How a Struggling College Football QB Bounces Back

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMay 7, 2013

Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier
Auburn QB Kiehl FrazierKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Recruiting is serious business nowadays, and for the top-rated quarterbacks, it's a time when college coaches paint a picture of a road paved with SEC titles, crystal footballs and NFL dollars.

Then the prospect sets foot on campus, and the "de-recruiting" process begins. Top-tier quarterbacks often  find themselves in the uncustomary position of fighting for playing time.

Of course, sometimes the season is the best "de-recruiting" tool of all, as several highly touted quarterbacks have found out over the last few seasons.

Kiehl Frazier signed with Auburn in 2011 as the reigning USA Today offensive player of the year and the heir apparent to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton. He saw spot duty as a Wildcat quarterback in 2011 before failing miserably in his first season as a starter in 2012.

In five games as a starter as a sophomore, Frazier threw for 664 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions. That shouldn't, won't and didn't cut it, and Frazier spent the majority of the rest of the season riding the pine while Clint Moseley and Jonathan Wallace split the snaps. This offseason he finds himself in a battle with Wallace—a sophomore—for the top spot on the depth chart.

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was a 5-star dual-threat quarterback and the 16th-best player in the country,  according to the composite index in 2011.

Instead of being that dual-threat weapon last season—Driskel's first as a starting quarterback—he was relegated to game-manager status, handing off to Mike Gillislee and providing the occasional big gain on a designed run en route to an 11-win season.

But that's not what he was signed to do. He was signed to be a difference-maker, and he has two more seasons to make that potential a reality.

So what can a quarterback do to put the past in the past and realize his potential in the future?


Forget High School

Most college quarterbacks were studs in middle school and high school. But when you get to a college campus, your star value means nothing. 

That's easy to say, but it's harder to accept.

High school studs are playing with a much bigger, faster and stronger supporting cast; and developing chemistry and timing against bigger, faster and stronger defenses takes time.

Recognizing that you are probably no longer the best player on the field accelerates the "de-recruiting" process.


Put Every Season in a Vacuum

Take lessons from what went right and wrong during struggles, but don't dwell on those struggles. Use them as a jumping-off point.

That's hard to do since human nature is that we fall back into familiar habits, but quarterbacks can't afford to do that. A struggling quarterback needs to create his own fresh start.

For Frazier, the coaching change has done it for him. But he still needs to focus on his decision-making and get the ball out quicker. The reason he was benched at halftime of Auburn's fifth game of the season last season versus Arkansas was his inability to make quick decisions. He was sacked four times and looked lost in the pocket. 

That's a problem that can persist through the scheme change, but comfort with the new system can accelerate the learning process.

Driskel's issues aren't as mental. He just lacks playmakers outside.

The combination of a run-based scheme, stellar defense and absence of a downfield threat made Florida's offense one-dimensional by design last season. That worked last season, but can't continue long term. 

The problem with Florida is that the coaching staff recognizes the issue, but can't do much to fix it at the moment. 

Florida only had five healthy wide receivers on scholarship this spring—including starting defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy, who moved over to add depth.


Use Failure as Motivation

Don't hide from the past, own it.

That's what Frazier is doing at Auburn this offseason. Before spring practice, Frazier made it known to his Twitter followers that he didn't intend to be down for long.

Hate being a disappointment #neveragain

— Kiehl Frazier (@kiehlfrazier10) March 6, 2013

That's the right approach, but the trick is keeping it at the top of mind during the good times and the bad. Frazier certainly would have loved to have been named the starter exiting spring practice, but he wasn't and he can't let that get to him.

While Frazier spent the end of last season on the bench, Driskel had one final 60-minute reminder of what he needs to work on play out on national television in Florida's 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.

In that game, Florida dug itself a hole—partly due to Driskel's early struggles and partly due to a sleep-walking defense—and the Gators simply couldn't dig themselves out of it. Essentially, Louisville gave the entire Florida team a working blueprint of what it needs to work on during the offseason; and Driskel sparking some life into the SEC's worst passing offense tops that list.

It's easy to label college quarterbacks after a brief glimpse, but college players can improve in a hurry. Just because it doesn't click early in their careers doesn't mean that it won't click eventually.

Former Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell was remarkably average during his first three seasons before winning the SEC Offensive Player of the Year award in 2004.

Former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford threw seven touchdowns and 13 picks as a freshman in 2006 before the light went on.

The path to figuring it out varies from player to player. It's a tall task, but certainly not impossible.