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Freshman Quarterback Review, Part Four: Big Ten

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A quick review after the weekend:

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

The working hypothesis, rather than the conventional wisdom of steady improvement, is that most quarterbacks are who they are from the beginning: initially good passers tend to decline or level off after a strong, mediocre players tend to stay mediocre, and bad debuts are followed with some improvement, but generally level off. 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 but evolve quickly into much stronger players.

From that perspective, the Big Ten is a mixed bag:


To be fair, after four years, the cortisone does kind of go to your head.
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Two of the three highest-rated freshman passers disappeared as sophomores but had later lives: Kirsch occasionally spelled Kyle Orton over the next two years before assuming the starting job as a senior in 2005, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and eventually being replaced by a young, interception-prone Curtis Painter; Beutjer left Iowa and had decent numbers as an upperclassman on a couple very, very bad teams at Illinois. The other immediately successful youngster, Chad Henne, kept one pattern by declining in year two but defied long-term projections of mediocrity by rebounding as a junior (passer rating over 140) and senior (over 130). You could say Henne was Henne from the start and didn't improve much over the years (his freshman numbers were about the same as his injury-depressed senior numbers), but he was one of the top quarterbacks taken in the draft and had a better career in the end than his sophomore inconsistency should suggest under our hypothesis.

The book is not closed on Kellen Lewis, Curtis Painter or Juice Williams, but their improvement from mediocre-to-bad freshmen to very competent sophomores was predictable; Painter improved slightly across the board as a junior, but he is projected high in next year's draft and is expected to have a bang-up finish. Williams and Lewis both improved in every area except interceptions, and as neither shapes up as a stud slinger, can probably be expected to level off with a reduction in picks going forward.

Brett Basanez and Jeff Smoker, though, are anomalies in different directions: Basanez declined badly as a sophomore before finishing with a solid career and a strong senior year; Smoker was off the charts in 2001, with the aid of T.J. Duckett and Charles Rogers, and faded out with a relative whimper – injured as a junior, a ton of yards as a senior, but not much substance, efficiency-wise. This is not very conclusive.

Next: Pac Ten.