Hello, Dawg Fans. I hope this blog post you finds you somewhere warm with a cold brew in your hand. If you happen to be floating on an air mattress out in the middle of a lake, all the more power to you. Of course, your spouse probably thinks that you are an idiot for taking your phone out with you into the middle of a lake.
But - hey! - if you drop your phone into the lake, it creates an unassailable argument for getting a new phone. After all, how else is your spouse going to text you to remind you to pick up milk on your way home from work?
We started the tradition of the 30 Day Countdown specifically to help sharpen your insights as you get ready for the season of "drinking-beers-in-a-sports-bar-during-college-football." One question that surely affects Washington college football fans in 2016 is that of who owns the preseason title of "probably the best QB in the league."
It is an interesting question not just because two of the top legitimate candidates - WSU’s Luke Falk and UW’s Jake Browning - are in the discussion. It also happens to be one of those transition years in the league where just about everybody else is breaking int a new signal caller. In fact, other than the two mentioned, only UCLA’s Jake Rosen, Colorado’s Sefo Liufau, and Arizona’s Anu Solomon can claim to be a "returning starter" for his PAC-12 team.
So, who is the best? Surely, I don’t know the answer. It’s a pretty good bet that neither do you. But what fun would a sports debate be if somebody actually had unassailable data that answered the question and forcefully ended the sportsbar bickering over it?
I’ll tell you how much fun. It would be as fun as a beer pong contest against Ryan Leaf. (Yes, it is the time of year when we start throwing cheap shots at fellow rival QBs.)
So, let’s talk about the candidates.
UCLA - Josh Rosen (Sophomore)
There may not be a more celebrated QB in the nation than UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Widely regarded as the #1 QB in the nation to sign in 2015, Rosen jumped right into the starting role for UCLA on the heels of Brett Hundley’s early departure to the NFL. In the process of taking that job, Rosen effectively pushed incumbent Jerry Neuheisel right out of the program.
In Rosen’s case, the hype may understate the talent. If you watch Rosen, you know what it means when a scout says that the player looks like "a natural." Everything with Rosen is calm and fluid. The physical skills are textbook and the trained skills are well developed. He has top-end arm strength, refined footwork, and great instincts.
If there were any critiques, it would be the typical young QB stuff. He sometimes is over-careful with the ball to the point of indecision. He doesn’t have a gunslinger mentality and does seem to let some plays that might be salvageable end before their time. Still, these are relative critiques. For a true sophomore, Rosen is a unique talent.
UW - Jake Browning (Sophomore)
There isn’t a ton that I can share about Browning that you don’t already know. He’s the ultimate "gym-rat" QB.
After having shocked Husky fans everywhere by seizing the starting job as a true freshman QB over the incumbent, 4-star Jeff Lindquist, Browning went on to have a record campaign for a Husky true freshman QB. But what has Dawg fans excited aren’t so much the numbers. It's the way he gets the numbers.
"Scrapper" is the term I think of whenever I think of Browning. He just seems to get the position of QB in ways that others before him haven’t. His footwork is impeccable, his ability to run his progressions to his third and fourth options is uncanny, and his ability to improvise (think about all the different throws he made via a sidearm delivery while under duress last year) is probably best in the PAC now that Vernon Adams has moved on.
He isn’t the perfect QB, to be sure. His arm strength is a real question and, despite his decision making, can be prone to turning the ball over. Still, Browning did top out as the top-rated true freshman QB in all of college football a year ago - a list that includes Rosen. That’s something.
WSU - Luke Falk (Junior)
Many PAC-12 fans look at Luke Falk and wonder, "where the hell did this guy come from?" Falk actually had to take the walk-on route in order to make it onto the WSU roster and, as such, has been viewed by the casual fan as a significant surprise.
But it shouldn’t be.
Falk was a talented, pro-style QB in high school who had his recruitment interrupted by a failed transfer in and then out of Oaks Christian in Southern California. Before that incident took him off the recruiting radar, he was evaluated by several big-time programs and had an offer from Florida State.
If you are a connoisseur of the of the QB position, it is easy to see what NFL scouts love about Falk. He’s a rhythm passer with outrageous accuracy. In addition, he appears to be really coachable given how well he has adapted to and executes the Mike Leach offense.
Critics will point to his lack of arm strength as an issue and they would be right to do so. It might be an arm strength deal, but to my eyes, he looks like a guy that will often throw off his back foot - a fixable error that really becomes an issue on deep passes.
To be honest, hitting on the long ball just isn’t a huge deal in the Leach Air Raid. What is relevant is the decisions he makes. Falk got off 644 attempts in 12 games last season - about 70 more than the next busiest QB - and completed 69.4% of them (2nd in the nation). Those are big numbers that go beyond the Leach system.
WSU - Luke Falk
Before I get into my explanation, I must admit that I feel a bit guilty about how I framed the options. The reality is that there are more quality QBs: USC’s Max Browne, Arizona’s Solomon, OSU's Darrell Garretson, and Cal’s Davis Webb probably warrant a nod in this debate. Still, I had to craft this as a three-man list to keep it reasonable.
It was a pretty close call here between Falk and Rosen. If the question were simply about talent, I think Rosen wins hands down. His accuracy is solid and his arm strength is far superior to Falk's. However, we are talking about "the QB position" and everything it entails. Rosen suffered in two areas a year ago: a discomfort with the scheme, and an inability to improvise when plays broke down. Falk, however, is a QB who is truly comfortable in his own skin and in the scheme drawn up around him. In that way, he’s a more complete QB than either Rosen or Browning right now.
Husky fans will wonder where I think Browning fits in this analysis. Of the three, I think Browning has the most grit. His game isn't so much crafted in a lab (like Rosen) or in a system (like Falk). He's a real game manager with QB chops. But he isn't blessed with the kind of arm of a Rosen or the accuracy of a Falk, so he's just a step behind those guys in the framework of this debate. I would not, however, be shocked, to see him have the most success of the three if the metric was to be "impact on the success of the team." He is the rare kind of player that seems to magnify the capabilities of those around him.