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Freshman Quarterback Review, Part Five: Pac Ten and SEC

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A quick review after a couple days since the last edition:

Part One (ACC)
Part Two (Big 12)
Part Three (Big East)
Part Four (Big Ten)

I'm going to handle the Pac Ten and SEC at once today, because of sample size in the former and because they both present a pretty good picture of the working hypothesis: rather than the conventional wisdom of steady improvement, most quarterbacks are who they are very early in their careers and quickly find that level. Aside from the very best quarterbacks, they also tend to progress toward the middle: initially good passers tend to decline or level off after a strong start, mediocre players tend to stay mediocre, and bad debuts are followed with some improvement, but generally level off in the below-average range. The exceptions are the really physically gifted, probably draft-bound players, like Philip Rivers, Vince Young and Pat White, who might (or, in White's case, might not) look bad or mediocre to begin with but evolve quickly into much stronger players, while faster starters without as much of a future (Chris Rix, Riley Skinner) tend to regress.

In the Pac Ten, there was precisely that tendency among first-year wonders Rudy Carpenter and Willie Tuitama, who have not been so wondrous:

Carpenter and Tuitama have held on and will probably be remembered fondly by their respective partisans as solid four-year starters (actually, three-and-a-half year starters), but unless one of them is preparing to spend his senior season singeing the eyelashes off Pac Ten secondaries, they're both just a guy. They both rebounded to an extent as juniors, but neither all the way to freshman form.

But at least Carpenter and Tuitama, like eventual draft picks Alex Brink and Trent Edwards, hung around. Jeff Krohn improved dramatically in 2001 and led the league in pass efficiency, but wound up transferring from Arizona State to UMass in 2002 because of injuries and maybe because of the perception that "his arm and playmaking ability weren't of Pac-10 caliber." His efficiency as a sophomore suggests otherwise.

The SEC is fun because every freshman starter with enough attempts to qualify for this project this decade has gone on to a good or great career as a four-year starter, and the conference has had more than its share of "instant impact" guys:

Showed promise under center, sure, but not like he shows when he's closing an account.
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Grossman and Clausen break the pattern of regression following outsized debuts, but then, Grossman probably should have won the Trophy Which Shall Not Be Named in 2001 and went on to start a Super Bowl, so he falls into the "special player" category – at least under Spurrier, anyway. Both Rexy and Clausen's numbers declined substantially as sophomores (and Georgia took the division for the first time with David Greene, who also regressed slightly from a fine freshman effort in 2001).

This is a really strong group of players over their careers: Campbell went undefeated as a senior, led the nation in pass efficiency and was a first-round of the draft; Leak leveled off after peaking as a sophomore but won a mythical championship; Cutler was a first-rounder; Lorenzen has eked out a pro career; Ainge was drafted; and Stafford, by all projections, will be a top choice either next year or in 2010, whenever he gets around to it. All but Ainge were dramatically better from year one to year two, and after a wild over-correction in 2006, senior Ainge had a virtually identical passer rating to freshman Ainge. But with he and Greene, we still see how difficult it is to follow up on a really strong debut.

Next: Pattern-watching. Did we learn anything at all?