New quarterback crop runs talent gamut in college football

Sep 24 2010 - 3:47pm

Sure, it's preposterously early to identify the nation's best quarterback, but fun because of the remarkable variety spread across the country.

It's as if the Tim Tebow/Colt McCoy/Sam Bradford plug was pulled and out gushed players who had been background music or not even on the playlist.

If you saw Denard Robinson's or Taylor Martinez's remarkable debuts, I'll remind you that one month ago nobody outside of the Michigan or Nebraska camps knew those quarterbacks would be starting. Three candidates were listed as starters on the Wolverines' depth chart, and the Cornhuskers never issued one.

Three games into the season, Robinson is atop early Heisman straw polls and Martinez's production is on pace with former Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch in his Heisman year.

Robinson leads the nation in rushing and total offense, Martinez in yards per rushing attempt thanks to touchdown runs of 80, 67 and 46 yards on zone reads.

And these aren't athletes forced into a quarterback mold. Robinson is completing 70 percent of his passes, Martinez 65 percent.

Here's what the coaches say about their guys' passing ability:

"People who think he's a quarterback playing running back are just wrong," Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said of Robinson.

"This kid's as good a passer as I've been around," Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said of Martinez.

Both are second-year players who have had the best games in their toughest spots this season, Robinson at Notre Dame and Martinez at Washington. Neither should sweat much this week as Michigan takes on Bowling Green and Nebraska toys with South Dakota State.

Which means the attention will fall squarely on a handful of other quarterbacks in high-visibility games, starting with a former Wolverine.

The Rich Rodriguez spread offense that Robinson deftly operates in Ann Arbor didn't fit Ryan Mallett, who took his Elwaylike arm to Arkansas.

Mallett preferred the philosophy of Bobby Petrino, who had abruptly left the NFL for the Razorbacks. Now comes the season's biggest moment for both, a visit from top-ranked Alabama.

Mallett leads the nation in passing yards per game, and he'll become the Heisman flavor of the week by playing well in a victory. No small feat: Alabama hasn't lost a regular-season game since 2007, and the Crimson Tide hounded Mallett in a 2009 pounding at Tuscaloosa.

Boise State's Kellen Moore, the top returning Heisman vote-getter among quarterbacks, gets ESPN GameDay attention with Oregon State in town. After having success in his other high-exposure game -- a game-winning touchdown pass that beat Virginia Tech -- Moore may need a monster game on the blue turf to leave a lasting impression.

But maybe some biases are dissolving, at least at the Heisman level. It didn't seem to matter that last year's near-miss runner-up, Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, played several games after voters had powered down for the day.

That should come as encouraging news for the latest Cardinal entry, Andrew Luck, who isn't putting up mind-boggling numbers but is running Stanford's offense to near-perfection. Luck, the son of former West Virginia and NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions as the Cardinal head to Notre Dame after victories over UCLA and Wake Forest by a combined score of 111-24.

Luck started as a redshirt freshman last season, and his game, size (6 feet 4, 235 pounds) and decision-making while operating coach Jim Harbaugh's NFL-style offense had scouts whispering then that he was the NFL's best college prospect. Now he's moved to the top of some projected draft lists.

And like Mallett and Moore, he'll have immediate opportunities to impress voters, with a trip to Oregon after the Notre Dame visit.

We're not forgetting about Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor or TCU's Andy Dalton, nor does this suggest others can't close ground. But the next wave of great quarterbacks has arrived, and it gives us something to talk about besides Boise State as a national championship contender.

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