Being a starting quarterback in the Big 12 Conference is a big deal. For the student-athlete, it can lead to awards and NFL millions. For the school, it's crucial to have a quarterback who can generate points and direct record-breaking offenses.
That's why all 10 Big 12 coaches on Monday's teleconference spent time answering questions about their quarterback. Four coaches – TCU's Gary Patterson, West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury – are being coy and won't unveil their choice of starter until game time.
With so much up in the air – and we're not talking passes – about the quarterback position, here's a team-by-team primer/update as the 2013 season is poised to start.
Two years ago, Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy. Last season, Nick Florence took over and set the school single-season passing record. Junior Bryce Petty is in his fourth season at Baylor and takes over as the starter. Petty, 6-3 and 230 pounds, has been impressive in the team's August scrimmages.
"We've got to find what fits him," Bears coach Art Briles said. "Once we find out what works for him it helps our chances to become very successful. He has to show he can throw the deep ball and pick up big first downs on third and one. We will identify what he can do to help us win."
The Cyclones are a rarity in the Big 12 – they went into training camp knowing their starter. Sophomore Sam Richardson took over the starting role for the final two games last season.
"The best quality that Sam is that he's always composed, he knows what's going on and he's aware," Iowa State senior running back Jeff Woody said. "He's got a good arm, and (the) dude can run. But the best thing Sam has got is between his ears, and that's something that instills confidence in the team because we know exactly what's going on."
Finding the offense to keep pace in the Big 12 has been a challenge during coach Paul Rhoads' first four seasons. However, Richardson appears to have the skills plus the Cyclones are going to "The Pistol" formation to mesh a strong running game with a passing game that can spread the field.
Like Iowa State, the Jayhawks' starter is no secret. And like the Cyclones, KU needs a quarterback who can rev up the offense. Junior Jake Heaps sat out last season's 1-11 campaign after transferring from BYU, where he started 10 games as a freshman.
Last season, Kansas finished last in the nation in passing efficiency. Going into his second season, Weis is counting on Heaps to provide the passing threat that will mesh with a solid running game.
"If we can't throw the ball, we won't win, as it was proven last year," Weis said. "We could run against everyone, but we couldn't throw the ball, couldn't score points and couldn't win."
A major reason why Kansas State was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 and isn't in the preseason rankings is the fact quarterback Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, has moved on.
K-State coach Bill Snyder announced Monday that Jake Waters had beaten out sophomore Daniel Sams to be the Wildcats' starter. Snyder, however, indicated that Sams will play in Friday's opener.
Waters was the top-ranked quarterback recruit coming out of junior college after leading Iowa Western to a national title. He was the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year throwing for 3,501 yards, 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Waters set a junior college record with a 73.3 completion percentage.
To most observers outside of the football offices in Norman, Bob Stoops selecting redshirt freshman Trevor Knight as the Sooners' starter was a surprise. Most expected junior Blake Bell to earn the job. As a short-yardage specialist – The Bell Dozer – Bell has 24 rushing touchdowns the last two seasons.
Knight, however, caught the eye of the coaches running the scout team before last season's Cotton Bowl. Knight did more than a commendable job playing the role of Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Knight continued to impress and won the job during training camp.
"He's an explosive guy," said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who watched Knight run his players ragged during Cotton Bowl practices. "He can make explosive plays and that's the one thing you know about him: he can make a bad play a good play. He has that uncanny ability to make plays on his feet and he can make plays with his arm. He's very multidimensional."
Senior Clint Chelf took over as the starter late last season but Cowboys coach Mike Gundy has been coy in terms of naming Chelf or sophomore J.W. Walsh as the starter. Walsh also started some games last season.
Gundy appears comfortable playing both in the season opener against Mississippi State and perhaps the rest of the season. Oklahoma State could gain an edge by forcing opponents to practice and game plan for two quarterbacks with different skill sets.
"(Chelf and Walsh) each bring something different to the table, so there's two ways to look at it - there's more plays for our offense to work on or more plays for their defense," Gundy said. "Hopefully we can find the perfect mesh that gives us the best chance to have success."
The most experienced Big 12 quarterback heading into this season is junior David Ash. As a sophomore he was ranked 15th nationally in completion percentage (67.3) and 21st in passing efficiency. Being consistent and running the Longhorns' new up-tempo offense will be key factors for Ash.
"He's leading the team much better and they believe in him. Sitting here the last two years, I haven't been able to say that," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said of Ash. "David is the upside. He's the guy that needs to get us over the hump. If he stays healthy and the defense plays good, he will."
With an important season opener against 12th-ranked LSU, coach Gary Patterson has raised his gamesmanship to a high level. Senior Casey Pachall, who left the team in October to enter rehab, has returned and it is assumed he'll be the starter. But sophomore Trevone Boykin, who took over for Pachall last season, has continued to improve.
"I think I can win with both of them in games," Patterson said. "Trevone has really improved what he can do. He has a different skill set. Casey has really improved even from the spring where he was a little bit rusty. I feel like we have two guys here who can win ballgames.
