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The player vs. the system
By Gary Danielson
Special to

Each Monday, ABC college football analyst Gary Danielson will break down the top quarterbacks around the country and rank his Top 10.

Respond to Gary's rankings.

Over the past two seasons, I have broadcasted games of all the top quarterbacks in the country.

This past weekend, I got my first good look at Josh Heupel. What struck me through watching this game is the question that everybody asks: Is it the system or the quarterback?

Chris Weinke
Is it Joe Tiller's offense or Drew Brees? Is it Steve Spurrier's fun-and-gun or is it now Rex Grossman? Is it Florida State's talent or Chris Weinke? Is it Tommy Bowden's no-huddle offense or is Woody Dantzler the real thing? Is it Nebraska's Big Red Machine or is it Eric Crouch?

And the last one -- is it the Kentucky-Hal Mumme/Mike Leach-Oklahoma offense or is it Josh Heupel?

I don't have a clear-cut answer. It's a little bit of both. For example, Billy Dickins was an All-Big Ten quarterback before Brees, but Drew took it to a new level. After Danny Wuerffel left, Spurrier struggled to find the right guy and he continues to struggle. He hopes it's Grossman. Nebraska thought it could run its offense under any quarterback, but it sure seems to work better under Crouch than Bobby Newcombe.

All these guys benefit from quarterback-friendly offenses. That's why they have a chance to be in the hunt for the Heisman.

It is a little different for Michael Vick and Crouch because they are asked to do more than just be a passer in their offense, but here is what I would be looking for in a quarterback:

1. Football or athletic moxie
All of these quarterbacks have a feel for being an athlete: Weinke's background in baseball comes through; Heupel's point guard mentality of playing basketball as a kid; Brees' tennis footwork; Henson's gamesmanship. All of these guys have a feel for sports, not just football. If you put them on a ping pong table or floor hockey, they would still be good athletes and figure out the game.

2. Mental toughness
They are being matched up against all types of variables -- media pressure, defensive coordinators, mistakes, the Internet, and their own teammates wanting the ball.

3. Throwing accuracy
Heupel probably has an average arm -- good enough, but average. He would never wow any of the scouts with 'Boy, this kid can just throw the ball through the wall.' He gets it done because he is dead-eye accurate. Heupel has the Kurt Warner/Joe Montana knack of throwing the ball where he wants to. Bottom line, hit what you are looking at.

4. Pocket awareness
I would much rather have a guy who has pocket awareness than a guy who runs. The passing weapon is too valuable to give up. There are too many big plays available in the passing game to have a quarterback who wants to run the ball. I want pocket awareness, I want the Chris Weinke's ability to sidestep a rush and still make a big play. I want Heupel's backing away from a rush to buy enough time to throw and create a big play. Brees eludes pass-rushers and picks up five yards as a last resort. I'm not looking for a second-option runner, I want a last resort runner.

5. Leadership
These games get tough, even when things are going well. When Brees was down 18 points to Michigan two weeks ago, he never took his eye off the target and continued to lead his team. Heupel, when things started to turn against Kansas State after the blocked punt and the lead was cut to seven points, all that fancy bench-press, agility times and pretty spirals didn't mean anything. It was in the huddle, making the team believe he was still in control.

6. Physical toughness
To run the spread offenses that Dantzler and others run, you need to absorb contact. Weinke, Brees, Vick -- they are going after these guys. They are trying to beat on them. They have to be physically tough to finish these games. Two of the best at this were Bernie Kosar and Jim Kelly. They took a beating and they were always there at the end of the game to make plays.

7. Committed to game preparation
This is where I was really impressed the last two weeks by Brees and Heupel. They called audibles. They knew what the defense was trying to take away. They spent Sunday through Friday night to get ready to play on Saturday. That is why they were successful when the chips were down. They weren't fooled. They did their film study and committed their time to being great quarterbacks.

There is not a lot to say about each quarterback this week. The way to measure a quarterback is how his team goes. That has been my premise all year. All of these guys are in the running because of where their teams are.

Here are the latest Top 10 quarterbacks and their previous ranking in parentheses.

No. 1 -- Michael Vick, Virginia Tech (1)
West Virginia: 10-18-233, 2 TD; rush: 11-57
Season: 65-107-868, 7 TD, 4 int.; rush: 70-541, 7 TD
His performance was maybe a B in the first half. He fell behind, but came through at the end.

Grade: B+. Still the leader.

No. 2 -- Eric Crouch, Nebraska (2)
at Texas Tech: 6-12-86, 2 TD, 1 int.; rush: 12-52, 1 TD
Season: 45-90-752, 10 TD, 5 int.; rush: 91-530, 9 TD
Put up 56 points. His opportunities are here: at Oklahoma, at Kansas State and in the Big XII Championship Game.

