NOTE: This is the 11th 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.
5. Jeff Driskel, Florida
It is rather amazing that a quarterback who guided his team to an 11-1 regular season can find his name on this list.
Then again, most rational football fans would argue the 2012 Florida Gators achieved their success largely in spite of – and not because of – contributions from the quarterback position.
That lays the burden at Driskel’s feet to help the Gators reach the same heights under third-year coach Will Muschamp as they did under Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier. In Gainesville, of course, that means winning national championships.
Driskel took on the role of a true game manager a year ago – passing when absolutely necessary or out of a change-of-pace. Just twice Driskel managed 200-yard passing performances. On four occasions he threw for fewer than 100 yards.
It should be noted that the Gators won all four games during which he failed to crack the 100-yard mark. Two of those wins – a 14-6 victory over LSU and a 27-20 near-debacle against Louisiana-Lafayette – can easily be argued into the “in spite of” Driskel debate.
As is the case with true game managers, Florida’s wins correlate directly with games in which he limits turnovers. In 11 wins, Driskel tossed 11 TDs, just one INT while losing two fumbles. Conversely, he threw one TD and four INTs and lost three fumbles in the two losses, including in a 33-23 defeat in the Sugar Bowl to Louisville.
That game, and specifically the matchup against Cardinals QB Teddy Bridgewater, illustrated just how far off Driskel is from where he needs to be. Louisville’s Terell Floyd intercepted an errant Driskel pass on the first play of the game and returned it for a touchdown, setting the tone for the game. Bridgewater, meanwhile, carved up a staunch Florida defense that simply wasn’t up to the challenge.
For all of Driskel’s issues as a passer, he brings a running element into the game to help cover some of his struggles. He rushed for at least 70 yards three times, including a 177-yard, 3-TD performance at Vanderbilt.
If Driskel does not take a significant step forward, it’s difficult to imagine the Gators having any more success than they had last year.
As it was, Florida seemingly played well above its head and caught significant breaks on its way to an 11-1 regular season.
Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease did a great job masking Driskel’s limited capabilities last season.
Then again, they had that opportunity because of a strong run game and offensive line and great special teams and defense. They also had the added benefit of luck – Driskel was not put in any fluky situations during the season in which he needed to throw the ball 30 times. Driskel attempted 24 passes in a game just three times all season.
The SEC is simply too daunting – and Florida’s defense lost too much – for the program to expect bigger results without drastic improvement from the quarterback position.
The schedule sets up tougher for the Gators in 2013, with critical road conference games at LSU and South Carolina. There’s also the neutral-field tilt against Georgia and a tough home game against a very talented Florida State team.
Nobody will place Driskel among the all-time elite QBs at Florida. That isn’t necessary for the Gators to build upon their breakout season, either. Driskel simply needs to lend credibility to the passing game, forcing opponents to respect his arm rather than stacking the box.
Driskel will almost certainly be called upon more often this year to win games rather than simply not lose them. That’s why even a quarterback of an 11-2 team finds himself staring down a pivotal season.