Why Do Star College Quarterbacks Fail In the NFL?

December 18, 2012

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Quarterback U???

In my childhood days, the University of Miami (the one in Florida, not the one in Ohio) was known as producing a number of great Quarterbacks who had outstanding careers in college and then went on to have fantastic professional careers as well.

Not every one of them turned out to be good in the NFL, but the hits were much better than the misses.

There are some great ones on the list to be sure. Bernie Kosar, Vinnie Testeverde, Jim Kelly. These guys all had fantastic and LONG NFL careers. Of course for each of these guys there is also a Brock Berlin, Frank Costa and Gino Torretta.

How the Heck did Torretta win the Heisman anyway?

Smoke and Mirrors

Gino Torretta, a quarterback from the Universi...

Gino Torretta

Gino won the Heisman the way many college quarterbacks win the Heisman. They end up playing on the best team in college, often times a team playing for a national championship, they have a dominating defense, and a superior offensive line that is loaded with future NFL players.

So…an “average” quarterback ends up putting up stellar numbers in college because 1) He is on a good team 2) his offensive line is like a Berlin Wall and he never gets touched and 3) ESPN hypes him to the hilt ultimately leading to the Heisman trophy discussions and vaulting him up the draft projection charts come draft day.

Fast Forward to 2000…

Miami won their last National Title in 2001 – although they were good for a few years after that. At that point there was a resurgence of the University of Southern California football team.

Of course we know now that much of what led to their success (and ultimately Pete Carroll leaving town) was “questionable” benefits made to players such as Reggie Bush – who then had to “vacate” his Heisman Trophy.

Carson Palmer was the signal caller in 2000. Palmer lead to a definite improvement for the Trojans. Pete Carroll had just been hired – and the Trojans went 6-6 in his first year. But that is the last time that he would lose that many games for the Trojans.

English: Quarterback John David Booty talks on...

Booty call

Palmer was followed by Matt Leinart (Heisman winner) then by John David Booty, next by Mark Sanchez…and finally that brings us to current day Matt Barkley.

The Trojans during this time were loaded with NFL talent (some brought or should I say “bought” to campus) and were great teams. Awesome NFL players abounded on both defense and offense.

So as mentioned earlier, criteria #1 and criteria #2 have been met.


In 2009, USC was named “Team of the Decade” by both CBSSports.com and Football.com, as well as the Program of the Decade by SI.com, and was ranked No. 2 in ESPN.com’s Prestige Rankings among all schools since 1936 (behind Oklahoma). Additionally, in 2009, ESPN.com ranked USC the second-best program in college football history.

Really….WOW – looking back now that seems like that might have been some caught up in the moment rankings by the so called “experts”.

If you have watched ESPN in the last 10 years it is safe to say the only thing the college day game crew loves more than USC is Nick Saban and Alabama…)or maybe Dukie Vitale and his love of the Duke Blue Devils)

The hype has overtaken the reality.

Barkley was annoited the Heisman front runner before the year even began. I even wrote about it some months ago. Truth is..he really is not very good.

The list of Quarterbacks from USC in the last 12 years all had very impressive NFL careers. Only Palmer could be argued as being remotely decent in the NFL. The rest…..in order – Horrible, vanished, mentioned as the 2nd coming by the New York media and now maybe the most hated man in town….and that brings us to Barkley – …future NFL bust.

We will see what comes draft day in 2013. This class is loaded with lineman, and short on skill position players and big name – over-hyped quarterback prospects.

Some owner will roll the dice on Barkley and get burned to tell about it later.

I just hope for my friends in the desert..that the Cardinals do not make the same mistake in short order and chase down another USC quarterback

Until next time…stay classy Monroe, Louisiana

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System Quarterbacks

March 7, 2010

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The term “system quarterback” – meaning a quarterback who requires a specific offensive system in order to be effective – is often used in a disparaging way.

Let’s step outside the world of sports for a moment. You’re the head of a large hospital. You’d like to hire a neurosurgeon for your staff, but there’s a problem. She’s left handed, and all your surgical tools are right handed. She’s a “system surgeon” who can’t be effective with the “system” of right handed tools and shouldn’t be hired, right? Of course not – that’s crazy talk. You just buy some left handed tools. You don’t allow the less expensive parts of an environment dictate decisions about the most expensive parts.

Why, then, should an NFL team discard the notion of giving a particular quarterback a chance to succeed, simply because he is a “system” quarterback?

What am I recommending exactly – that the team change itself to fit the quarterback, rather than finding a quarterback who is a better fit? Yes, precisely.

This probably doesn’t sound fair to a lot of people. Why should a team force its coaches and players to change to accommodate one player? In fact, other players on the team may not be a good fit for the quarterback’s preferred style of play, resulting in those players having reduced roles or no role at all. Changing the system to fit the quarterback could cost them their jobs. This doesn’t sound fair at all.

And it’s not fair. However, many things in life aren’t fair. In this case, I think that money trumps fairness. Quarterbacks are expensive – much more expensive than any other player. Some have speculated that Colts quarterback Peyton Manning may receive a contract extension that pays him $20 million per year, with a $50 million signing bonus. The first pick in the 2009 NFL draft, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions, signed a contract that is likely to pay him $78 million during his first six years in the league – before he ever took a snap. Matt Cassel – who didn’t start a game in college – leveraged one strong season with the Patriots into a six year, $63 million contract after being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The money changes everything. If you can spend $5 million per year on a quarterback that can excel within a particular system (getting him cheap because he is perceived as flawed) versus $15 million for a more traditional quarterback, you can afford to overpay a couple of other cogs that you need for the system.

Not all systems are going to work in the NFL, of course. Players in the NFL are stronger and faster than college players, and some offensive systems that work fine in college are doomed in the NFL for this very reason. But I am convinced that the right offensive coordinator could make some unconventional schemes work in the NFL. Sure, you’ll probably have to pony up a few extra bucks for a coordinator who can make it work – but just like the complementary offensive players, coordinators are cheaper than quarterbacks.