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QB Development: Myth or Reality
by Scott Spreitzer - 09/10/2006
You probably hear all the time from TV announcers that certain college football quarterbacks are "maturing" or "developing" as they get older.
Everyone struggles when they first become a starter. But, the more starts they get, the better decisions they make. Experienced quarterbacks make fewer turnovers, and lead more scoring drives. There's a universal learning curve, and everyone's on it.
This is one of the biggest myths about college football that I know. And, it can cause handicappers to make some very big mistakes when they try to anticipate something that isn't going to happen.
Quarterback is obviously the most important position on the football field. So, it gets the majority of attention from analysts and pundits looking to fill the ridiculous number of hours of pregame hype every week. College announcers tend to avoid criticizing youngsters. This means they will focus on the handful of quarterbacks who are showing development, while ignoring the dozens who aren't!
Think about it this way. There are about 120 Division-1A college football teams on the board in Las Vegas . Each of those teams has one starting quarterback. Many have a second guy who's knocking on the door because he also wants to be the starter. Let's say that's 180 quarterbacks for handicappers to keep track of. Do you think all of them get better over time? Are all 180 on the learning curve that's supposed to exist?
If you actually study the stats of players as they mature, you find that most college quarterbacks don't get that much better. It's too difficult a position to master. Too many reads and decisions to make. Not enough game experience from year-to-year to really make any big jumps.
Now, I'm sure you're all thinking of guys in your local conference who did get better over time. I'm not saying it never happens. It's just that it doesn't happen nearly as often as you'd think. And, this is even true for big name quarterbacks. Remember Chris Simms at Texas ? He was throwing dumb interceptions in his senior year. Heck, the last pass of his career was a bad interception against LSU in the Cotton Bowl. You all probably watched the Florida State/Miami game the opening week where ESPN's studio guys literally spent THREE STRAIGHT DAYS assuring you both starting quarterbacks were going to be better that night than they were last year. Didn't happen.
As handicappers, you've really got to get a grip on this issue. You've got to know what the indicators are for improvement and accept that it's probably not going to happen for about 75% of the teams on the board. What you saw last year is what you'll get this year. What you saw last week is what you'll get this week.
Here are the indicators that suggest real improvement:
*A gradual increase in completion percentage or a sustained increase in completion percentage after a big jump. Sometimes it all clicks for a QB at one time. You've got to make sure he's sharp a couple of weeks in a row before accepting this as real improvement.
*An absence of interceptions. You can't trust a guy who throws at least one per game, and you've got to go against guys who are consistently throwing two per game.
*Consistent passing yardage marks in the 200s. The days of weekly 300 yard passing games for the top teams are long gone (except when USC is in the mood to show off). If you see a guy who settles in the 180s or 190s many weeks, you're not looking at a guy you can trust in big games. The signal callers who have matured or developed into clear threats will crack the 220-250 range consistently, with occasional peaks into the 300s. And they'll do this with a decent completion percentage and few giveaways.
If you start grading quarterbacks by these parameters, you'll be stunned by how many across the country continue to struggle through their full careers. They never develop the touch required for completion percentage accuracy. They continue to make bad decisions and throw into traffic. Any yardage that matters only comes against very weak defenses or in cupcake games at the start of the season.
Bottom line: don't listen to the media regarding quarterbacks. Do your own research and learn what's really happening. Back the handful of guys who have established that they've learned what to do. Go against the guys who you know are going to be in over their heads. Don't make the mistake of assuming an experienced QB is going to climb the ladder this year. I can't tell you how many times the past two weeks I've heard wagerers in the sportsbooks moaning about the quarterbacks they bet on. In every single case, it was a returning starter who was making the same mistakes he made last year.
That means these gamblers were making the same mistakes THEY were making last year as well. Think about that for a second. Today's tip isn't just about young athletes failing to improve, it's also about how handicappers fail to improve. You're the quarterback of your sports gambling effort. Make the right reads and improve your game.
Understanding the true dynamics of the QB position is a great way to start.