June 21, 2006

Can a freshman QB lead a title run?

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The Oklahoma Sooners don't usually provide encouragement and hope for the Texas Longhorns.

They do this season.


When the Longhorns begin defense of their football national championship they will do so with perhaps the element least conducive to winning it all a freshman at quarterback.

Yet, Texas or any other team (Georgia, USC, Arkansas, etc.) that might start a rookie passer can glean a measure of optimism by referencing the histories of Oklahoma and Miami.

Since the NCAA granted its approval for freshmen to play in 1972, only Oklahoma (with Jamelle Holieway in 1985) and Miami (with Bernie Kosar in 1983) have captured national championships with first-year quarterbacks.

Holieway was a true freshman who took over for an injured Troy Aikman and led the Sooners to eight consecutive victories, including a title-clinching 25-10 Orange Bowl triumph over Penn State.

Holieway led Oklahoma in rushing (861 yards) and passing (517 yards) that season.

"I think Jamelle was probably the best option quarterback we had when I was here," then-OU coach Barry Switzer said. "He was a hiccup. You couldn't get a hold of him."

He was fast, smooth and elusive, but Holieway's greatest asset in '85 was a stellar OU roster that featured All-Americans in tight end Keith Jackson, linebacker Brian Bosworth, nose guard Tony Casillas and defensive end Kevin Murphy.

"We had all the other ingredients," Switzer recalled. "He had a great supporting cast around him. We knew we were going to be real good."

Like the '85 Sooners, Texas expects to have a loaded roster with All-American candidates in tackle Justin Blalock, guard Casey Studdard, defensive tackle Frank Okam and safety Michael Griffin. Regardless of whether redshirt freshman Colt McCoy or true freshman Jevan Snead emerges as the starting quarterback, the Longhorns should be tough to beat.

The same goes for USC - even if redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez beats out junior John David Booty for the starting quarterback job.

Olin's Quick Hits
Boyd Epley, Nebraska's strength and conditioning coach for more than 30 years, is leaving Lincoln to accept a new position with the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton received a three-year contract extension which should keep him at the school until at least 2011.

Cris Love, a former quarterback at Iowa State, died last week after a short battle with cancer. He was 24.
However, Switzer says redshirts shouldn't qualify as freshmen.

"That doesn't count. I never looked at a redshirt as a freshman. That's a sophomore," Switzer said. "A true freshman is a different deal than a guy that's practiced a year in the playbook and you've tutored. That's a hell of a difference. He should be ready to play."

Kosar certainly was.

"Obviously, a lot of things have to be right for a first-year player at quarterback to be successful," said Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, Kosar's head coach at Miami.

One of those things would be a good defense, which Miami had. The Hurricanes overcame a six-turnover debacle that resulted in a 28-3 season-opening loss to Florida and allowed just one touchdown over the next three games.

That afforded Kosar time to grow in the offense, and the Hurricanes did not lose again. They upset No. 1 Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl to win the national championship.

"Bernie was so mature for a young guy and so mentally tough, and he had good mechanics even though everybody thinks his delivery was too low," Schnellenberger said. "He got better as each game went along. By the time we played Nebraska he, I and everybody at Miami expected to win that game even though we were 17-point underdogs."

More than two decades have passed since a freshman directed a national champion. Switzer said it can happen again, although he said it's more unlikely than it was 20 years ago.

He said the spread offenses that are so popular now put a premium on an experienced quarterback.

"The problem you have in the spread offenses is that it's 90 percent dependent on how the quarterback plays," Switzer said. "There's too much pressure on the quarterback, so he does need a lot of preparation and snaps to play the game."

Of course, more and more high schools are using similar versions of the spread offense, so freshmen are coming into college better prepared for that style.

That's why it's not too much of a stretch to predict at least some immediate success for McCoy and Snead or Sanchez or maybe Georgia's Matthew Stafford or even Arkansas' Mitch Mustain.

History shows freshmen can lead a team to the national championship. It just doesn't happen often.

Extension for Mike Stoops?
Although he has won just six games in two seasons, the University of Arizona is asking its regents to approve a two-year contract extension for football coach Mike Stoops.

"The regents have been really good throughout the years of doing things that make sense, and this makes sense," Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood told the Tucson Citizen.

Despite consecutive 3-8 seasons, the Wildcats have become more competitive under Stoops, who makes an estimated $890,000 annually. Last season they upset No. 7 UCLA and averaged 53,613 fans per home game.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com, and he files his national notebook every Wednesday. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, email him at [email protected].


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