One doesn’t need to come from a traditional powerhouse program to find professional success. Take the starting quarterbacks of Sunday’s Super Bowl participating teams, who plied their trade at Nevada and Delaware.
Of course, there are plenty of talking heads ready to proclaim you never heard of these guys.
*points finger to chest, looks around* Me?
Au contraire, radio jocks. The college football savvy were well aware of San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s exploits running the Pistol offense at Nevada. Joe Flacco might have been further under the radar than Kaepernick — Flacco was guiding FCS Delaware, not a highly ranked BCS at-large contender — but his emergence shouldn’t be too surprising. Flacco entered the league just five years after another former Blue Hen, Rich Gannon, was named its Most Valuable Player.
Stars emerging from surprising locations should come as no surprise. Plenty will follow Kaepernick and Flacco’s journeys from non-power programs to the Super Bowl. And with Kaepernick’s contribution to modernizing NFL offensive philosophies, more prospects from unconventional destinations will get opportunities in the NFL.
While situation is almost as important in determining a prospect’s success as talent, the below crop of non-BCS conference and FCS quarterbacks have qualities to lead a new generation.
DEREK CARR, FRESNO STATE
Have a déjà vu feeling? This isn’t the first time a quarterback named Carr has drawn some attention to the Fresno State football program. Derek’s older brother David was the No. 1 overall pick in 2002, and first draft choice the Houston Texans organization ever made.
Derek isn’t creating the same kind of buzz that his older brother did nearly a decade ago. David’s Bulldogs broke into the top 10, which buoyed his Heisman Trophy candidacy. Derek is flying much lower on the radar, but is no less qualified for the NFL.
Carr is coming off 4104-yard, 37-touchdown campaign that powered Fresno State’s Mountain West Conference championship run.
CODY FAJARDO, NEVADA
Kaepernick left Nevada with four straight bowl appearances, a 12-win season and top 11 ranking. Cody Fajardo occupied the driver’s seat in his freshman season and admirably filled in for the best quarterback in program history. Fajardo passed for over 1700 yards in 2011, and another 1000 more this season as the full-time starter.
Fajardo is a capable rusher, evident in his 1815 career yards on the ground. He scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2012 to go with 20 through the air. He’s excelled in the Pistol in short order, a system his Nevada predecessor has proven can be effective at the pro level. Fajardo will get the added bonus of playing his next two collegiate campaigns under an NFL family tree.
Nevada’s new head coach is Brian Polian, hired away from Texas A&M to replace Pistol innovator Chris Ault. Polian is the son of former Colts GM Bill Polian.
JEFF MATHEWS, CORNELL
Ivy League quarterbacks to make the professional leap are rare. Harvard product Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Ancient Eight’s NFL face now, taking up the mantle Dartmouth’s Jay Fiedler vacated. Next in line is Cornell Big Red signal caller Jeff Mathews.
Mathews’ pro ceiling is high, starting with his height. He is a measurables dream, akin to Flacco when he transversed the draft waters in 2007. The Cornell quarterback is 6-foot-4 with a proven, strong arm he used to wing the ball around Ivy League fields for 3196 yards in 2012. Such an output ranked Mathews among the most prolific passers in FCS, and he did so in a truncated, nine-game schedule.
BRETT SMITH, WYOMING
Wyoming’s Brett Smith shares some common qualities with Kaepernick. Both started as freshman. Neither was highly recruited as a prep prospect. Each operated as a dual threat play maker.
Smith has pro height at 6-foot-3, with room to add more weight — like Kaepernick, whose wiry frames was one of his drawbacks leading up to the 2011 Draft.
Wyoming struggled last season, but Smith came into his own. He completed 62 percent of his pass attempts for 2832 yards with an impressive 4.5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His rushing workload was cut down some this past season — Smith went for over 700 yards as a freshman, and under 300 last year — but a 5.1 yard-per-carry average in 2011 proves his ability when his number’s called.