Conference Shootout: Who Is The #1 Gunslinger In The Big 12?
No conference in the nation is more well known for their quarterbacks than the Big 12 it seems. From top to bottom, North and South, the conference is packed will talented quarterbacks leading their teams. Returning 10 of the 12 starters from the conference last season return this year, only Iowa St's Bret Meyer (Exhausted Eligibility), and Blake Szymanksi (No Longer The Starter) return. Austen Arnaud is expected to take over the reins as starter at Iowa St., while Robert Griffin looks to have won the quarterback job at Baylor.
Last season, Missouri QB Chase Daniel was a Heisman finalist, throwing for 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford led all of college football in passer rating at 176.5, while breaking the freshman record for touchdown passes in a season. While Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell led the nation in Passing Yards (5705) and Touchdowns (48). Todd Reesing (Kansas), Zac Robinson (Oklahoma) and Josh Freeman (Kansas St.) also had breakout seasons.
Chase Daniel has been labeled as too small to succeed for a quarterback in the NFL, but he has shown that he has more than enough size to have success in the NCAA. Even though he is the largest of the three weight-wise, he is also the most mobile, being the only one who scrambles on a regular basis. Bradford has the height advantage over both, and is the only one who is eligible to play another season after this one. Harrell and Daniel are both going into their third season as a starter, as Bradford heads into his second. Now, to the comparison.
Graham Harrell has an easy out of conference schedule, playing SMU, UTEP, Rice & Northwestern St, and that is where he excelled. Stat-wise, he may have been even better against his Big 12 South Rivals. Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Texas A&M and Baylor. He had his highest yardage output against them, but fell to Texas & Oklahoma St, thus the 3-2 record.
Against the other side of the Big 12, the North, Harrell struggled terribly, beating only bottom-feeding Iowa St. He still put up the yards, but had a horrendous 8/9 TD-to-INT ratio, throwing more than 60% of his interceptions on the season in those three games. Back-to-back losses at Missouri, and against Colorado doomed Harrell.
Against ranked teams, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and their Bowl Game against Virginia, Harrell's performance fluctuated. As I mentioned, he struggled at Missouri, throwing 4 interceptions to only 1 touchdown in what would be a loss. Against Texas, although they lost the game 59-43, Harrell played extremely well, throwing for 466 yards, 5 TD, and an interception. Just two weeks later, he faced Oklahoma, where he attempted the most passes of the season with 72. Harrell led the team amazingly well against the Sooners, winning 34-27, though he did throw 2 interceptions to match up with just 2 touchdowns.
Harrell had just one game left to play, and that would be the bowl game facing the Virginia Cavaliers. He started slow, but kept composure, and committed no turnovers, enabling Tech to comeback and win the game 31-28 despite facing a 14-point fourth quarter deficit. Harrell played well in the clutch, and ended with another 400 yard game, 3 touchdowns, and no turnovers.
Chase Daniel had a bit a tougher out of conference schedule than Harrell did, and still found a way through it unscathed, with victories over Illinois, Mississippi, Western Michigan and Illinois St. His best game coming against Mississippi, in which he threw for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns versus zero interceptions.
Against his own division, Daniel was magnificent, going 5-0 against Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas St. and Iowa St. A monster game at Kansas which saw him complete 82% of his passes for 360 yards and three scores. A game which gave Missouri the sole lead of the Big 12 North.
Against the South was a completely different story for him though, where he suffered both of his losses to leader Oklahoma one coming in the regular season, and the second coming in the Big 12 Championship game. Daniel led them to a convincing win over ranked Texas Tech, though his performance would be classified sub-par at best, he didn't have to do much.
Against ranked teams in total, Daniel was just as lackluster, despite going 3-0 in games not against Oklahoma. Picking up wins against Kansas, Texas Tech, and a blowout over Arkansas in their bowl game.
Sam Bradford also led Oklahoma to an undefeated out of conference run to start the season, with games against North Texas, Miami, Utah State and Tulsa. His best game coming against either Miami, where he threw for 200 yards and 5 touchdowns, or North Texas where he threw for 350 yards and touchdowns in the first half.
He didn't lose a step against his South division rivals, playing exceptionally against Texas in the Red River shootout, and against A&M as well. He didn't have to do much to beat Baylor and Oklahoma St, having statistically sub-par games against both as they were out of hand early. He was injured during the first quarter of the Tech game, and only attempted 3 passes, so I did not include that game into his stats or his record, thus the undefeated record in division play.
Against the North, he played amazingly against Missouri, out-dueling Chase Daniel and winning both games, though he did not play up to potential against Iowa St. and Colorado. In an early season loss to Colorado, he was just 8-19 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown, coupled with two interceptions. Against Iowa St., in a game that was decided late in the fourth quarter, Bradford accounted for 183 yards and no scores while throwing an interception.