"Both of them have the capability to win Big 12 games and play at a very high level."
First-year Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said the starter for the season opener at SMU will be known when Texas Tech takes the field for its first offensive play.
Sophomore Michael Brewer, who hasn't started a game, appeared to be the favorite to be this season's QB, but he has been sidelined by a back injury. Either Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield, both freshmen, will start and both could/should play.
"Until the lights come on and you see 'em in a game, you really don't know what you have (with freshmen quarterbacks)," Kingsbury said. "If you coach 'em like freshmen, they'll play like freshmen. You have to hold them to your expectations of how you want to the quarterback to play in this system."
Perhaps you might sense a trend developing … coach Dana Holgorsen said it will be a game-time decision regarding the starter. Junior Clint Trickett, who transferred from Florida State, has been competing with junior Paul Millard. Holgorsen said the three-man race was reduced to two this week, with redshirt freshman Ford Childress dropping out so the other two could get more practice reps.
"We had to narrow it down and once we did that, both Clint and Paul looked good," Holgorsen said. "So we thought it was warranted to keep the competition going. They've both risen their game and are competing pretty good. How it plays out, I don't know yet."
Kansas Has To Wait
Kansas is the only Big 12 team not playing on the opening weekend. The Jayhawks open their second season under coach Charlie Weis against South Dakota on Sept. 7.
"Normally, I wouldn't like the extra week now," Weis said. "But because we have so many guys that we're counting on who were junior college guys and just arrived here, I think it's given us an opportunity to take this week and go through a simulated game week as if we're playing this Saturday. In this isolated incident, it really plays, in our case, to our advantage for us in this calendar year."
Weis said his team will have an early practice Saturday morning and then spend the rest of the day watching games.
Mandel's Crystal Bowl
Stewart Mandel, SI.com's outstanding college football writer, has completed his annual task of projecting the bowl matchups before the season starts. Give him credit for courage. Here's how he sees the Big 12's bowl lineup:
|Fiesta||Texas vs. Boise State|
|Texas||Kansas State vs. Wisconsin|
|Pinstripe||Texas Tech vs. Central Florida|
|Buffalo Wild Wings||Baylor vs. Northwestern|
|Alamo||TCU vs. Arizona State.|
|Holiday||Oklahoma State vs. Oregon State|
|Cotton||Oklahoma vs. LSU|
Since 2005, Dana Holgorsen has been the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma and the last two seasons at West Virginia. In each of those eight seasons, the quarterback at those schools has passed for at least 4,000 yards and three times threw for over 5,000 yards.
With Bill Snyder as the coach, Kansas State has won 20 consecutive season openers. The Wildcats start the season Friday against North Dakota State, the two-time defending national champions in FCS.
Major Applewhite takes over as Texas' offensive coordinator and since last year's bowl practices the Longhorns' offense has been playing at a faster pace. The goal is to run a play every 15 seconds. UT was next-to-last in the Big 12, averaging 68 plays per game; this year's goal is 80. (Oklahoma State led the Big 12, averaging 78 per game). In the second half of the Longhorns' victory over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, they had 38 offensive snaps.
Oklahoma junior defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue and sophomore cornerback Cortez Johnson won't play in the Sooners' 2013 season opener Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe. Both were arrested within the last year. Typically when something like that happens, OU coach Bob Stoops has issued a one-game suspension.
Baylor senior running back Glasco Martin, who broke his left ankle playing pickup basketball in May, is expected to suit up for the season opener against Wofford. Coach Art Briles hopes that Martin will be able to get seven to 10 carries.
Texas will wear numbers on helmets for Saturday's opener with Louisiana-Lafayette. The uniform change is to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1963 national championship team. UT coach Mack Brown said that the team will vote as to continue wearing numbers on the helmets for rest of the season.
Oklahoma senior linebacker Corey Nelson on redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who will be the starting quarterback in the opener:
"I feel like if you put him in Texas A&M's offense … and you take Manziel out, it will be the exact same. (Knight's) skills are equivalent to Manziel's. He's able to run - he's so mobile - and he can throw on the run. He's outstanding."
New Iowa State assistant coach Chris Klenakis on his offensive linemen:
"We're the brotherhood that does the blue collar work and has each other's back. Without our efforts, the company doesn't run. They've bought into the physicality aspect and we practice that way. (We need) to play hard, finish blocks and play with an edge."
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy on why the Big 12, for the first time in its history, doesn't have a team ranked in the top 10 to start the season:
"I think (because) there are fewer quarterbacks returning that have NFL capability. Over the last few years, we've had four or five guys in this league that were returning starters that had the ability to play in the NFL at the quarterback position. And I think that's where your preseason rankings come from."
Kansas State senior running back John Hubert wants to break the 1,000-yard barrier:
"I always think about it. The past two years I came up short, 50 yards, 40 yards, and it's one of my goals as a running back. It's going to be one of my goals until I get it."