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August 14, 2007
Big 12 preview: Veteran QBs lead the way
Bret Meyer is a case study for the evolution of the quarterbacks in the Big 12 over the last year.
The Iowa State signal-caller is a four-year starter. He's second among active quarterbacks in career passing yards.
And he's one of the more unheralded quarterbacks in the Big 12.
Part of that is his doing after he struggled though 2006, but it's also because of the emergence of quarterbacks in the conference who saw their first extended action as starters last year.
A league bereft of experienced quarterbacks in 2006, the Big 12 is suddenly quarterback central.
Texas' Colt McCoy and Kansas State's Josh Freeman claimed starting jobs as freshmen. Despite taking over for veteran starters, Texas A&M's Stephen McGee and Missouri's Chase Daniel led their teams to better records in their first full seasons.
After starting only five games in 2005, Bobby Reid turned around Oklahoma State's offense by 15 points per game. And all Texas Tech's Graham Harrell did was take over the Air Raid offense to finish second in the country in passing yards.
All are back in 2007, leading those in the Big 12 to believe the league will be improved from a year ago.
"We will see a better Big 12 this year, and the reason I say that – and you don't have to think very long to come up with this – Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Stephen McGee, Bobby Reid, Graham Harrell and others all have a year of experience," Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said. "We all know the impact of more experienced quarterbacks and what impact they make on the league. Because of that, we'll see a tougher conference this year."
It's tough to argue with Franchione given these superlatives for some of his opponents:
• McCoy set a Texas record and tied an NCAA freshman record with 29 touchdown passes. Before a pinched nerve in his neck knocked him out of the Kansas State game and limited him against Texas A&M, McCoy started to creep into Heisman Trophy contention.
• Daniel quickly established his reputation after replacing record-setting quarterback Brad Smith. He set school single-season records in passing yards (3,527) and touchdowns (28) while finishing fifth in the country in total offense.
• Behind Reid, Oklahoma State was one of only two teams to average 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game.
• Franchione's quarterback, McGee, only threw two interceptions in 313 pass attempts. He was one of five quarterbacks in the country with 2,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards. One of the others was Reid.
• Harrell, Texas Tech's first non-senior quarterback since 2001, had a big year even by Tech standards with 4,555 passing yards and 38 touchdowns.
• Nebraska imported Sam Keller from Arizona State, where he was a rising star in the Pac-10. He passed for 2,165 yards and 20 touchdowns in seven games in 2005 before a thumb injury ended his season.
Of the conference contenders, only Oklahoma will have a new starting quarterback under center. Junior Joey Halzle, redshirt freshman Sam Bradford and true freshman Keith Nichol continue to compete for the position in Norman.
If history is any indication, Oklahoma shouldn't be too concerned its quarterback will be behind on experience. Under Bob Stoops, the Sooners have won four Big 12 titles with four different quarterbacks.
"Our offensive staff has been able to play to what we've been able to do and to our quarterbacks' strengths," Stoops said. "More than anything we've been adaptable to our personnel."
The new class of quarterbacks in the Big 12 will have to show they can adapt to the league as well. Thanks in part to the inexperience at the quarterback position, the Big 12 had its share of unpredictable moments last year.
A contender in the North for the first two months of the season, Missouri was the surprise team of the league last year thanks to Daniel's early season play. After the Tigers' hot start, Daniel threw five interceptions combined in games against Oklahoma and Nebraska that knocked Missouri out of the conference race.
Despite his numbers, Reid had his struggles, especially on the road. The Cowboys were 2-4 on the road - including losses to Texas Tech and Texas - when Reid completed fewer than 40 percent of his passes.
After leading Kansas State to a 45-42 upset of Texas late last season, the true freshman Freeman went on a nine-turnover binge in the final two games of 2007.
"I knew my plays and I knew my defenses but there were times when teams started showing blitz or disguised a coverage and I didn't get back to checking what was real," Freeman said. "I somewhat panicked and made some freshman plays and mistakes."
Thanks to last year's growing pains, Freeman and the rest of his Big 12 colleagues thrown into the spotlight for the first time will hope they left those mistakes behind in 2006.