Against the best teams he played, Bradford had his best performances, manhandling the Texas defense in victory, and the Missouri defense not just once, but twice, including in the Big 12 Championship Game. In that particular game, a 38-17 win, Bradford completed 70% of his passes, for 200+ yards and 2 TD with no interceptions thrown. His only loss against a ranked team came against West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, a game which Oklahoma's defense was atrocious, allowing 48 points.
Bradford- Bradford, a redshirt freshman last year, silenced all critics who feared that the play of Oklahoma's QB would not be able to fill the void left for him. He showed poise, handling the Red River Shootout with exceptional prowess, silencing the UT fans, and starting off undefeated against UT for his career. He rebounded from a concussion against Texas Tech speedily, able to return the very next week and defeat Oklahoma St. He outplayed Heisman Finalist Chase Daniel twice, winning the Big 12 Championship.
He showed arm strength, decent mobility, and the ability to win close games. He faltered against WVU, extending the Sooners' BCS slump, and made the usual freshman mistakes, including getting rattled by the Colorado home crowd in their first loss of the season. But remember, as much as Michael Crabtree was praised for his play as a redshirt freshman, Sam Bradford was just as amazing, going 11-1 as a starter in the regular season, and leading his team to a BCS bowl.
He needs to continue to mature though, this year is crucial to his development, but in a conference ruled by quarterbacks, by the time he is a senior (if he stays that long), Bradford WILL be the best quarterback in the Big 12.
Daniel- Chase Daniel was a Heisman finalist, so you're thinking, he must be the best quarterback in the Big 12... Right? He outplayed Harrell head-to-head, and outplayed Todd Reesing, head to head. BUT, he was outplayed by Sam Bradford twice, and lost two of the three games that he needed to win. Daniel is the most mobile of the three, as he is actually able to gain more than -18 rushing yards a game. Although Harrell and Daniel both accounted for four rushing touchdowns last season. Daniel has good accuracy, but is arm strength is nowhere near that of Bradford and Harrell, and that really hurts him. He has a good high school football background, leading his team to a state championship, so he knows winning. But compared to a guy like Harrell, he doesn't have the size or the arm strength, only a slight edge in mobility, and a near-invisible lead in accuracy.
So many people applaud Chase Daniel for his resourcefulness and heart. Just because he is 5'10-6'0, and has success doesn't mean that he has heart. He is a good quarterback, but just like Harrell, benefits from running the exact same system he ran as a high-school quarterback. He makes smart decisions, and has amazing pocket presence, but the lack of arm strength hurts him in comparison to the other elite quarterbacks. Missouri doesn't have the same supporting cast as Oklahoma, but you can say that Texas Tech doesn't even have the same supporting cast as Missouri. Both Daniel and Harrell are what some people call 'products of the system'. Daniel fits well in that system, the difference is, Harrell makes the system better.
Harrell- Graham Harrell walked into a situation at Texas Tech, where in terms of the media, he was destined not to gain respect. Texas Tech had 4 straight 5th year senior quarterbacks in front of him, all putting up big numbers, and all leading Tech to the same mediocre seasons. As a sophomore, Harrell put up strong numbers, but was unable to beat Texas or Oklahoma, last season, Harrell played very well at Texas, but came up short, although he finally led Tech to a win over Oklahoma at home.
Harrell has what no other Tech quarterback has possessed, size, skill and heart. The former four were a collection of different parts, and if you put them together, you would have Harrell. He has NFL arm strength, NFL size, enough mobility to protect himself, and the football background to mold him into a smarter player. He has the heart, which he showed in 2 of the best comebacks of the past 2 years, including the greatest comeback in bowl history in 2006. His accuracy is above-average, and his composure is exemplary. He hasn't had the type of success, record-wise that you want from an elite quarterback though, but I expect that to change this season.
He led the NCAA in passing yards last year, and was a surprising 4th in completion percentage. Despite the astounding number of passes he threw last year (713), he threw just 14 interceptions to go with 48 touchdowns. He stays in the pocket until the last second possible, and still manages to get off perfect throws. His throws on fade routes are the best in College Football, hands down. Harrell has shattered the preconceived notion that every Texas Tech quarterback is good because of the system, because he made the system better than it was when he first took over as starting quarterback.
But the bottom line is, if you can't win, you can't be the best, and Bradford has too much left to learn, so I am forced to rank the quarterbacks of the Big 12 in this order...
- Chase Daniel- Missouri
- Graham Harrell- Texas Tech
- Sam Bradford- Oklahoma
- Todd Reesing- Kansas
- Zac Robinson- Oklahoma St.
- Colt McCoy- Texas
- Josh Freeman- Kansas St.
- Cody Hawkins- Colorado
- Joe Ganz- Nebraska
- Austen Aurnad- Iowa St.
- Stephen McGee- Texas A&M
- Robert Griffin- Baylor
At the end of the season, I think Harrell will have shown that he has what it takes to win, and will garner an invitation to New York as a Heisman finalist. Sam Bradford WILL be the best quarterback in the Big 12 next year.
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