NOTE: This is the fifth installment of a 15-part series on 2013′s most pivotal QBs in college football.
Ask any coach about the importance of the quarterback position and he is quick to throw out a tired cliché about quarterbacks getting too much credit and blame.
They will tell you there are 11 guys on the field at all times and each one of them must work together for the team to win.
Coaches know a lot about football. They also know about deflecting pressure from the most important pressure on the field.
How important is the quarterback position? Ask Texas A&M what Johnny Manziel meant to the team in 2012. Ask Auburn about Cam Newton’s worth in 2010. Ask Ohio State after Urban Meyer got a chance to turn around QB Braxton Miller in 2012.
A quarterback might not be everything, but a good one can mask a number of different deficiencies – be it a porous defense, a non-existent run game or erratic special teams.
Teams without a solid quarterback need virtually every other facet of the game to click in order to overcome poor play from the most important position.
This list is designed to spotlight 15 quarterbacks whose play will dictate their teams’ fates. With two exceptions, this list is made up exclusively of established QBs who have been starters for at least half a season.
The carefully chosen term “pivotal” is key here. This is to spotlight teams that could have significant swings based on the position. Players like Manziel and Miller are proven commodities at this point. Florida State has enough surrounding its yet-to-be-named starter – presumably Jameis Winston – to repeat as ACC champ even without great play from the position. Those appearing on this list are opined to have a wider swing.
11. Connor Halliday, Washington State
After going back and forth as QB1 last year, Halliday enters 2013 as the unquestioned leader of one of college football’s greatest offensive minds.
Of course, second year coach Mike Leach’s reputation seemingly served more as burden than benefit during Year 1 at Washington State.
Halliday split time with senior Jeff Tuel last year, largely because of injuries sustained by the latter. The duo posted strong enough numbers to help the Cougars to finish ninth in the nation in passing yards. However, big numbers mixed with erratic performances left Washington State with a 3-9 record and just one win – albeit over rival Washington – during the conference season.
Leach, who seemingly led every quarterback to record-setting seasons and careers while at Texas Tech, has grown accustomed to big performance from the field’s most important position.
He will need a comparable effort from Halliday to help the Cougars reach their first bowl game since 2003.
When Leach first turned to Halliday, the rising junior responded by throwing for 1,127 yards and nine touchdowns over the next three games. Halliday stepped in nicely during that initial phase, picking up from a promising 2011 that was cut short by a lacerated liver. Halliday set a freshman record with 494 yards and four touchdowns in the Cougars’ upset of Arizona State that season.
But after the inspired start he had to 2012, Halliday faltered in the following two weeks – completing just 43 percent of his passes for 125 yards and throwing five interceptions (and no TDs) in losses to Oregon State and California.
So bad were Halliday’s struggles that Leach lifted him during the game in favor of a healing Tuel, who eventually took back over as starter.
It’s not as though Tuel was the magical solution as the triggerman of Leach’s offense. His erratic play led to an embarrassing (because of the score, not because of the opponent) season-opening loss at BYU and kept Eastern Washington in the game. Tuel didn’t exactly light it up in a 49-6 loss at Utah, either.
Halliday got another shot against UCLA after Tuel got knocked out early. Halliday responded by throwing for 330 yards and 5 TDs against 1 INT in an upset bid of the Bruins before continuing his Jekyll and Hyde act with a woeful effort at Arizona State.
This year, there is no juggling act. The position belongs to Halliday as long as his performance and health allow.
With a full spring practice as QB1 under his belt – and a track record of a coach who churns out QBs the way Nick Saban churns out NFL Draft picks – Halliday will seemingly have every chance to succeed in a big way. For Halliday to do so, he must improve on his horrific 52 percent completion percentage.
Washington State’s step forward must start with Halliday playing catalyst.