9 Top-25 Teams That Must Answer Big Quarterback Questions

Nathaniel WaltersCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2012

9 Top-25 Teams That Must Answer Big Quarterback Questions

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    Each year, teams are ranked in the Top 25 because of a number of reasons: their name brand, their record the previous season, their conference affiliation or even their strength of schedule.

    One variable that cannot be ignored is that of the signal-caller. The quarterback is the single most important piece of any college football team's puzzle, and several Top 25 programs have questions about their quarterback heading into the 2012 season.

    They are in no particular order of how serious the questions are.

Texas

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    There might not be a program that relies more on quarterback play than the Longhorns. They have excelled under good/great quarterbacks (Major Applewhite, Vince Young, Colt McCoy) and faltered under quarterbacks that simply don't fit their mold.

    In 2010 and 2011, it was more evident than ever that Texas needed, and I mean really needed, a quarterback.

    The Longhorns finished the 2010 campaign with a 5-7 record, easily the worst season under head coach Mack Brown. It was only one season after they played in the national championship game. How were they so bad? Easy: quarterback play.

    Sophomore Garrett Gilbert threw for 10 touchdowns but was also intercepted 17 times. He transferred after playing only two games in 2011 and gave way to another pair of ineffective Texas quarterbacks. Those two are still there.

    You've heard the name McCoy before. Colt McCoy set an NCAA record (which has since been broken) with 45 wins during his career. He threw for 13,253 yards and 112 touchdowns while at Texas. That's impressive. I wish my team's quarterback would do that.

    Sadly, his younger brother, Case McCoy, is not the spitting image of the older McCoy. Well, they do look a little bit alike. How they play, though, is completely different. Case had only seven touchdowns, along with four interceptions, before being replaced by David Ash.

    Ash didn't perform, though. He threw only four touchdowns while being picked off eight times and sacked 16 times. 

    Those are the guys Texas returns in 2012.

    The Texas defense will be up to the task, and the Longhorns have a rushing attack that should be one of the best in the nation. Quarterback is their main concern, and how Ash, who was named the starter for the game against Wyoming, and McCoy play will determine if Texas finishes with nine wins or six.

Oklahoma State

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    While it's been said that Mike Gundy can simply replace any player with another on offense and keep on clicking, there is a serious question mark at quarterback in Stillwater this year.

    It isn't the easiest thing to replace one of the statistically best quarterbacks in team history with a player who has zero collegiate experience, though. 

    Brandon Weeden led the high-powered Oklahoma State offense in 2011, throwing for 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2011 after throwing for almost 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2010. That would be tough for any quarterback to follow. 

    True freshman Wes Lunt will take the reins for an offense that returns only five starters and loses arguably the best receiver in school history, Justin Blackmon. Lunt had a great high school career, but playing in college, especially in the high-flying Big 12, is incredibly difficult.

    For a team that relies on quarterback play over everything else, Oklahoma State has a serious question mark.

Nebraska

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    Nebraska junior quarterback Taylor Martinez burst onto the national scene in 2010, rushing for 137 yards and three scores in a Nebraska rout of Washington in Seattle and then for 241 more yards and three more scores in a 48-13 lambasting of Kansas State in Manhattan. 

    He also threw for 323 yards and five touchdowns as Nebraska beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater. 

    That, though, was the last we heard from the one some call "T-Magic." He suffered a high ankle sprain in Nebraska's home win over Missouri the next week, and the Huskers struggled for the remainder of the season.

    In 2011, many thought Martinez would lead Nebraska to a Big Ten Championship their first season in the conference. Those hopes were dashed when Martinez threw three consecutive interceptions in a blowout loss at Wisconsin.

    He did play well in a come-from-behind victory over Ohio State at home the next week, but he never showed the flash he had before his injury in 2010.

    Martinez spent the spring working on his throwing motion, and it seems to have paid off. He was put on the Manning Award watch list after attending the Manning Quarterback Academy, and he has put in work with receivers.

    That doesn't mean anything to fans, though. They want to see results. Nebraska sits just outside the Top 15 mainly because of their astoundingly soft defense in 2011 combined with the inconsistent play of Taylor Martinez. 

    There is no guarantee Martinez will be better in 2012. Until he has proven himself, this is a huge question mark for the Huskers.

Oregon

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    You can be like most of us and say the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the Oregon Ducks mentioned is their plethora of uniforms. It's okay, you can admit it. Good news: They have recently unveiled their new threads for 2012. I for one, actually like them.

    There's good originality there, and they seem to have gotten over trying to be too flashy. Note to Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame: Either stay traditional or take notes from Oregon. Especially you, Irish.

    With that being said, uniforms don't make or break a team. If they did, teams like Maryland would win only two games. Wait...

