— At the University of Oklahoma, the Sooners tout a traditionally tough defense. They flaunt a deep running game. Of late, they exploit big-time talent at wide receiver.
But there’s a primary reason why so many people consider Oklahoma to be the nation’s best team.
The top-ranked Sooners have a great quarterback.
Landry Jones, a junior, could become the third Oklahoma quarterback since 2003 to capture the Heisman Trophy.
But that’s not all.
Stanford will continue its rise in the Pac-12, mostly because Andrew Luck disdained the NFL draft. Maybe the Cardinal will reach the Rose Bowl. Or maybe they will be outgunned by the Oregon Ducks, who have a fabulously talented signal-caller of their own in Darron Thomas.
It’s no longer a surprise to see Boise State hovering in top-10 territory. And that’s because of the prolific Kellen Moore, who’s in line to challenge for NCAA career records in touchdown passes and victories.
Mix in USC’s Matt Barkley, West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Michigan’s Denard Robinson, Arizona’s Nick Foles, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Houston’s Case Keenum — are we forgetting anyone? — and you’ve got the makings of a pretty special season for college football quarterbacks.
Before we break out the capital letters — 2011: Year of the Quarterback? — let’s remember that the backdrop hasn’t really changed. Every season looks like the Year of the Quarterback.
It’s the first place everyone looks on the depth chart. If there’s a question mark, it’s usually a HUGE question mark.
Ah, the quarterback.
It’s the biggest target in recruiting. It’s often the most important factor in building team chemistry. It’s the front porch of any program, the way it is viewed by the public, the rallying point of support and fanaticism.
Got a great quarterback? Then you’ve got a chance.
“The quarterback needs to be a leader,’’ Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “If he hasn’t played and earned the respect by performance and meeting challenges and then doesn’t have the confidence yet, it’s hard to be that guy.’’
Landry Jones is that guy.
It’s hard to believe how far he has come since 2009, when he emerged as the crisis quarterback after Heisman incumbent Sam Bradford suffered a shoulder injury. Placed in a difficult (impossible?) situation, Jones started 10 games and tossed 26 touchdown passes.
Still, coming into last season, the Oklahoma quarterback situation was rated a toss-up between Jones and incoming freshman Blake Bell. Jones left no doubts. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
In the history of Oklahoma’s program, Sooners quarterbacks have eight 400-yard passing games.
Jones already has four.
And with a potent passing game, featuring game-breaking wide receiver Ryan Broyles, Jones is bound to get a few more.
“He’s in the same mold as those other guys,’’ said Stoops, referring to Bradford and Jason White, Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks. “But he’s got to go out and do it.’’
Jones has done it well. But so has Stanford’s Luck, runner-up for last season’s Heisman.
Luck completed 70 percent of his passes for a 12-1 Cardinal team that won the Orange Bowl. What better time to cash that million-dollar NFL check? The Carolina Panthers were waiting at No. 1 overall.
But Luck surprised practically everyone by staying at Stanford, even as his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, bolted for the NFL himself. In another unusual move — in keeping with Luck’s character, though — there was no tearful news conference or major fanfare when the decision was made. Just a matter-of-fact statement.
It’s sort of how he approaches the game.
Luck makes it look easy.
As does Moore, who continues to put Boise State’s program on the national map. With one more touchdown pass, he will become the 12th Football Bowl Subdivision player to reach 100 for his career. He already has 10,867 passing yards in his three seasons.
Moore will get an opportunity to further cement his reputation in Boise State’s season opener against SEC luminary Georgia.
“Everyone in the (Pac-12) wishes they had Kellen,’’ Boise State coach Chris Petersen has said. “I don’t know why they didn’t take a chance on him. He never has a bad game.’’
For that matter, every program in the SEC probably wishes it had Moore.
The SEC might be seeking its sixth consecutive national championship, but you won’t find the names (or games) of Tim Tebow and Cam Newton.
Sure, the nation’s best conference has its typical dog-eat-dog balance. Marquee quarterbacks? Not so much.
There’s uncertainty at Alabama (AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims?).
There’s skepticism at LSU (Jordan Jefferson, after all, had just seven touchdown passes against 10 interceptions last season).
There’s realism at Georgia (sophomore Aaron Murray is on the upswing, but he’s not going to win games by himself).
And there’s fatalism at South Carolina.
What’s going wrong with senior Stephen Garcia this time? Garcia has displayed brilliant flashes, but off-the-field turmoil has defined his career. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, never hesitant to switch QBs, says sophomore Connor Shaw will contend for major playing time (and maybe the start).
During his 12-season tenure at Florida, Spurrier generally had a steady hand at quarterback, whether it was Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel or Rex Grossman. That hasn’t been the case at South Carolina.
“That would be helpful if our quarterback play was real solid and the quarterback was a player everybody could look up to and rally around,’’ Spurrier said during SEC Media Days. “We’re still trying to make that work out.
“We thought we had some guys, but for whatever reason, (it) didn’t work out. Everybody says, ‘How come you haven’t signed a great one since you’ve been there?’ I say, ‘I don’t know. We just haven’t quite had a great one.’ ”
Great quarterbacks — and yes, stability and experience count for greatness — are the foundation of programs that contend for national championships.
History has proven that.
This season will prove it again.
It starts at the top, the current residence of Oklahoma and its hot hand, Landry Jones. You’ll see similar stories up and down anyone’s preseason top 10 rankings. That’s not a coincidence.
Want to win big?
Then you better have a big-time quarterback.