Could this be right?
With the Chiefs’ 31-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, Patrick Mahomes, the second-year pro from Texas Tech, became the first quarterback from the Big 12 to start and win a NFL playoff game.
This from the conference launched in 1996 that has earned its reputation as a league built on passing and dynamic offense.
The Big 12 has produced six Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, including the two most recent in Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
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The top two quarterbacks in NCAA career passing efficiency entering this season were Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Mayfield. Others like Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Texas’ Colt McCoy, OU’s Landry Jones, rank high on other college career passing lists.
But Big 12 quarterbacks had constantly heard this knock when it came to opportunity at the next level: They were products of the system.
Offenses flourished, scoreboards posted huge numbers and quarterbacks amassed crazy statistics. But they played gimmicky fast-break football with no huddles, which did not translate well to the NFL.
The quarterbacks didn’t have the size or the arm strength, and those that did couldn’t or didn’t get the chance to adapt to more traditional drop-back styles in the pros.
A few from the Big 12 made it as starters, but three who opened a playoff game before Mahomes on Saturday in the Divisional round lost in their only opportunity.
The list: Chris Simms (Texas) for Tampa Bay in 2005, Vince Young (Texas) for Tennessee in 2007) and Griffin for Washington in 2012.
There is an exception. A player who started in the Big 12 at quarterback, started a NFL playoff game at another position, and his team won. Seneca Wallace, who played quarterback at Iowa State, started a playoff game for the Seahawks in 2006 as a wide receiver.
Colorado’s Koy Detmer, the first All-Big 12 quarterback in 1996, appeared in playoff games for Andy Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles but didn’t start. His predecessor at Colorado, Kordell Stewart, won playoff games as a starter for Pittsburgh, but his college career occurred when the Buffaloes were in the Big Eight.
The NFL’s sentiment is clearly shifting on quarterbacks from spread offenses. Mahomes threw for a Big 12-like 50 touchdowns and 5,097 passing yards in his first year as a starter with the Chiefs. He helped them become the first team in NFL history to score at least 26 points in every game.
He is the first former Big 12 QB to break through in a big way.
Mayfield, the overall top draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, was terrific as a starter, finishing with 27 touchdown passes and a 6-7 record for a team that went winless last season.
The person who drafted Mayfield knew something about this type of quarterbacks. John Dorsey, the Browns’ GM and former Chiefs GM, selected Mayfield a year after he drafted Mahomes.
The next draft could produce another spread offense star. Murray, despite his 5-9, 180-pound frame, now has a choice. Selected by the Oakland A’s in the first round last summer, Murray is contemplating an NFL future and could be a first-round pick in that sport as well after a season in which he threw 42 touchdown passes and seven interceptions for the Sooners.
How quickly has the NFL embraced what’s been entertaining Big 12 fans for years? Kliff Kingsbury, the original spread quarterback for Leach’s Red Raiders, was fired as Texas Tech’s head coach six weeks ago. He quickly took a job as Southern California’s offensive coordinator, but the offers didn’t stop.
Kingsbury started talking to NFL teams, and is now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
Another former Big 12 quarterback, Zac Taylor, is a leading candidate to become the Cincinnati Bengals’ coach. Taylor, the Los Angeles’ Rams’ quarterbacks coach, set passing records at Nebraska and was the Big 12’s offensive player of the year in 2006.
For years, the spread philosophy and quarterbacks who made it work were dismissed by the NFL. Production and playoff success have a way of changing minds.