his spring showing, Pritchard could return to the starting gig he held for 19 games, including every single game last season. Pritchard's stats (147-254, 1633 yards, 10 TDs, 13 INTs)improved last year from his 2007 numbers, but he lacks the natural talent of Luck and he didn't even have a postive TD/INT ratio at home (3/3), let alone on the road (7/10) last season. Pritchard does give Stanford the luxury of having an experienced QB on the roster, not only to help instruct the young Luck, but also come off the bench and know how to run the offense when needed.

2009 Opponent Quarterback Analysis and Ranking

The one word summary of this year's crop of opposing quarterbacks is "inexperience". Last year, there were 8 returning starters on this list. In 2007, the number was 9. In 2009 however, the total number of returning starters is a paltry 3, with one of them missing nearly the entire season last year due to injury. Sure, there are a handful of new starters at schools like WSU, UConn, and Navy who have a few starts under their belt and Stanford has the experienced Pritchard on the bench, but that still only puts the number up to 7. Michigan, Boston College, Stanford, and possibly even USC and Michigan State will be starting QBs this season who have yet to take a single snap in college.

That sound you hear is Jon Tenuta salivating at the thought of all that inexperience lining up opposite his defense. While ND will have their own inexperience issues on the defensive line and at linebacker, Tenuta will be dialing up blitzes and changing coverages non-stop in an attempt to rattle the quarterback. Where this plays into ND's favor is the talent and experience in ND's secondary. One of the more game-tested secondaries in the country, if the front seven can produce steady or even semi-steady pressure on the opposing QB, the opportunities for interceptions or at least batted down passes should be very high this season. ND's defenses have consistently produced between 9 and 15 interceptions the past 6 seasons. A good goal for this year's secondary would be to try and match or beat the 21 interceptions put up by 2002 defense that featured Shane Walton, Vontez Duff, Gerome Sapp, and Glenn Earl in the defensive backfield.

Of course, in this era of the spread offense, defenses also have to worry about a quarterback's feet. And while there may not be many (any?) proven pocket passing threats this season, there are a handful of dangerous runners lining up under center. At the front of the pack are Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and Locker was only 14 yards shy of the same milestone in 2007. The revamped Irish linebacking corp will have their hands full keeping both QBs from turning potential sacks into 20+ yard scrambles. And while they are inexperienced, Michigan's Forcier, Navy's Dobbs, and Boston College's Tuggle and Boek all have the mobility to rack up quality rushing yards against an undisciplined defense. Throw in the more-mobile-than-you-might-expect Corp and Nichol at Southern Cal and Michigan State respectively and the list of running threats at QB is more impressive than the list of strong-armed pocket passers.

Moving to the rankings, as always I will favor experience, production, and overall position depth over potential. If the opponent faces ND later in the season, I might give potential a bit more of a boost, but for the most part these rankings try to stick to what we have already seen, rather than what we hope or fear to see. And sticking with previous years, I will attempt to keep coaching acumen and offensive system out of the rankings as much as possible.

1. Washington - Locker is a talented and tough player. Fouch provides some experience off the bench.
2. Nevada - Kaepernick will become a household name this season, especially if ND isn't ready for him.
3. USC - Three high school All-Americans on the roster, but lacking in experience for now.
4. Pittsburgh - Nothing flashy here, but Stull and Bostick have been around for a few years now.
5. Stanford - Luck has as much potential as any QB on this list with Pritchard adding experience.
6. Michigan State - Two decent prospects will be slowed a bit by their lack of career playing time.
7. Navy - Dobbs is a respected teammate and will be a tough runner to keep in check.
8. UConn - Will Frazer still be the starter for his return trip to ND?
9. Purdue - Elliot could surprise a bit, but more likely TerBush will pass him by later in the year.
10. Washington State - This position was a mess last season. If injury-free it will be much improved.
11. Michigan - A skinny freshman or a former walk-on are the main options for Michigan.
12. Boston College - No experience on the roster and a three-way QB battle that will split snaps in practice.