In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we break down some of the QB storylines in the league going into the season:
After TCU's Trevone Boykin, which Big 12 QB will have the best season?
Brandon Chatmon: I’m expecting big things from Mason Rudolph as a sophomore. He played beyond his years as a true freshman, winning games over Oklahoma and Washington as well as giving Baylor everything it wanted in his first collegiate game. But, as good as he was, Rudolph has plenty of room to improve after completing just 12 of 27 third-down passes for 208 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. I fully expect him to take major steps forward on those clutch plays to become one of the Big 12’s best quarterbacks and push the Pokes toward conference title contention.
Jake Trotter: I'm going with Rudolph, too. It's a little bit of an inside joke with Brandon, Max and our editor Dave Wilson, because I've been hyping Rudolph to them since he was in high school. But if Rudolph's three starts last year are any indication, I'm on the path to vindication. By the way, the last QB I hyped as much out of high school was Robert Griffin III. While with the Austin American-Statesman, I had covered RG III's state championship run in the 300-meter hurdles. If you had been there, you would have been hyping him, too (Griffin came within a hundredth of a second from breaking the national high school record). It remains one of the most impressive sporting feats I have ever written about.
Max Olson: You guys are really just going to give me Seth Russell? Fine by me! Rudolph shares almost nothing in common with Robert Griffin III, Jake, but Russell does have RG III beat on this front: He’ll have the luxury of working with the best collection of skill talent in the Big 12. I haven’t consumed enough Kool-Aid to declare he’s better than Bryce Petty, but Russell does have a ton of exciting tools as well as three years of learning this offense. You can argue about better potential, but I don’t doubt Russell will beat Rudolph on production.
Which Big 12 QB will be the biggest surprise?
Chatmon: I’m fully tied to the Jerrod Heard bandwagon, so if it runs into a tree, send for help. Since last preseason I’ve felt like Texas’ redshirt freshman signal-caller would rise to the top of the depth chart sooner than later but he never got a chance in 2014. Yet he was fairly impressive during spring drills so I’m ready to call him the surprise of Big 12 quarterbacks in 2015. He will have some ups and downs so don’t anticipate him setting the conference on fire each Saturday, but I do expect him to end all questions about the quarterback position on the 40 acres by the time December rolls around.
Trotter: I'm tempted to go with K-State's Alex Delton here. It's difficult to pick a true freshman who doesn't have a starting job yet, and might not all season. Still, Delton's skill set is tantalizing. Bill Snyder is not one to give in to hyperbole. And yet this spring, he couldn't resist comparing Delton to a young Ell Roberson. Delton backed that up with an impressive all-around debut in the Wildcats' spring game. I don't know if it will happen for him this season. But Delton could be next in K-State's long line of standout QBs.
Olson: I’m going to cheat here and not pick one, because I think all the guys we aren’t talking about are still going to eventually make starts this season. I think we’ll still see Davis Webb, J.W. Walsh and maybe even Trevor Knight start at least one game over the course of this season, and whoever loses the Texas quarterback battle will be heard from again as well. Like I’ve mentioned before, nine Big 12 teams dealt with injuries at quarterback last season, so we should probably expect the unexpected.
Which Big 12 QB is most likely to lose a starting job?
Chatmon: Whoever wins the Texas Tech starting job could end up looking over his shoulder for the duration of the year. My money is on Patrick Mahomes to lock down the starting spot, but Davis Webb has shown he can win games in the Big 12 as well. If Webb addresses his turnover struggles — he turned the ball over once every 22.6 plays in 2014 —his production is very comparable to Mahomes, meaning Kliff Kingsbury has a pair of very good options. The quarterback derby winner will have to be productive, and smart, to keep the job.
Trotter: Like Brandon, I believe Heard will be Texas' starting QB by October. Charlie Strong will likely give Tyrone Swoopes the start in the opener when the Longhorns travel to Notre Dame. But if Swoopes doesn't show dramatic improvement through September, Strong will have to give Heard the full-time shot to see what he can do.
Olson: The Kansas State situation stands out to me, because I can’t tell you who’s going to start the first game or the last game of the season. To me, the addition of juco transfer Jonathan Banks after spring ball was an indication that Bill Synder isn’t sure, either. I agree with Jake that Delton could have a bright future, but who knows how that four-man competition is going to shake out? Even if Jesse Ertz is atop the depth chart at the end of fall camp, he’ll have to fight to keep his job every week and I think others will still get a shot to start.