You hear it all the time: quarterback is the most important position in sports, let alone football, and so the success of any football team in the modern era hinges so much on finding the right guy to lead an offense on the field. Entire coaching staffs are lauded and dismantled based on finding the right guy to slot in at QB1 (looking at you, Gene Chizik and the 2010 Auburn staff).
Recruiting is an incredibly difficult aspect of the college game and the strategies at each school differ based on the staff. Your initial recruiting footprint is typically about a 200 mile circle from your campus — 200 because a recruit could conceivably drive to your campus in about three hours, get there by mid-morning, stay through the day, then arrive home at around 9 or 10 — so a lot of focus goes into recruiting the “local guys” since it’s the easiest (and cheapest) way to get recruits. If you’re a Texas or Florida school your 200-mile circle freaking rocks; if you’re a school in Colorado or Nebraska your 200-mile circle freaking sucks.
Missouri is lucky to have two metro areas that it can pull from but, as we know, they’ve pulled quarterbacks from Texas and Ohio in the past 20 years. But should the Tigers focus more on Texas? And just how good is the Midwest at churning out blue chip quarterbacks? And is that good for them or would they be better off going elsewhere?
That’s what I wanted to answer, and this article - plus another next week - will highlight just that: how many blue chip quarterbacks hail from the Midwest, how many end up at Midwest schools, and how many of those particular quarterbacks go on to have success in the NFL. And since Missouri currently has two Midwestern blue chip quarterbacks on the roster - Connor Bazelak and Tyler Macon - it would be nice to see what sort of expectations they are playing against.
Let’s define some rules real quick:
- I’m defining the Midwest the same way the US Census Bureau defines it: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. So to be considered “from the Midwest” you need to have graduated high school in one of those states.
- I’m using the 247 Composite rankings to determine who was a 4- or 5-star quarterback, the designation given the “blue chip” moniker. Rivals, 247, Scouts, and other recruiting services give their own rankings that vary from source to source, but the Composite rankings put all that in a statistical blender to come up with an average from all recruiting sources. It’s the more thorough of the rankings systems, so that’s what I’m using.
- To be considered a Midwestern quarterback who went to a Midwestern school, you have to have graduated from the Midwest, signed with a school in the Midwest, and then played your entire college career in the Midwest. So, 5-star James Banks from Indianapolis who signed with Tennessee? Doesn’t meet the qualifications. Joe Burrow, the Athens, OH native who signed with Ohio State but only played at LSU? Doesn’t meet the qualifications. The career has to stay in the region to count.
- Also, if a guy signed as a quarterback but transitioned to receiver/tight end/safety/etc., I’m also not counting your career. We’re looking at quarterbacks only!
Today we start in the year 2000 and go up through the recruiting class of 2008!
Here’s the list of Midwestern blue chip quarterbacks that signed with schools in the Midwest from 2000-2008:
There were ten Midwest blue chip quarterbacks not counted here, either because they signed outside of the Midwest (Casey Paus, James Banks), switched positions (Tom Zbikowski, Demetrius Jones), or ended up playing baseball professionally (Joe Mauer, Clayton Richard). The ones listed above are the ones remaining; let’s take a look at them:
Thanks to being a three-year starter in coach Joe Tiller’s novel (at the time) spread offense, Orton is actually one of the most prolific Midwestern quarterbacks to play at a Midwestern school. With over 9,000 passing yards, 63 passing touchdowns, and a 59% completion rate he was an attractive pick in the 4th round by a Chicago Bears team in need for a youth movement at quarterback.
Randy Walker’s Northwestern Wildcat offense of the early aughts also were early implementers of the spread offense, but unlike Tiller’s Purdue teams, the ‘Cats had an emphasis on the ground game. The Wildcats really took off when Basanez earned the starting quarterback gig, breaking 29 school records on the way 22 victories. His 10,580 passing yards, 44 touchdowns, and 57% completion rate weren’t enough to get drafted by any team, but he’s still a renowned college player at a school not known for its prolific passers.
Zwick arrived in Columbus with high expectations and started for the Buckeyes in his sophomore season. He was injured in the sixth game, however, and was replaced by a guy named Troy Smith. Because you’ve probably heard about Smith (who is further down on this list) and probably haven’t heard of Zwick, you can figure out what happened after that.
