Although we made a strong case on Saturday that returning quarterbacks are not as valuable as experts consider them when predicting national champions, they still matter. If you noticed, the top 5 teams we named that are most likely to not miss their departing quarterbacks were all SEC teams (total coincidence) and have spent the past couple years as national title contenders.
However, once you move down the college football latter a little bit, it becomes more clear that there are indeed some teams who rely heavily on quarterback play, even becoming national title contenders during the year that they have a Heisman candidate at the position. Here are our Top 5 teams that will most likely miss their starting quarterback in 2014.
The Cardinals are not likely to be on this list in the future as long as Bobby Petrino remains at the helm, because his offenses have shown in the past their ability to simply plug in quarterbacks that thrive under him. However, with the loss of Teddy Bridgewater, who was so good that he was a Louisville quarterback that did not need Petrino to thrive (see Brian Brohm), and with Petrino breaking in a new system, the Cards should struggle this year. You simply don’t replace a 71 percent completion rating, nearly 4,000 yards, and 31 touchdowns to 4 interceptions because of a great offensive system that is brand new to the team. Not to mention the guy they’re throwing in, Will Gardner, has a total of 12 passes his entire career, although for signs of encouragement, 8 were completed and 2 went for touchdowns.
Perhaps another reason they’ll miss Bridgewater is there isn’t a lot of help returning for Louisville. Losing 7 starters on defense and Charlie Strong’s defensive mind isn’t good news. The schedule also gets a little tougher this year for the team, as they move into the ACC, which, despite being a mediocre conference, is like a jump from Division 2 when you’re coming from the AAC. So the loss of a Heisman candidate looks even worse when combined with a new offensive system, losing a lot of other starters, and a significant upgrade in the schedule.
4. Central Florida
The Fiesta Bowl performance by Blake Bortles against Baylor obviously showed how valuable he was to the Knights in 2013. Sure, it was against Baylor, but when you have AAC talent around you it’s still impressive. UCF simply doesn’t have enough firepower to not feel the loss of the third pick in the NFL Draft. Their fans could point to 10 returning starters on defense, but who cares? That had a few nice games last year (against pathetic talent), but it also had some notably bad games, including the Fiesta Bowl itself and surrendering 36 points to Temple.
Not only does UCF have to replace Bortles at quarterback, but it has to replace more than half of its offensive line and build depth there, which will make it that much more difficult for the guy who takes the reigns for the offense, and that brings us to another problem. Who will take the reigns? Bortles’s early departure opens it up for four guys to compete for the starting job with sophomore Justin Holman in the lead, but he’ll be pushed by two freshman and a transfer in the Fall. There are just too many question marks and not enough talent on the Knights to assume they can deal with the loss of Bortles this year.
3. Northern Illinois
It’s hard to ignore that Jordan Lynch had the Huskies undefeated in the regular season and fought his way into the Heisman conversation last year with 24 passing touchdowns and 23 rushing touchdowns to go with more than 4,800 total yards. Sure the schedule was easy, but can anybody make the case that Lynch’s supporting cast with Northern Illinois was any better than his competition? Remember Tim Tebow once won the Heisman on the basis of throwing for 20 touchdowns and rushing for another 20.
Another reason for concern for the Huskies is what they have returning. Losing more than half of their defense in addition to their quarterback doesn’t make for a bright 2014 outlook, and its overall talent already got exposed in the final two games of the year. Returning the entire offensive line might be a sign of encouragement, but with the total offense towering over the rest of the MAC despite injuries at the line, it gives off the notion that the Huskies went as Lynch went. Can they do that with Matt McIntosh, Drew Hare, or Anthony Maddie? All three will compete for the starting position, but none are proven, and there’s too much uncertainty everywhere else. Lynch was just to valuable to easily replace.
2. Fresno State
So a quarterback puts up passing numbers identical to Tom Brady’s 2008 season: 50 touchdowns to 8 interceptions and 5,000 yards passing, but it was in college, three fewer games. Okay, I know that’s a ridiculous comparison for so many reasons, but it’s also ridiculous to dismiss how valuable Derek Carr was to the 2013 Mountain West champions. True there are nine starters returning on defense, but why should that matter to a team that gave up more than 40 points four times and more than 50 points twice? Carr was clearly the focal point of the team. Oh, and they also lost his top two targets, Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse.
Adding to the loss of the four-year starter who was two-time MWC player of the year is the competition to take his place. Is it going to be Brian Burrell, who has only thrown 12 passes in his career, or is graduate transfer Brandon Connette, who spent his entire career as a specialist at Duke and learned in a mostly pro-style system, supposed to take over a spread offense? To be fair, Connette was involved in more spread action at Duke, and it may be a little bit encouraging that anybody who studies under David Cutcliffe should know a few basic fundamentals about quarterbacking that other quarterbacks may not. But it won’t matter. The Bulldogs simply lose too much, and coach Tm DeRuyter’s statement that he won’t name a starter at QB until two weeks before the opener is not a good sign.
There’s just not much to look forward to right now for the Tigers. I’m not even sold on Tajh Boyd as an NFL quarterback, but the ACC All-Everything who set numerous records throwing to All-Everything receiver Sammy Watkins, who is also leaving, will leave a giant hole in the Clemson offense. For signs of encouragement, Cole Stoudt has shown himself to be pretty competent in the limited action he’s seen, but that’s a definite fall-off from what Boyd did. Chad Kelly’s departure in the Spring made matters worse, though, because if Stoudt doesn’t pan out, who can Dabo Swinney turn to?
Remember, the problem with Clemson is that this is not just a question on whether or not they can find a quarterback to get the job done. Can they find a quarterback to be another superstar? Very unlikely for next year, and there’s definitely no receiver to replace Watkins. Clemson could still be decent, but there will almost surely be a gigantic fall-off. The last time Boyd wasn’t a starter, Clemson was 6-7. So going 10-4, 11-2, and 11-2, could be hard to replace. Enough returning starters on defense should be reason to believe Clemson can still reach a bowl game, but they won’t be nearly as good.
Tags: Blake Bortles Central Florida Knights Clemson Tigers College Football Derek Carr FBS Feature Fresno State Bulldogs Jordan Lynch Louisville Cardinals NCAA Northern Illinois Huskies Tajh Boyd Teddy Bridgewater UCF Golden Knights