Five-star college football recruits represent every young athlete's dream. Crowned as the premier rising talents in the sport and the future stars of tomorrow in college football, these players are household names before taking their first college snap.
Put that distinction on a quarterback and watch the hoopla unfold to near rock-star levels.
These potential superstars have their choice of school. They can play for Nick Saban at Alabama and compete for national championships every year. Or they can go to USC and enjoy Hollywood, the beach, girls and a pro-town atmosphere at USC.
You want tradition? Sure, just sign on the dotted line to put on a gold helmet and play for Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. The possibilities are endless.
Kids can pick schools for millions of reasons, but what are the right reasons?
In terms of making the best business decision–one that will give them the best chance at success in college and beyond–the following criteria can serve as a list for what five-star quarterbacks should be looking for in a program.
Offensive system that fits their talents–Which team runs a system that will maximize the skills you possess?
How the system prepares you for the NFL–Better yet, will that system hinder your chances of making it to the next level?
Relationships with coaches–While it might not be as extreme as it is in the NFL, the head coach and quarterback relationship is a key dynamic to the success of any team.
Coach’s history of developing quarterbacks–A good track record for a head coach or quarterbacks coach in sending QBs to the NFL is an indicator of his ability to teach the position.
Location–This can be less of a factor depending on each individual player’s makeup. But it can become a deciding element if a player’s decision comes down to two schools he fits equally. Odds usually favor the one closest to home.
How quickly can they play?–Playing early does not guarantee success. However, great quarterbacks are often the most competitive players on a team. Identifying a school with the best opportunity to play early or to be groomed is an individual choice for each player.
Weapons surrounding quarterback–Even great players need help. The supporting cast is a crucial element that can tilt the scales in the decision-making process.
The recruiting process has drastically changed, and with that comes an added responsibility to make a selection based on sound reasoning (h/t Mitch Sherman, ESPN). As quarterback is the most important position on the field, that theory is magnified in importance.
Historically, schools such as Miami, Penn State and Notre Dame can stake a claim to being factories for developing quarterbacks. But with Colin Kaepernick (Nevada) and Joe Flacco (Delaware) reaching new heights in the NFL, the path to stardom for players at the game’s most important position can come from anywhere.
As Jon Cooper of Saturday Down South notes, recent history has shown that five-star quarterbacks are more likely to become a bust then realizing their enormous potential.
In the past 10 years, only four of the last 23 players to earn five-star status by Rivals have gone on to become first-round draft choices. Of those four, only Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are entrenched as the long-term cornerstones of their respective franchises.
These stats beg the questions: Why are all these players failing to live up to the hype? Did their respective college choices help or hinder them?
Finding the optimum destinations for five-star quarterbacks can be accomplished using historical data and analyzing the systems that highlight the strengths of pro-style and dual-threat quarterbacks.
Pro-Style QB Kingdoms
In the BCS era, USC has been a haven for pro-style quarterbacks. Despite the cloudy skies that hover over the program, the Trojans have seen their last three quarterbacks—including former five-star recruits Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez—become first-round selections.
Matt Barkley could add another member to that club if he’s chosen in the first round of this year’s draft on April 25.
Lane Kiffin’s credentials as a head coach might be in question, but he has a solid record mentoring quarterbacks. For example, he turned former Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton into an NFL draft choice after one season of working with him. That’s a monumental achievement for anyone who witnessed Crompton’s first three years in Knoxville (h/t, ESPN).
Another top choice for the nation’s best prep passers would be casting their lot to play for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.
The Sooners also have produced a pair of Heisman winners and a No. 1 draft choice in Sam Bradford recently. Landry Jones—who is projected as a mid-round selection in this year’s draft by CBS Sports—erased most of the records set by predecessors such as Bradford, Jason White and Josh Heupel.
The Sooners' offensive system is a showcase for quarterbacks at a program that competes for national titles on an annual basis. For example, Oklahoma is the only team in the country to win 10 or more games and finish in the top five nationally in passing offense in each of the last three seasons.
Norman and Los Angeles don’t have many things in common, but they share the same space as hotbeds for top-flight passers.
Elite QB Coaches
A couple of schools with similar offensive styles and coaches with backgrounds in tutoring quarterbacks are Georgia and Florida State.
The lure of playing in the SEC and the fact that Richt has shown no qualms about playing a freshman (Stafford and Murray played extensively as freshmen) makes Athens an appealing choice for elite quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Jimbo Fisher has sent a steady stream of passers to the next level dating to his days as LSU’s offensive coordinator. Fisher has continued that trend since taking over as the head coach at Florida State with Christian Ponder and perhaps the biggest riser in the 2013 draft class EJ Manuel (h/t Michael David Smith, profootballtalk.com).
Redshirt freshman and former five-star recruit Jameis Winston could pick up where Manuel and Ponder left off. Fisher’s system is pro-friendly and fully functional with any style of quarterback at the controls. His offense might not showcase his passers from an individual standpoint, but it prepares quarterbacks mentally for the challenges of taking the reins of a pro franchise.
Additionally, coaches such as Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien are two quarterback gurus that are building reputations as offensive masterminds.
Best Options for Dual-Threat QBs
While NFL success has traditionally been reserved for pocket passers, the evolution of dual-threat quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson has opened up NFL types to a new breed of quarterback.
The proliferation of spread offenses with multipurpose quarterbacks in college and the pros is because of a wealth of dual-threat quarterbacks coming from the prep ranks.
But if there’s one school that appears to have everything on the list above for dual-threat quarterbacks, it has to be Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes.
Meyer tutored a No. 1 NFL draft pick in Alex Smith, another first-rounder in Tim Tebow and returns one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Braxton Miller this season. That history combined with his relentlessness on the recruiting trail is a recipe that bodes well for his quarterback to have everything in place around him to succeed in his explosive offense.
While there is a limited sample of pro success with quarterbacks from most spread-heavy schools, the systems they use are conducive for mobile quarterbacks to put up numbers and win enough games to catch the attention of scouts and media.
Five-star quarterbacks are not guaranteed to become NFL superstars overnight. But as former mega recruits such as Cam Newton, Tebow, Palmer and Stafford have proved, making the right college choice can put a freakish talent on the fast track to the next level.
Quarterback is a position with so many variables that can influence success or failure. But similar to NFL clubs in the draft, finding the right fit should be the top priority for the nation’s top prep passers.