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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

10 Non-B.C.S. Quarterbacks on the Rise

We might not have known it at the time, or even considered the possibility, but we may have just witnessed the greatest era for non-B.C.S. conference quarterbacks in college football history. Think back to 2007, when Colt Brennan set a handful of N.C.A.A. records en route to a trip to Manhattan for the Heisman ceremony. Since 2008, Kellen Moore and Case Keenum have gone toe-to-toe in the record books, with Keenum winning the battle — most career touchdowns, completions and passing yards — but Moore winning the war, posting the most wins by a quarterback in F.B.S. history. And there have been others who slid under the radar, thanks to one reason or another: Dan LeFevour, Chase Clement, Paul Smith, David Johnson and Max Hall, among others. Has there ever been a better age for non-B.C.S. conference quarterbacks?

That depends on your point of view. Going by today’s conference layout, the best era for non-B.C.S. conference quarterbacking was 1989-91, when Houston’s Andre Ware and B.Y.U.’s Ty Detmer took home the Heisman and Houston’s David Klingler, Ware’s former understudy, was a Heisman finalist. While B.Y.U. was in the WAC during that period, Houston was still a member of the Southwest Conference; at that point, the Cougars were certainly part of the national picture.

Much as they were in 2011, when Houston came within one victory — against Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA title game — of earning an automatic B.C.S. berth. Can the Cougars keep up this pace without Keenum breaking N.C.A.A. records? What kind of offense will we see from Boise State without Moore under center?

It’s the end of an era — even if we call the period from 1989-91, not the last four or five years, the greatest age for non-B.C.S. conference quarterbacking in recent college football history. But the era’s close comes with the passing of a torch: Just as Keenum and Moore depart, others are hungry for the opportunity to pick up the slack. Here are 10 non-B.C.S. conference quarterbacks ready to create a new era in 2012, even if none quite hold up to the standard set by their immediate predecessors:

Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (senior) Aplin has already proved himself as a starter over the last two years, and impressed even when a part-time starter, used in certain packages, as a freshman. His career — and you can say the same of the program — took off under Hugh Freeze last fall, when Aplin threw the ball with far greater consistency while remaining the best running quarterback in the Sun Belt. Anyone familiar with Gus Malzahn’s recent history knows what’s coming in 2012: Aplin will be the best quarterback in the conference. Perhaps that’s not such a stretch, seeing that he was the Sun Belt’s best even before Malzahn rode into Jonesboro in December.

Alex Carder, Western Michigan (senior) Carder is close to achieving the impossible: making Western Michigan fans forget about Tim Hiller. Think that’s easy? Hiller left Kalamazoo as the most prolific quarterback in school history, if not simply the best quarterback in school history, and Carder brought all of seven career attempts into his first starting season in 2010. Two years, 7,207 yards and 61 touchdowns later, Carder enters his senior season well within striking distance of each one of Hiller’s school records. And with Northern Illinois and Toledo expected to take a step back in 2012, Carder’s Broncos may very well be the MAC West favorites heading into September.

Derek Carr, Fresno State (junior) Carr is already ahead of his brother’s pace, seeing that David, the future No. 1 overall pick, attempted only 41 passes as a sophomore. You can blame family ties for the increased hype surrounding Derek Carr’s ascension to a starting role in Fresno, where his brother starred a decade ago; in a perfect world, Carr could have eased into his new role without facing the inevitable comparisons between his play and that of his elder sibling. But Carr did fine — more than fine, actually, even if the program had its worst season in a generation. On the year, Carr threw for 3,544 yards and 26 touchdowns, coming on very strong over the second half. He threw 13 touchdowns against 2 interceptions over a five-game span from mid-October through mid-November.

Cody Fajardo, Nevada (sophomore) The best coaching move Chris Ault made all season may have also been his most painful decision: Despite lighting up Texas Tech with his feet on Oct. 1, nearly leading the Wolf Pack to victory, Fajardo returned to the bench a week later when Nevada faced Boise State on the blue turf. Senior Tyler Lantrip played terribly in his place, but keeping Fajardo off the field likely saved the freshman from an ugly and potentially momentum-killing defeat. But he was back in the starting lineup the following Saturday against U.N.L.V., and started the next seven games before being injured against Utah State on Nov. 26. No, Fajardo doesn’t quite match what Colin Kaepernick brought to the table as a runner; he’s still dangerous, rushing for 694 yards and 11 scores last fall, just not that dangerous. But he’s far, far ahead of where Kaepernick stood as a passer during his freshman season.

Blaine Gautier, La.-Lafayette (senior) Mark Hudspeth played musical chairs at quarterback in September, alternating Gautier with Chris Masson, the incumbent starter at the position, before handing the reins over to Gautier for the Sun Belt opener against Florida International. How Gautier responded to the full-time role was the biggest surprise of the conference season; you knew he could run, but Gautier’s ability to throw in Hudspeth’s spread offense made him one of the more dangerous dual-threat quarterback on the non-B.C.S. conference level. He saved his best passing performances for two of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ biggest wins on the year: Gautier threw for 355 yards and 4 scores against Louisiana-Monroe and another 470 yards against San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl.

Terrance Owens, Toledo (junior) How Owens played over Toledo’s final four games of last season likely puts an end to the Rockets’ two-quarterback rotation. His play should at least temper the degree to which the offense rotated Owens with Austin Dantin, who started a good portion of Toledo’s games in September and October before suffering an injury against Western Michigan on Nov. 8. Given the keys to the offense from that point forward, Owens closed with four-game totals of 1,070 yards and 12 touchdown with only a single interception. Dantin is likely too experienced not to call upon at certain times this fall, but Owens has been too good in his full-time starting duty to not be given the wide majority of snaps.

