One of the major storylines in the first week of the college football season was the performances of freshmen quarterbacks that played beyond their years while propelling their respective teams to wins — and in some cases, upset victories.
In all, nine of the 12 freshmen signal-callers that started games in Week 1 came out with a win, including Hank Bachmeier of Boise State (36-31 at Florida State), Sean Chambers of Wyoming (37-31 vs. Missouri), Sam Howell of North Carolina (24-20 vs. South Carolina) and Bo Nix of Auburn (27-21 vs. Oregon).
It used to be that you could pencil in an experienced quarterback to start over a frosh that just arrived on campus. But clearly, more than ever before, freshmen quarterbacks are entering the college ranks more equipped with the tools, talent and composure needed to immediately lead their squads.
“It’s hard to beat out a veteran guy,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during his press conference Tuesday, discussing the trend of first-year quarterbacks bursting onto the scene. “You’ve got to really be elite, and that’s what’s happened in our case here. So, it’s something I think you’ll continue to see across the country, guys being well-equipped to come in.”
Swinney certainly speaks from experience when it comes to phenom quarterbacks.
A season ago, true freshman Trevor Lawrence took college football by storm in leading the Tigers to the national title. A few years earlier in 2014, Deshaun Watson set school records for passing efficiency (188.6) and completion percentage (67.9) by a freshman while finishing first in school history in passing yards (1,466), passing touchdowns (14) and total offense (1,666) by a first-year freshman.
“I still think it’s more the exception than the norm,” Swinney said of breakout freshmen QBs. “But I would say probably, just from my own experience, it’s what these guys were exposed to in high school. Trevor and Deshaun had been starting since the ninth grade, and they had been really coached to the nth degree with a lot of what we do and they came in here with just a really good foundation from a football standpoint. They’d both nationally been recruited, exposed to a lot of things across the country.
“So, I just think from a mental standpoint – even though it’s different in high school – they still had been under pressure if you will. Both played in Friday Night Lights-type towns with high expectations and things like that, had been in state championships, and so I think their mentality and makeup was really good.”
Back when Swinney was playing high school football in Pelham, Ala., his team – like virtually all teams then — ran the I-formation or some sort of run-based offense, and he was lucky to be able to catch a short out or hitch route.
Nowadays with spread, pass-centric offenses the new norm – not to mention all of the passing competitions that take place in the offseason – high school quarterbacks are more prepared to jump right into a college offense and sling the rock around.
“It’s just different from when I was coming up,” Swinney said. “These guys are doing seven-on-seven leagues, they’re just constantly in the gun, reading things… So, it’s been kind of like basketball on grass with some of these seven-on-seven things that they do, and I think that has been a huge part of the evolution of this quarterback that we see.”
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