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September 26, 2007
Olin's notebook: Freshmen under fire
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click his name to send him a question for his weekly mailbag.
Sept. 19: Big Ten blues
Sept. 12: Texas takes steps
Sept. 5: Breakthrough day for Choice
The Bible said a child shall lead them. But it wasn't legendary college football coach D.X. Bible.
College football players the same age as many soldiers in Iraq aren't children, despite what Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy says. However, the fact remains that college coaches historically haven't been quick to entrust their teams to teenage quarterbacks.
Coaches once abided by the theory that every freshman starter equates to a loss. But that way of thinking appears to be ancient history and as obsolete as the flying wedge, the wishbone and Notre Dame in the top 25.
Quarterback, the most vital position in football, is more frequently being entrusted to first- and second-year players. Even the starter at Florida International is named (Wayne) Younger.
About 50 teams in Division I-A – roughly 40 percent – started a freshman or sophomore quarterback last week. Some underclassmen started because of injuries to older players, others because they won the job outright, and some perhaps because coaches feared they might transfer rather than sit.
Whatever the case, that seems like a significant trend, especially considering the last underclassman to win a national-championship game was Alabama's Jay Barker in 1992 (although Matt Leinart was a sophomore when USC was voted national champion by The Associated Press in 2003).
"I don't know any scientific reason for it … any philosophical reasons," said Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who starts sophomore Todd Reesing. "I know coaches are putting their best players on the field.
"Ten or 15 years ago, maybe you'd redshirt a guy and bring him along slowly. Maybe you'd go with a more mature guy that's not as talented and doesn't make as many mistakes. Now, whether it's a freshman or a sophomore, you go with the most talented guy."
There are many reasons for the change.
Rising salaries have affected how coaches handle quarterbacks. Now that coaches typically earn in excess of $1 million annually, they're under more pressure to win immediately and might not have the luxury of waiting for a quarterback to develop.
The opening of the NFL Draft to underclassmen is a factor. In the past six years, 16 quarterbacks have entered the NFL Draft early. Quarterbacks who leave early would have been starting as seniors, and their backups now are playing sooner than they would have.
Another factor is that high schools seem to be running more sophisticated offenses. As a result, more quarterbacks are entering college with a better understanding of the offense and are better prepared to play.
That can have an adverse effect, too. Quarterbacks who feel they're ready to play may not be as inclined to wait their turn, which could force a coach's hand.
Mangino said that's not an unrealistic scenario.
"Unfortunately, when you get a talented freshman, you're forced to play them because they don't stick around," he said.
Demetrius Jones is an example. Just last week, he transferred to Northern Illinois from Notre Dame after he felt he wasn't given a fair shot in competing with freshman Jimmy Clausen for the starting job.
As Mangino said, there are no scientific reasons for the apparent increase in younger starting quarterbacks. But before that trend is viewed as a wave of the future, there should be a nod to the warning of the past – you know, the one about freshmen equating to losses.
Only six teams ranked in The AP's Top 25 did not start an upperclassman at quarterback last week. The six:
• Georgia sophomore Matthew Stafford
• Oklahoma redshirt freshman Sam Bradford
• Texas sophomore Colt McCoy
• USF sophomore Matt Grothe
• Virginia Tech true freshman Tyrod Taylor
There are 20 Division I-A teams that are 4-0. Of those, which has gone the longest since its last 4-0 start? (Answer at the end of the column.)
Oklahoma is OK
"I feel bad, I really do," Stoops said. "But we have other guys that have played a lot of football, too. We'll be fine."
Williams had started three games and had posted seven tackles, including four for losses. Alonzo Dotson, who has two sacks, likely will move into the starting lineup opposite Auston English. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Beal will get more time in the rotation.
Oklahoma has 16 sacks this season.
Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English enjoyed perhaps one of the best performances by a defensive player ever in last week's 42-35 win over Idaho.
English posted 12 tackles – including 10 solos – and that included five sacks for 29 yards in losses. He also forced a fumble, which he recovered for a touchdown. English was also credited with five quarterback pressures.
By the way, his final sack was late in the fourth quarter with Idaho at Northern Illinois' 18.
California's DeSean Jackson seems to intimidate punters much in the same way New York Mets stolen-base threat Jose Reyes drives pitchers crazy.
Jackson has returned six punts for touchdowns in his career, including one for 77 yards earlier this season against Tennessee.
The four punters that Cal has faced – Tennessee's Britton Colquitt, Colorado State's Jim Kaylor, Louisiana Tech's Chris Keagle and Arizona's Keenyn Crier – have averaged 5 yards less per attempt against Cal than they have in their other games.
All four also had at least one punt that covered 25 yards or less against Cal.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's post-game tirade about a column in the Daily Oklahoman got us wondering where it would rank among the greatest college football coaching meltdowns of all time.
Here's our top five:
1. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punches Clemson's Charlie Bauman after Bauman's interception clinches a 17-15 victory in the 1978 Gator Bowl.
2. Michigan State coach John L. Smith loses control on the sideline during the Spartans' loss to Ohio State in 2005. At halftime he rants to a reporter about "the kids playing their tails off and the coaches are screwing it up."
3. UNLV coach Mike Sanford screams to his team not to leave the field, then trips and falls as he protests a call that resulted in a 16-10 loss at Iowa State last season.
4. Gundy screams at an Oklahoma City columnist last Saturday, accusing her of writing false information and questioning whether she has children.
5. In February 2004, Colorado coach Gary Barnett responds to questions about former kicker Katie Hnida, who had claimed that she was raped by Buffaloes players, by blasting her kicking ability. "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. You know what guys do? They respect your ability. You can be 90 years old, but if you can go out and play, they'll respect you. Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it." Barnett later acknowledged that he said "the wrong thing, the wrong way at the wrong time."
Cincinnati is undefeated after four games for the first time since 1954. The second longest span is Hawaii, which hadn't started 4-0 since 1988.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.