Virginia Football: Breaking Down the Quarterback Battle

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJune 18, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Michael Rocco #16 of the Virginia Cavaliers against the Auburn Tigers during the 2011 Chick Fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If it is one thing Virginia football fans have become used to it is a quarterback controversy.

It seems that the Cavaliers program since 2000 are constantly trying to pick one signal-caller from another.

Will it be Matt Schaub or Bryson Spinner?

How about Marc Verica or Vic Hall?

Even last year, Michael Rocco had to deal with true freshman David Watford, so much so that both were being shuffled in and out of the rotation to the detriment of the offensive rhythm.

Still, there is one fundamental difference between all those other quarterback battles and the one brewing this summer. In year's past, both options were either fundamentally flawed or unproven.

In truth, it was a battle for the lesser of two evils.

The current predicament between Rocco and recent Alabama transfer Phillip Sims is really much more of a win-win situation.

Both players have positives that make them viable candidates and both bring energy and hope to fans' minds as opposed to doom and gloom.

Let us begin with Team Rocco.

The rising junior appeared to be the clear-cut nominee heading into the summer. After all, Rocco had a resurgence last season after coach Mike London definitively gave his young quarterback the vote of confidence.

Once he allowed the Watford experiment to fade into the background, Rocco's numbers soared.

In the first seven games of the season, Rocco threw for 986 yards while notching four touchdowns and eight interceptions.

In the following six games to end the season, Rocco threw for 1,485 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.

It resulted in Virginia's first ever road victory at Florida State and the first bowl game since 2007.

Looking at the numbers, Rocco appeared to be on the verge of developing just like Schaub did in 2002.

Rocco's arm is not amazingly strong, but it is the most accurate for a Virginia quarterback since the current Texans quarterback. His ability to get the ball to his speedy receivers has been a big asset.

Rocco has done a good job not panicking in the pocket. He has done a better job reading defenses and can adapt as the game goes along. His two-minute drive to win the Florida State game went a long way in reassuring Cavalier fans that they have a fiery competitor under center.

He has also clearly established a rapport with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, so much so that the playbook has expanded under him.

 Rocco has learned his strengths and weaknesses and can play to them, making him a strong and experienced option under center. Yet, he will have his hands full with Sims coming to town.

Sims was once ranked the second best quarterback in the recruiting class of 2010. His athleticism may be one of the best in the history of Virginia's program.

His arm strength and mobility make Cavaliers fans drool. He will be able to chuck the ball into corners of the field that Rocco could only dream about and he clearly shows no fear in pulling the trigger.

With new faces on the offensive line, the scrambling ability of Sims will be a big asset. He can break down ACC defenses with his arms and legs. He will also divert attention from Virginia's talented running back tandem of Kevin Parks and Perry Jones.

Sims possesses many of the tools that made Watford such an attractive option to coach London, but his accuracy and strength appear to be much better.

Still, there is a reason Sims lost out on the starting position at Alabama. As amazingly talented as he may be, it was clear that coach Nick Saban worried about the gun-slinging mentality of the sophomore.

If he does become the starting quarterback, you can believe that he will throw some interceptions. He is going to try and thread needles and make big plays. He is a highlight reel player and sometimes those big moments can backfire.

That is, of course, is he gets to play at all.

Sims would normally have to sit out a season due to transfer rules, but he is applying for a special hardship waiver due to his request to be closer to his Virginia Beach home and his family.

While most people think he could get the waiver, they also do not expect a speedy resolution from the NCAA.

As a result, every day where he sits in football purgatory, Sims is losing valuable time to practice and learn the playbook. His inexperience will be his biggest weakness compared to the familiarity Rocco has with it.

Sims is an intriguing proposition because he offers the kind of talent level Virginia has not seen in quite sometime at the most valued position in football. He is an unknown, someone that could take the program to the next level or fail to live up to expectations.

Rocco is the safe choice, but he will have to prove himself yet again this August.

Hopefully this competition will bring out the best in both men. However, whoever wins the battle must be given the full vote of confidence again.

Coach London cannot afford to put his improved offense at jeopardy by playing musical chairs with the quarterbacks once again.