NOTE: This is the 14th 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.
2. Max Wittek/Cody Kessler/Max Browne, USC
That there is no clear starter here is a direct indictment against Wittek, who had first shot at the starting spot when Matt Barkley suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last year.
Granted Wittek entered in difficult circumstances, making his first start against No. 1 Notre Dame. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards, but threw two interceptions against one touchdown.
Fairly or unfairly, Wittek is one of the two faces featured during the series of moments that made both the USC offense and coach Lane Kiffin appear incompetent. With the Fighting Irish leading 22-13 in the fourth quarter, the Trojans had seven snaps inside the 10-yard line (helped by two Notre Dame penalties). Kiffin looked clueless on the sideline and, on USC’s last gasp, Wittek missed an open receiver in the end-zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Still, that performance could have been written off as a young quarterback’s first start against arguably the top defense in the nation.
The worst thing that happened to Wittek – and likely his candidacy for QB1 in 2013 – came after he took all the first-team practice snaps during bowl preparation. Instead of taking a giant step forward, Wittek played poorly again against an average Georgia Tech team in the Sun Bowl.
The Yellow Jackets harassed Wittek into a 14-of-37, 107-yard performance in which he managed one TD while throwing three INTs.
Those consecutive performances left Kiffin second-guessing whether Wittek was, indeed, his quarterback of the future.
Wittek and Kessler split first-team reps throughout spring practice and Kiffin did not name a starter coming out of practice. Browne, a true freshman, reportedly never made a big move during spring ball.
This seems to be a two-man race between Kessler and Wittek. Experience – albeit not spectacular experience – favors Wittek. Kessler has attempted just two collegiate passes.
Whoever goes under center for USC will attempt to blaze a path to redemption after the Trojans, who started No. 1 last season, finished the year 7-6.
With Kiffin’s seat growing hot, there will be obvious questions about how patient the fourth-year coach can be with his chosen QB1. The Trojans will be expected to quickly return back to prominence in a Pac-12 that has seen high-profile coaches enter the league and become formidable.
That means Kiffin doesn’t have time to allow a quarterback to work through struggles.