Not long ago, the Big 12 was college football’s quarterback kingpin league. Rarely in the previous decade was the Heisman Trophy race settled without Big 12 input.
Three winners, five others who finished in the top three in voting from 2000-09, passing records set and reset. If you weren’t flinging for 400 yards per game in those days, you didn’t stand a chance it seemed.
It’s different now. There’s been a good group every season — Baylor’s Robert Griffin III won the 2011 Heisman, Kansas State’s Collin Klein had a dominating season in 2012 and TCU’s Trevone Boykin broke through last year and ranks among this year’s Heisman favorites.
But the league has settled down at quarterback. A semblance of balance has returned on offense. Defenses have caught up and 2015 doesn’t shape up as a vintage quarterback year. Several schools will enter the fall with uncertainty or inexperience at the position, and nowhere is quarterback more cluttered than at Kansas State.
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With seven quarterbacks on the roster and four in the playing mix, Kansas State will engage in a competition/casting call.
“We’ve gone into a season before with a couple of guys, and maybe a third guy on the fringe,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said.
But nothing quite like this. Three candidates — Joe Hubener, Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton — played in the spring game without any seizing the job. Jonathan Banks, an athletic junior college transfer, makes it a foursome.
Only Hubener, last year’s primary backup, and Ertz have major college game experience. Neither has started. Delton is a freshman, and Banks owns a year of junior college experience.
No Big 12 team returns less experience at the position, and the race will be on to get all the candidates enough practice reps and find a starter.
“We have to be effective as coaches in defining what the capabilities are, and we have to do it as quickly as we can,” Snyder said. “There’s not a time limit on it, but it would be senseless to carry four guys in that position until game time.”
Still, sometimes the best candidate doesn’t reveal himself until game conditions, and who knows? Maybe each get snaps in the Sept. 5 opener against South Dakota.
The position probably is the major factor in K-State’s status in the preseason perception. Seventh in the poll is a low point in the five-year period of the 10-team conference for the Wildcats, who have delighted in proving the underselling forecasters wrong in three of the four years. Last year, K-State met its third-place projection.
Each of the Kansas State QB candidates possesses ball-carrying skills, and that’s especially important this season as the Wildcats also are starting over at wide receiver with the loss of Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Time of possession may become K-State’s most important stat this season as ball control figures to be the path to success.
If any program can find a way to make it work, to play to its strengths and away from its weaknesses, it’s the one with the coach who will be enshrined in College Football Hall of Fame in December.
The Wildcats own the top Big 12 record over the past four seasons. They’re 27-9 in that stretch, one game ahead of Oklahoma and Baylor. In that time, two quarterbacks led the way, Klein and Jake Waters, although Waters shared snaps with Daniel Sams, who transferred to McNeese State, in 2013.
“You’ve seen us play two quarterbacks, and you’ve seen us play two quarterbacks on the field at the same time,” Snyder said. “So we have a lot of things we can do. But at the end of the day … you’re better served to have one than two.”