By Jason Elmquist
One would have to go back quite a few years to find a time that the Big 12 Conference didn’t have its fair share of marquee quarterbacks.
But this year, with only two quarterbacks making an appearance at the Big 12 Conference Football Media Days in Dallas — and only one of those two having played in the league — it’s apparent the conference is short of its usual big names under center.
“It’s very surprising to see a down year, but when you have guys like Geno Smith, Colin Klein and just a number of guys, it’s hard to replace players like that,” Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett said. “Coming into this year, when you look at the quarterback position — a player who touches the ball every single play — you have to have somebody in there you can trust.”
So short of quarterbacks is the conference this year that Texas quarterback David Ash, who has been inconsistent the past few years, is considered the veteran quarterback in the league. He is expected to follow the lineage of Vince Young and Colt McCoy.
“We’re a quarterback-driven league, and if you just look at the last 10 years, this league has been known for the best quarterbacks in the country and the best passers and the best offenses,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “So the fact that we’ve struggled at quarterback for two years on and off is a true fact that we’ve struggled as a team some because he touches it every time. He and the center are the only two guys that touch it every time — and the center gets rid of it fast.
“So when you think about the importance of that player at all levels of our game, it is really, really key, and that’s why we’re so excited to have David with experience, with maturity, with confidence not only in himself but in his team.”
Oklahoma has been one of the teams in the conference that has helped the Big 12’s reputation as a quarterback league over the years. With names like Sam Bradford and Landry Jones the past six years, the Sooners now don’t have the certainty at the position of who will be next in line.
Speculation had been that backup quarterback Blake Bell — used as a running quarterback a year ago — would fill that hole under center. But OU coach Bob Stoops halted any belief that Bell is the shoe-in for starter.
“We’ve got a number of guys in there in competition with him that are doing really well, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight to go along with Blake Bell,” Stoops said. “We’ve never been real excited about naming a guy too early. So they’re working hard as well.”
That’s how most of the coaches were during the media days, with Kansas being the only other team along with Texas to bring a quarterback — Brigham Young University transfer Jake Heaps, who had to sit out last year but did play at places like Texas and TCU while with BYU.
Heaps and Ash will be expected to lead the new generation of elite quarterbacks in the Big 12 after the loss of OU’s Jones, Kansas State’s Klein and West Virginia’s Smith.
“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal, and it’s always going to be phenomenal. It’s just going to be with newer people,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
While there are no marquee names heading into the season, the style of offenses in the league means it could produce one of those quarterbacks throughout the season. That could even come from Oklahoma State itself with the return of two quarterbacks — Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh — who each threw for more than 1,000 yards last year.
“It’s a good feeling to know that no matter who’s going to be our quarterback, we know they are going to be good,” OSU wide receiver Josh Stewart said. “They are both productive quarterbacks, both are hard-working. It’s a great feeling for us as teammates to know that quarterback is actually the least of our worries right now because we have two talented quarterbacks.”