Where do starting quarterbacks come from? What makes them great? How are they constructed?
All important questions college coaches must ask themselves when trying to evaluate the most important position on the field. A truly great field general can make or break a head coach’s career, so accurately evaluating high school prospects become one of the most valuable skills any college coach can master. Finding the hidden gem is virtually impossible in the modern age of Internet recruiting web sites and third-party film companies, but that doesn’t mean some still don’t slip through the cracks. Just ask every other school in Texas if they offered Johnny Manziel a scholarship? Because they didn’t — only Texas A&M, Oregon and Tulsa offered Manziel a chance at quarterback.
To understand better where elite signal callers come from and how they become starters at the highest level, Athlon Sports has analyzed the 68 power conference starters as well as BYU and Notre Dame. Common sense discretion was used to determine which quarterback should be deemed the “starter.” For example, Kain Colter gets the nod over Trevor Siemian at Northwestern, Clint Chelf is the starter at Oklahoma State, Travis Wilson gets the nod at Utah and Brendon Kay counted as the guy at Cincinnati.
Here is what Athlon learned:
Begin Your Search Out of State
Interestingly enough, only 24 of the 70 major-conference quarterbacks played college football in the same state they played high school football. The Big Ten (six) leads the nation with half of its league signing in-state passers. However, these names were not elite recruits as Joel Stave (Wisconsin) and Matt McGloin (Pennsylvania) were walk-ons, Philip Nelson had one offer (Minnesota) and James Vanderberg (Iowa) was a two-star. The SEC and Big 12 were second with five in-state signal callers each, however, seven of those 10 hail from Texas or Florida — where there are more prospects than anywhere else.
The ACC and Big East feature three in-state quarterbacks each while the Pac-12 has just one (Matt Barkley) who played college football in the same state as his high school career. Yes, most of the Pac-12 uses California for talent, including six starting quarterbacks, but the best ones in the league — Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Kevin Hogan — come from Hawaii, Arizona, Idaho and Virginia respectively.
Finally, of next year's Heisman Trophy front-runners, almost all are out-of-state talents with the exception of Manziel and Ohio State's Braxton Miller. Aaron Murray, Tajh Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater, Taylor Martinez, Mariota and Hundley all crossed state lines to play in college.
The Commonwealth of Virginia
Looking for a sneaky place to find an elite passer? Look no further than Virginia. Plenty of elite talent sign big-time football scholarships from Virginia each recruiting cycle, but in 2012, half of the ACC — the better half — had a starting quarterback from The Mother of States. Tajh Boyd, EJ Manuel, Mike Glennon, Bryn Renner, Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims all played high school football in Virginia. Add Chris Coyer at Temple and Hogan at Stanford and the case could be made that The Commonwealth is the most underrated state for quarterback talent in the nation. This is likely why Bill O'Brien and Penn State wanted Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy signal caller Christian Hackenberg so badly.
South Beach, Baby
Four power conference quarterbacks hail from South Florida, and these are four of the best in the country. Bridgewater, Geno Smith, Denard Robinson and Stephen Morris all played prep ball in the talent-rich waters of Dade and Broward counties. Robinson and Smith are two of the most prolific players in their school’s history and Bridgewater is poised to make a Heisman run for Louisville. Morris led his team to the division championship and also returns with a conference crown in his sights. Strangely enough, however, the Hurricanes have actually been better off when it builds the rest of its roster around local talent but goes long distances to find a quarterback. Gino Torretta and Ken Dorsey were from California, Jim Kelly was from Pittsburgh and Vinny Testaverde was from Brooklyn. Jacory Harris, a Miami product, never lived up to the lofty expectations. Apparently, the locally bred Morris is facing an uphill battle as a senior.
S-E-C. S-E-C. S-E-C.
With 14 teams, the SEC is the biggest league in the nation. It also has seven straight national titles and is the best league in the nation. So it should come as no surprise that 31 of the 70 power conference quarterbacks hail from states in the SEC footprint, including both quarterbacks who played in the BCS National Championship game. Twelve of the 14 starting SEC signal callers are from the region — Tyler Bray and Jordan Rodgers are from California — and 19 other major conference programs feature a prospect from an SEC state. Certainly, Florida and Texas provide much of the talent, but so too does Georgia, Missouri and Alabama. It's not rocket science: The Southeast has more athletes than anywhere else in the country.
Quarterback Revolving Door
No other position is more transient than the quarterback. Once a big-time recruit realizes he isn’t going to get starting time, he will be the first to look elsewhere. There is only one football after all. Ten of the 70 quarterbacks began their careers at a different program. Phillip Sims was at Alabama before landing at Virginia. Robert Marve signed with Miami before heading north to Purdue. Zach Maynard (Buffalo to Cal), Chandler Whitmer (Illinois to UConn) and Jordan Webb (Kansas to Colorado) also transferred. Bo Wallace, Cameron Coffman, Riley Nelson and Jordan Rodgers were all junior college transfers before excelling at Ole Miss, Indiana, BYU and Vanderbilt respectively. The lesson? Don't be afraid to look at your direct competition to find a starter.
Don't Be Afraid of the Small School
There are elite high school programs all over the country that send dozens of prospects to the FBS ranks each year. The 70 different quarterbacks in this study played at 68 different high schools. Small programs in Idaho, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Minnesota all sent a staring quarterback to a major conference. However, two high school programs featured a pair of signal callers. Powerhouse West Coast program Corona (Calif.) Centennial sent Taylor Martinez to Nebraska and Matt Scott to Arizona while famed Tampa (Fla.) Plant delivered Murray to Georgia and Marve to Purdue (by way of Miami). Otherwise, it appears there are no limitations as to where a coach will look to find talent under center.
State-by-state ranking of the 70 power conference starting quarterbacks:
Chase Rettig, Taylor Martinez, Matt Barkley, Sean Mannion, Keith Price, Matt Scott, Jeff Tuel, Travis Wilson, Tyler Bray, Jordan Rodgers
Stephen Morris, Sam Richardson, Geno Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, BJ Daniels, Robert Marve, Denard Robinson, Jeff Driskel, Aaron Murray
Tajh Boyd, Mike Glennon, EJ Manuel, Bryn Renner, Phillip Sims, Logan Thomas, Chris Coyer, Kevin Hogan
Tanner Price, David Ash, Trevone Boykin, Michael Cummings, Seth Doege, Nick Florence, James Franklin, Johnny Manziel
CJ Brown, Ryan Nassib, Tino Sunseri, Matt McGloin
Chandler Whitmer, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw
Tevin Washington, AJ McCarron, Jalen Whitlow
Cameron Coffman, Nathan Scheelhaase, Jordan Webb
Collin Klein, Kain Colter
Sean Renfree, Brett Hundley
Tyler Wilson, Kiehl Frazier
Andrew Maxwell, Brendon Kay