    Okay, let me state that differently. It takes more than uniforms to help a team win. Oregon, with all their flashy colors, needs athletes. They have to replace quarterback Darron Thomas, running back LaMichael James and top receiver Lavasier Tuine. That's no easy task.

    There are zero names at Oregon that anybody outside of Eugene recognizes, and the necessity of a mobile, athletic quarterback is at the forefront of a Chip Kelly offense.

    Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota was named the starter for the Ducks' first game versus Arkansas State, but sophomore Bryan Bennett, whom many people thought would replace Thomas, is waiting in the wings.

    Until this quarterback situation is handled, Oregon, and their dream of a national championship, has a huge question to be answered. 

LSU

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    It's hard to believe LSU has any questions. They are, after all, the defending SEC Champions, they have a defense full of speed and athleticism, and head coach Les Miles seems to win every close game his Tigers are in.

    If there are any question marks for the No. 3 ranked team in the nation, the biggest one is at quarterback.

    They weren't exactly stellar at the position last year with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, but they were reliable when needed. The two combined for 2,135 yards, 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions. For a team that was extremely balanced rushing the football, the Tigers managed only 152 yards through the air in 2011.

    Junior Zach Mettenberger might not need to throw the ball much again because of the returning depth at running back, but he just doesn't have any experience. This team expects to be the best in the SEC, but a quarterback who has attempted just 11 passes in his career (all last year in mop-up duty versus Northwestern State) is a liability.

    LSU will still be good. They could border on great. With a green quarterback, though, there is a huge question mark hanging over the Tigers.

Boise State

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    There is arguably no Top 25 team that needs a quarterback more than Boise State. The Broncos lost Kellen Moore, who set the NCAA record for wins, along with most of their offensive line, running back and literally every cog in their defense.

    People expect Boise State to win just because they're Boise State, but expecting win after win with such an inexperienced team is a bit much.

    Enjoy life in East Lansing for your first game, junior quarterback Joe Southwick. He has played, but mop-up duty behind a veteran offensive line isn't exactly the same as facing what could be the best defense in the Big Ten in Michigan State. 

    This is a huge question mark on a team full of question marks. 

Wisconsin

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    Russell Wilson was a godsend for the Badgers in 2011. He was possibly the best all-around quarterback in the nation, and his lead allowed Montee Ball to be a Heisman finalist while leading Wisconsin to their second straight Big Ten Championship.

    Wilson is now gone. As is their best receiving threat. The offensive line will need to be re-tooled, but Ball and James White are back to lead the nation's best rushing attack.

    Without a quarterback to take the heat off the running backs, though, teams like Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State will load the box and leave their receivers on an island.

    The Badgers will try to catch lightning in a bottle twice with Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien. 

    O'Brien was good for the Terrapins two years ago, but last season was just dreadful. He had only seven touchdowns while being intercepted 10 times and completed just 56 percent of his passes.

    Wisconsin will be good again, but will they be good enough to win three straight Big Ten championships? That all depends on how well O'Brien performs.

    It took head coach Bret Bielema until almost the end of fall camp to name him the starter. Is that good or bad news for the Badgers? We probably won't know until the end of September when Wisconsin travels to Nebraska. 

    Of course, that was Wilson's coming-out party last year. 

Michigan State

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    Kirk Cousins set pretty much every passing record for Michigan State during his tenure under center in East Lansing. He has now departed and is biding his time behind Robert Griffin III for the Washington Redskins.

    That leaves a huge question mark for a team that also lost their leading receiver and dependable running back Edwin Baker. With a great defense led by All-American William Gholston, Sparty won't be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball. 

    The biggest question is, who will lead them on offense? 

    All signs point to junior Andrew Maxwell. He played sparingly in both 2010 and 2011 behind Cousins, but he will be thrown into the fire against defenses like Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State. 

    Michigan State has the defense to win the Big Ten. Do they have the offense? Questions remain at quarterback, that's for sure.

Stanford

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    It seems like tons of teams have to replace big-time quarterbacks, and Stanford is no exception. Andrew Luck is off to try to be the next Peyton Manning for the Colts, and the Cardinal are left wondering who will be there next go-to quarterback.

    If they intend to compete with the likes of USC and Oregon in the Pac-12, Stanford has to have a better quarterback situation than they do now. The Cardinal have relied on running the football more than many suspect, but a stable quarterback has kept opposing defenses from lining up to stop sensational running back Stefan Taylor.

    Junior Josh Nunes, who hasn't seen action in two years, was named starting quarterback late in fall practice. 

    Stanford should have a better defense than they did last year, which would be saying something after they were second in the Pac-12 in total defense. That's good, though, because they have an enormous question mark at quarterback.