Quarterback play across the Big 12 took a major step backwards in 2013. That should have been expected when six teams entered Week 1 with a new starter at the position.
Just as costly as inexperience, though, was the inability to keep a starter. Nine of the conference's 10 teams started, or otherwise rotated through, multiple quarterbacks throughout the season. Usually, that was due to injuries or ineffectiveness.
Offenses were understandably down. Only three Big 12 teams finished in the top 25 in scoring (Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech).
There were exceptions, of course. Kansas State made the two-quarterback system work with Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. Still, the Wildcats didn't hit their offensive stride until the second half of the season. Additionally, Texas Tech had nearly identical success with freshmen quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb.
The only Big 12 quarterback to start every game was Baylor redshirt junior Bryce Petty. The Bears finished not only as the best offense in the conference, but in the country in points scored. Petty had a lot of help around him, but he was nevertheless a key component to that success.
Petty announced last month that he would return to Baylor for his senior season. He won't be the only quarterback coming back either. Every Big 12 team returns a quarterback with starting experience.
"The turnover at quarterback produced plenty of turnovers in 2013," David Ubben of Fox Sports wrote last week, "but there's no such thing at the position in the Big 12 this offseason."
Of course, that doesn't mean every quarterback who has started will start next season. TCU's Trevone Boykin, for example, started 14 games over the past two years in emergency duty. However, he is better suited for wide receiver or running back. He may make a permanent move to another position this offseason.
|Big 12 Returning Quarterbacks|
|Name||School||No. of Starts|
|Jake Waters||Kansas State||12|
|J.W. Walsh||Oklahoma State||8|
Other schools will have open competitions. Kansas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia all have major questions at quarterback. The Jayhawks' QB battle should come down to Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart. The Mountaineers will likely go back to the drawing board with Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and two incoming players, Skyler Howard and William Crest.
Still, most of those players have starting experience.
J.W. Walsh should enter the offseason as the early favorite to win the starting job at Oklahoma State, but his '13 struggles (nine touchdowns and five interceptions in five starts) are worrisome.
But the ceiling for returning quarterbacks in the Big 12 is high. Oklahoma's Trevor Knight is coming off the best performance of his young career against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Knight, at first considered a one-dimensional runner, threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-31 win over the Tide.
That was the potential Sooners coach Bob Stoops saw in Knight, who can be the best dual-threat quarterback in the conference. Still, Stoops has redshirt senior Blake Bell as a backup option. Bell started eight games for Oklahoma last season. When it comes to depth, the Sooners look to be in the best position of any Big 12 team.
Also returning is Texas quarterback David Ash, who missed most of last season with a concussion. Ash has had consistency issues in the past—he was benched in favor of Case McCoy against Kansas in 2012—but he has all the physical tools. Now, Ash will be under the direction of quarterback coach Shawn Watson, who coached up Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater into a likely top-tier NFL draft pick.
You can't forget about Waters or Webb, either. Though Waters shared playing time with Sams at K-State, he returns as one of the better pure passers in the conference. Mayfield and Michael Brewer transferred from Texas Tech, leaving Webb as the go-to starter. However, Webb's 403-yard, four-touchdown performance against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl showed what he is capable of doing.
And when it comes to up-and-coming quarterbacks, Iowa State's Grant Rohach is one to watch. As a freshman, Rohach threw for 631 yards and six touchdowns in the final two games of the season (both wins over Kansas and West Virginia).
The amount of experience at the quarterback spot should have plenty of fans feeling optimistic about '14. In theory, it should mean better offenses as well.
A lot can happen between now and the start of next season, but the Big 12 should be one step closer to returning to the offensive juggernaut for which it was once known.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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