The MAC is made up of schools like Miami of Ohio, Toledo, Marshall, and Kent St. They are not known for being football powerhouses. As a matter of fact they rarely crack the top 25 poll in any given year, but lately they’ve been producing some top-notch quarterback talent.
Last year, Ben Rothlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers(Miami, OH grad) went 15-1, Chad Pennington of the NY Jets(Marshall grad.) went 11-5, and Byron Leftwich of the Jacksonville Jaguars(Marshall grad.) went 10-6. That’s a combined 36-12 record with all three quarterbacks leading their team to the playoffs. Sounds more like the winning percentage of Marino, Montana, and Elway.
Clearly there is no comparison to those hall of famers yet because these quarterbacks are so young, all under the age of 30. But what’s amazing is the success these guys have had so early in their careers. Over the years NFL offenses and defenses have gotten more complicated yet these young MAC quarterbacks have been able to step in without any pro experience and win.
Over their first sixteen games Byron Leftwich went (8-8), Rothlisberger (15-1), and Pennington (11-5). Compare that to players like Donovan McNabb(7-9 through his first 16 starts) and Peyton Manning (3-13 through his first 16 starts). It’s quite impressive how they have started their careers.
So is it just by chance or are MAC quarterbacks more polished coming out of college?
First of all, the MAC has better talent now than it has had in the past. Division I scholarships were cut down a few years ago which resulted in a Michigan or Ohio State recruit choosing a MAC school because that’s where the scholarship was available.
But you really need to look deeper than that. See, MAC schools are traditionally smaller on the line than the major conferences which forces them spread the field and throw the ball more, like many pro teams. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these quarterbacks are more accurate because they throw more, but what it does mean is that these guys have less room for error.
When you throw the ball you risk a fumble, a sack, or an interception. When you run the ball you only risk a fumble, plus you do a better job of wearing out a defense. The big college conferences, with the huge offensive lines, have the luxury of running it more where the MAC is forced to put the ball in the air.
Look at a guy like Peyton Manning who played for Tennessee and was surrounded by some great college players. He could afford to make a few mistakes and still win with a power running game. When you can establish a running game it forces the defense to cheat up making it easier on the quarterback to pass the ball. MAC quarterbacks do just the opposite. They use the pass to set up the run.
So in theory MAC quarterbacks would have more experience “managing” the game. That means eliminating turnovers, throwing the ball away to avoid the sack, and recognizing defenses so you can audible accordingly. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to always have one eye on the clock.
There are quarterbacks with below average arms that start in the NFL because they know how to manage the game correctly, and have even won championships doing it. Look at Craig Krenzel and Trent Dilfer. Two quarterbacks with below average accuracy that won a Super Bowl and a National Championship.
So if I’m a pro scout and I’m suppose to be looking for the intangibles that make a great quarterback, the MAC conference is definitely worth a look.
Two MAC schools, Bowling Green State U. and Toledo U., have some quarterbacks that could be added to a pro roster in Omar Jacobs(Jr, BGSU) and especially Bruce Gradkowski(Sen, UT). Gradkowski ranked #2 in the country in passing accuracy as a freshman and both have a lot of experience managing the game.