The most accurate quarterback on this list, Stanton was a three-year starter for the Spartans, ending with 6,524 yards and 42 touchdowns over 45 games. Unfortunately, the team around him wasn’t all that great, only winning five games in his first two years and then four in his senior season. Despite the lackluster team performance, Stanton was drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
As previously mentioned, Smith took over the Ohio State Buckeye offense once Justin Zwick was injured. Smith’s athleticism provided a far superior level of explosiveness and helped the usually conservative Jim Tressel offense set records over his two years as starter. He helped Ohio State win the Big 10 in 2006 when he also won the Heisman trophy with a record number of first place votes (91%) and the third-largest vote total of all time (2,541). However, he is widely considered one of the worst Heisman trophy winners of the modern era due to his final performance against Florida in the National Championship game: 4-14, 35 yards, an interception, and a fumble while being sacked five times. Regardless of optics and opinions, he ended up being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the 5th round.
A four-year starter at Notre Dame, Quinn is considered one of the most prolific college quarterbacks of the 21st century, breaking 36 school records and winning 30 games in his career, second most of Midwestern quarterbacks at Midwestern schools. The Irish never won a BCS bowl with Quinn at the helm but it wasn’t his fault: 11,762 yards, 95 touchdowns, 58% completion rate and only a 2.4% interception rate over his four-year career. He was drafted with the 22nd pick in the 1st round by the Cleveland Browns and...that was the beginning of the end of his football career.
You gotta feel for the 4-star Rock Bridge product: with a laundry list of blueblood programs offering him a scholarship, Patton chose to stick at home for Pinkel’s Tigers, becoming a the crown jewel of the 2004 signing class. He redshirted behind Brad Smith in 2004 and was poised to get more reps in 2005 until a little quarterback named Chase Daniel showed up on campus. And that’s how a blue-chip quarterback became Columbia, Missouri’s favorite dentist.
Also, I still love this:
Easily the least prolific of the Midwestern quarterbacks with at least one full year of starting experience, Christensen threw a mere 468 passes for 2,950 yards over his three years seeing action. He lost his job to Ricky Stanzi in 2008 and never reclaimed the starter role before he ran out of elgibility.
You all remember this guy. He helped lead Illinois to a BCS bowl and a couple of scares in the Arch Rivalry. Of course, he never beat Missouri and USC tore apart the Illini in one of the worst BCS matchups of all time. But the Juice finished his career with 8,037 yards through the air, 56 passing touchdowns, and over 2,500 rushing yards with 18 touchdowns on the ground. He never replicated the magic of ‘07 and didn’t make it to an NFL roster but was one of the more memorable college quarterbacks of the past 15 years.
The Grandview product spurned the Tigers in lieu of Ron Prince’s Kansas State Wildcats and was able to have a decent career: 8,078 passing yards, 44 touchdowns, 59% completion rate. However, the Wildcats only went 17-20 in his three years and he was really good at throwing interceptions, ending his college career with 34. The NFL liked his size and arm, however, and he turned his mediocre stint in Manhattan for the 17th overall pick in the 1st round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hopefully you all remember this guy.
The top-rated quarterback of the 2008 recruiting class, Gabbert’s two years as Missouri’s QB1 netted 6,822 yards, 40 touchdowns, a 60% completion rate, and 18 wins - including a memorable victory over #1 Oklahoma in 2010’s rendition of Homecoming. We all anticipated more from him, however, as he never seemed to be the same quarterback after Ndamukong Suh broke him in half and shredded his ankle on a rainy Thursday night in 2009. He still was able to be a 1st-round pick thanks to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and despite not becoming a long-term starter, has earned a decent amount of cash as a reliable backup, including on the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the NFL...
Let’s just get this out of the way now...the Midwestern quarterbacks who played at Midwestern schools and played in the NFL stunk. Basanez and Zwick never started, Smith and Quinn - probably the two best college quarterbacks of this group - won a combined 8 games in 28 starts and neither played more than 25 games in his career. Drew Stanton had a winning record in his starts but only started 17 of his 38 active games. And we all know the crapshow Blaine Gabbert walked into in Jacksonville and the expectations of him pulling them out from dumpster fire of a football team. Yes, Kyle Orton was the best pro of this bunch and he went 42-40 over ten seasons with five different teams. Not great!
Next week we’ll take a look at the Midwestern quarterbacks from 2009 until the most recent NFL entries.