Outside Of WVU, Big 12 Filled With Uncertainty At The QB Position
In the Big 12 Conference known for quarterbacks, a conference that last year produced the Heisman Trophy winner in Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and was top heavy with the likes of Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek breathing heavily down his back, there was much uncertainty at the 2018 Big 12 Media Day.
In fact the only certainty was the best quarterback in the conference, perhaps in the nation, is West Virginia’s golden arm, Will Grier, who offers the conference its best chance to produce a second straight Heisman Trophy.
Certainly the glare of the publicity spotlight shone heavily on Grier, who is entering his second season as WVU’s starting QB after his season ended prematurely a year ago due to a broken finger.
West Virginia’s record with him last year was 7-3.
Without him it was 0-3.
You do the math.
This is a player who has been ahead of the curve his whole life, a coach’s son who was a high school All-American and probably the best player in the land that year. He went to Florida, won the starting job as a freshman before an accidental incident where he mistakenly took a non-approved substance led to his suspension, then transferred to WVU.
Now a senior, the West Virginia team is behind him, his coaches are behind him, the administration is behind him and the state is behind him.
His star is such that he is being pushed for the Heisman and coach Dana Holgorsen is all or that.
Holgorsen said he would never approve such a campaign if the player could not handle it but “Will has prepared his whole life or this.”
Holgorsen has no doubt that he will not let any of his backers down and understands in the Big 12, the champion often comes from the team with the best quarterback
“You can tell in spring practice that the game has slowed down for him, so he’s a cerebral kid and understands what’s out there and what he’s got to do.,” Holgorsen said. “He knows that he’s got a lot of good players around him and he doesn’t have to go out there and be superman.
“He can manage the game himself and run the offense which he is more comfortable doing now than he was a year ago. From his personality and who he is as a person, he will be able to handle it just fine and his dad trained him to do that when he was about two. That job was already done by the time I got him.”
But what will WVU be facing in quarterbacks this coming season?
That is something of an intriguing mystery, not only for the WVU coaches at the moment, but for the head coaches around the league who are scrambling to replace a number of big time throwers.
This includes the domineering Oklahoma Sooners, who have an intriguing battle to replace Baker Mayfield going into camp between Kyler Murray, who is heading toward a baseball career and has signed a multi-million-dollar contract with the Oakland A’s after being the ninth player picked this year, and Austin Kendall, with a couple of freshmen thrown in the mix.
Coach Lincoln Riley denies the job is Murray’s, although it’s hard to fathom he came back to school to sit on the bench.
“Kyler is not the quarterback yet,” Riley said. “There is a good competition going on and Kyler is going to have to fight like crazy to win this job. It’s a different competition. It’s very different, both have been Baker’s backups in the last two years and they’ve been in multiple years and they’re both ready to be the starting quarterback at Oklahoma.
“First things first. He’s got to win that job and whoever wins it, whether it’s Austin Kendall or Kyler Murray, it will be different, no question. They have different skill sets than Baker, there are some things that Baker did better than these guys and things that these guys do better than Baker did. That’s always the job.”
How are they different?
“Austin is a great pocket passer, very, very smooth, he’s really good with his progressions. He has really progressed in a lot of ways there and he’s a sneaky good athlete. He’s not as flashy of an athlete as Kyler is, but he’s got enough athleticism to hurt people and make people pay.
“Kyler’s athleticism jumps off the screen pretty quickly. You don’t see that often in his position, but kind of like Austin, he’s a better thrower than he gets credit for. Both guys have the skill set to run it, not only when you talk about tailoring an offense to a quarterback’s strengths, sometimes you’re talking physical strengths.”
The next most intriguing battle involves one of the conference’s rising powers — Texas.
The Longhorns match up Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger.
“I feel like the two older guys in Buechele and Ehlinger really improved like we asked them to,” said UT coach Tom Herman. “With Sam, it was tightening his release up a little bit. He had gotten into bad habits, broke his wrist his senior year in high school and never felt healed, totally. He worked his tail off and he made some throws this spring that I hadn’t seen him make in the year that we have been around him.
“For Shane,” added the second-year Texas coach, “it was to take charge of the offense, to be a vocal leader and to not just be a passive participant in each play but to be the, as I tell him, you’re not the third string violinist, you are a conductor of the orchestra and he really improved in that area and I’m telling you, those two young quarterbacks, those two freshmen are going to give those guys a run for their money as well.”
Yet another unsettled battle, that might go right down to the opening kickoff, is at Kansas State where wily old Bill Snyder has Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson, both of who have started.
The competition was such that Snyder brought both to Media Day.
“At the quarterback position you understand as everybody in here does that that quarterback is under a little bit more scrutiny than most positions in the game of football,” Snyder explained. “Consequently, there is a lot of imposed pressure on young people that play that position, more so probably than other positions.
“I thought this was a great opportunity to imply some preseason pressure so you’ve got to practice the things you’re going to experience so there is a little bit of pressure in them being here.
“Secondly, they deserve to be here,” the veteran K-State coach added. “They’re both very competitive young guys who are competing, one is a captain, one is a co-captain. They have both stepped up and provided excellent leadership during the course of the summer workout programs, which is extremely important.”
As for who will start?
“Both of them are just very, very capable young guys and as I said very competitive and as I said, they’re still in extreme competition for the starting position. I don’t know what else to tell you. I hope that answers the question,” Snyder said.
The truth is the best quarterback behind Grier might be on a team that won one game last year, Baylor’s Charlie Brewer, who played last year as a true freshman, while Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt ranks right behind him as the No. 3 returning starter in the conference.
“June Jones years ago taught me when you play a quarterback as a true freshman, they’re playing on instinct, you slow the offense down, they’re whipping it around, and the next year they try to learn the system and they have a tendency to maybe dip a little bit and they have so much expectation it looks like this,” Baylor coach Matt Ruhle said.
“So the key is to keep Charlie, is to have him continue to be the guy that’s laughing at me in the huddle, telling me to calm down. He’s a true freshman telling me to calm down in the middle of a game. He’s got that to him. He’s got that ‘it’ factor to him, and keeping that and making sure he grows as a quarterback.”
Kempt is the opposite, a sixth year senior.
“You’re talking a young man four and a half years of college experience in three plays prior to that, San Jose State the year before he got a couple of reps in that game and to be honest with you, what young man at quarterback is going to wait that long until he gets the opportunity to prove himself,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. “I think that says everything we need to know about who Kyle is as a person.
“Kyle always prepared as if he was the starting quarterback. His preparation in detail was elite. I think that’s why he had success as a stepped in as a starter and I think it’s what has allowed him to continue to have success through the rest of the last season.”