Grade: P

Drew Brees
Purdues quarterback Drew Brees threw 5 TD passes against Northwestern.
No. 3 -- Drew Brees, Purdue (3)
at Northwestern: 22-40-239, 5 TD, 1 int.; rush: 16-56
Season: 180-293-2169, 17 TD, 4 int.; rush: 63-349, 3 TD; rec: 1-5, 1 TD
As I thought, he will continue to stay right in the middle of it. He doesn't need much help. He is going to have all the statistics necessary at the end for everybody to vote for him. If he takes this team to the Rose Bowl, he might win it. He didn't even have a great game and he still had five touchdowns. He has two huge games ahead of him: Wisconsin this week and Ohio State on Oct. 28.

Grade: B. I am sure he was not happy with his performance. He was a little inaccurate.

No. 4 -- Chris Weinke, Florida State (4)
Duke: 37-47-536, 5 TD, 1 int.
Season: 164-256-2510, 20 TD, 6 int.
What can you say? He has convinced Bobby Bowden to kill the run -- we are going to ride Weinke and try to light up the scoreboard, hope the teams ahead of them lose, and the beast that is Florida State can get back in the National Championship Game. FSU threw 41 times in the first half (to five rushes), and I suspect we will see more of this the rest of the way. They will throw the ball the rest of the year.

Grade: A.

No. 5 -- Josh Heupel, Oklahoma (7)
at Kansas State: 29-37-374, 2 TD; rush 9-(-35), 1 TD
Season: 144-210-1894, 11 TD, 4 int.; rush: 33-26, 5 TD
The Texas and Kansas State games were so impressive. The whole Oklahoma gameplan is built around Heupel. He put a tremendous performance against K-State. He has as much moxie as any quarterback as I have seen. He is completely calm.

Grade: A+. Against a very good Kansas State team that will get better.

No. 6 -- Woodrow Dantzler, Clemson (5)
Maryland: 10-19-186, 1 int.; rush: 17-87, 2 TD
Season: 91-147-1271, 8 TD, 4 int.; rush: 122-819, 12 TD
Now all the preseason hype is over for Woody. He is going to start coming into his big games. He continues to play at a high level. The tests get harder now. We will see.

Grade: B+.

No. 7 -- Joey Harrington (NR)
at USC: 28-42-382, 4 TD, 1 int.; rush: 4-6
Season: 98-190-1340, 10 TD, 5 int.; rush: 25-86, 3 TD
Suffers from being in the West, but he has put together a good season. He has Oregon in position to go the Rose Bowl.

Grade: A.

No. 8 -- Ken Dorsey (t10)
Last week: Off
Season: 95-157-1297, 11 TD
Has a chance to lead his team to the National Championship Game.

No. 9 - M. Tuiasosopo, Washington (NR)
at Arizona State: 13-30-110, 1 TD, 1 int.; rush: 12-24
Season: 98-180-1680, 12 TD, 5 int.; rush: 84-288, 14 TD
Stats aren't there, but stays alive.

No. 10 (tie) -- Drew Henson (t10)
at Purdue: 14-18-233, 2 TD
Season: 63-97-887, 7 TD
He's probably the best pro quarterback playing college.

Others to Watch:
Major Applewhite, Texas Looks like he has more confidence knowing he's the starter.
Quincy Carter, Georgia
Rex Grossman, Florida
Philip Rivers, N.C. State
Sage Rosenfels, Iowa State

Dropped Out
Jonathan Beasley, Kansas State
Steve Bellisari, Ohio State
Zak Kustok, Northwestern
Ben Leard, Auburn

Gary Danielson writes a column every Monday for  

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Connolly: Heupel proves to be a winner

Weekend wrap-up: No more QB issues in Gainesville

Danielson: Cool Brees following Dayne's pattern

Danielson: Top quarterbacks beginning to emerge

Danielson: Dantzler setting the ACC on fire

Danielson: Purdue takes the ball out of Brees' hands

Danielson: Crouch looks golden

Danielson: Vick beginning to resemble a certain Tiger

Danielson: Year of the QB

 Antwone Savage hauls in a pass from Josh Heupel and goes 74 yards for a Sooners' score.
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 Purdue's Drew Brees throws 26 yards to Vinny Sutherland for the TD against Northwestern.
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 Bob Slowikowski takes the Michael Vick pass and rumbles in for a 72-yard TD.
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 Michigan's Drew Henson launches a 47-yard TD pass to his favorite target David Terrell.
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 Woodrow Dantzler calls his own number to score from 19 yards out.
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 Joey Harrington lays it in nicely for Josh Line on a 23-yard TD pass.
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 Kansas State's Jonathan Beasley runs through the middle of the Oklahoma defense for a 15-yard TD.
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