David Piland, Houston (sophomore) Piland did not take a snap in 2011. But he started eight games in 2010 after Case Keenum injured his knee against U.C.L.A., throwing for 2,641 yards and 24 touchdowns as a true freshman. Being a true freshman in 2010, Piland was in position to take a redshirt last fall; this was big not only for his own development but also the program’s future at the position, as Piland now has three years to start in Houston’s quarterback-friendly offense. No one is expecting Keenum-like numbers, but Piland is already well ahead of the curve when it comes to his first full season in the starting lineup. There’s also no escaping this fact: Piland has some enormous shoes to fill.

Matt Schilz, Bowling Green (sophomore) We’ve already seen the progression from Schilz’s freshman to sophomore seasons. Thrown into the mix as a rookie in 2010, when he replaced Tyler Sheehan, Schilz responded in familiar fashion: more interceptions, 14, than touchdowns, 8, and at least two picks over five straight MAC games in October and November. Schilz was a different quarterback last fall, cutting one interception off his 2010 total despite making 34 more attempts and finishing tied for second in the conference with 28 touchdowns. No other quarterback in the MAC — and few nationally — made such a leap from 2010 to 2011. For Schilz, the arrow is clearly pointing up.

Brett Smith, Wyoming (sophomore) All was going well until the last Saturday of November. To that point, Smith’s play had exceeded his years. He was careful with the football, if not dangerous at times; in a win at San Diego State, for example, Smith threw for 341 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Wyoming’s offense ran at full tilt when Smith added a sneakily-efficient running ability to its passing game, such as against Air Force, when he gutted out 75 yards and 2 scores on the ground. But his year did crumble over Wyoming’s last three games, culminating in a sour performance in the Cowboys’ bowl loss to Temple. Smith is a freshman; at some point, the wheels were going to come off. He still has a bright future in Dave Christiansen’s offense.

Tyler Tettleton, Ohio (junior) Not only was Tettleton a first-year starter. Not only was in playing in a new offense, a spread-based attack far more predicated on the passing game than any offense Frank Solich has ever considered, let alone one Solich has actually put into practice. Tettleton was a first-year starter playing in a new offense that was installed very much on the fly; Ohio went with this offensive philosophy only after watching Troy run it to great effect in its 48-21 bowl win over the Bobcats to cap the 2010 season. So if Tettleton played this well as a rookie starter in a new offense, what can he achieve with another year under his belt?

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  1. William says:

    FCS QB Damien Fleming from Florida A&M is a sophomore with a big time arm. Played as a true freshman last year. NFL potential.

  2. DMK says:

    Favre was pretty good in that ’89-’90 era: he beat FSU, Bama, Auburn. Southern Miss lost a bunch of games, too, (some close ones, to good BCS teams) but if we’re defining “greatness” here as something more than throwing the ball 70 times a game against non-BCS defenses, then I’ll take Brett. I’d say he panned out as a pro too.

  3. Dwayne says:

    The Oregon Ducks played one (Cody Fajardo) last year and play two (Ryan Aplin and Derek Carr) this coming year.

  4. Adam Nettina says:

    I am far from objective in this case, but I clearly you forgot Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton. Unfortunate that his season was cut down by injury, but of all of these quarterbacks, he made arguably the most heady and mature start by a true freshmen quarterback for the entire season when he went into Auburn in week one. He’s athletic, he can read defenses in both the passing and run game, and he has an arm. What more can you ask for?

    Paul: The only reason he’s not there is because of the way Adam Kennedy and Utah State played after Keeton went down in late October. I know Keeton will be the starter in 2012, but I wonder if the offense runs better with Kennedy at quarterback.

  5. Warhawk says:

    you forget to metion ULM QB Kolton Browning will be a junior and has broken numerous records @ ULM was a 2010 Freshman All American Louisiana Freshman of the year 2nd Team All Louisiana among other accolades

    Paul: Was considered, but I don’t think Browning made enough of a jump from his freshman to sophomore season to be included on the list. Just for the heck of it, here are handful of quarterbacks who were on the first list before I chopped it down to the current size:

    Colby Cameron and Nick Isham, Louisiana Tech
    Rakeem Cato, Marshall
    Zac Dysert, Miami (Ohio)
    Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
    Ryan Radcliffe, Central Michigan
    Corey Robinson, Troy
    Keith Wenning, Ball State

    A pretty good year for quarterbacks in the MAC, right? Doing a post on that on Monday.

  6. smiley4284 says:

    Colt Brennan played in a weak conference versus weak teams and got humiliated when he played a real team (see Sugar Bowl versus GA). He failed embarrassingly in the NFL. Not a good barometer.

  7. Josh H. says:

    Paul – Looking forward to seeing your post on the MAC. Good to see some of those did get noticed too. The MAC does tend to have some really overlooked QB’s.

  8. BocaRocket says:

    Toledo’s Owens is the nation’s returning leader(#6 2011-12 behind 5 guys need Wilson, Griffin, Moore, Keenum, and Luck) in FBS Passing Efficiency. However, putting up numbers against the likes of Ball State, CMU, WMU, Air Force is not likely to change the 2 QB system for the Rockets(Dantin(#20 ranked in FBS Passing Efficiency) threw 5 TD’s against NIU alone).Terrible problem for the Rockets to have 2 QB’s ranking in the nation’s top 20. Just like the Toledo was underestimated by their pre-season PSR ranking, there will be no drop-off with a several top MAC recruiting classes under their belt. Watch Toledo build a defense comparable to their Offense over the next two season. Two Rockets OOC games to watch will be@Arizona and UCinn. They will be a good indicator of where the program is at.

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