While the SEC prepares for the year of the running back, for the Big East, it's the year of the quarterback. Six of the conference's eight teams welcome back last year's quarterback. Some put up spectacular numbers in 2010, some slowly but surely grew into the job as the season progressed, while others still played well despite being hemmed in by bland and ineffective offensive systems. With experience, changed offensive systems, and successful recruiting, the Big East should have some of the nation's best quarterback play back now and going forward.
No conference boasts a better group of returning starters at quarterback than the Big East. Cincinnati's Zach Collaros led the Big East in passing in 2010, throwing for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns despite the team's downturn in the first year under new head coach Butch Jones. Tino Sunseri threw for 2,572 yards and 16 touchdowns in Pitt's extremely vanilla offense last season in his first year as the full time starter. Ryan Nassib began the 2010 season mostly managing the game and handing the ball off to Delone Carter. By the end of the season he was a viable passing threat and had his coming out party in the Pinstripe Bowl against Kansas State. He finished 2010 with 2,334 yards and 19 touchdowns. Geno Smith, despite playing in one of the most frustrating and stuttering offenses in the nation, still managed to pass for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns. Chas Dodd began the 2010 season on the bench behind heralded recruit Tom Savage. After the Scarlet Knights' offense struggled early in the season, Dodd was inserted into the offense and never gave the job back. BJ Daniels entered 2010, to some, as a dark horse Heisman candidate because of his skills both running and throwing. After battling injuries and inconsistency through the season, he finally looked like one might expect him to look in the Bulls' bowl win over Clemson. These six quarterbacks should all have even better seasons in 2011.
Changed Schemes and Quarterback Coaches
While six of the eight starers from last season are back, less than half return to the same offense that they played in last year. Only BJ Daniels, Zach Collaros, and Ryan Nassib will play for the same coach and coordinator that they played under last year. The rest should benefit from the coaching and scheme changes. Geno Smith now has the privelege of playing for Dane Holgorsen and his passing attack that has put up astounding statistics in the past. The past two seasons, the starting quarterbacks under Dana Holgorsen have passed for just under 10,000 yards. Smith has all of the tools to be as good as either of the last two quarterbacks that excelled under his tutelage.
The same is true of Tino Sunseri at Pitt. It's no secret that former coach Dave Wannstedt's offense was unimaginative (that's putting it lightly) and ground game oriented. New head coach Todd Graham's offense will be a no huddle, spread offense run mostly from the shotgun and should allow Sunseri to put up numbers comparable to Graham's Tulsa quarterbacks. Last year, Chad Dodd played in an offense that often featured running backs and receivers lining up at quarterback. This year, with Frank Cignetti, Jr. coordinating the offense, Doddshould benefit from a much more consistent commitment to the running game (and having receivers that just play wide receiver).
In Louisville, there's little experience at the quarterback position, but, the coaching staff has a history of developing quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford has a history of developing quarterbacks in his stops as head coach and offensive coordinator, most notably in his development of Alex Smith at Utah. In January, former Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson joined the Cardinals staff as quarterback coach. So, while none of the quarterbacks on Louisville's roster have significant game experience, the coaching staff around them have a history of success, and should ensure continued production for Louisville.
The Stars of Tomorrow
The Big East will enjoy excellent quarterback play in 2011 and recruiting success will ensure that it enjoys it well into the future as well. Almost every team in the Big East has signed, or has a commitment from, a highly rated quarterback. UConn enters the season with no clear starter at quarterback, but Michael Nebrich was rated one of the top 30 dual threat quarterbacks in the country in the class of 2011 and could very well start from day one under Paul Paqualoni. Even though Chas Dodd is just a sophomore for Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights also signed Gary Nova. Nova was rated the eleventh best pro style quarterback in the class of 2011 and had offers from several BCS conference schools. This week, Pittsburgh received a commitment from Chad Voytik, a four star quarterback from Cleveland, TN. Voytik was selected to the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp and is one of the highest rated quarterbacks in the class of 2012. West Virginia has a commitment form Texas quarterback Ford Childress, a quarterback Dana Holgorsen has been recruiting since his time at Houston and Oklahoma State. Childress is also rated one of the top 30 pro style quarterbacks in the class of 2012. Louisville signed one of the best quarterbacks in the class of 2011, Teddy Bridgewater, and has a commitment from one of the top 30 pro style quarterbacks in the class of 2012 in Will Gardner. Syracuse has yet to jump into the recruiting waters at quarterbacks, but, Ryan Nassib is just a junior, so there's plenty of time to find his successor.
Big East teams could get even more good news regarding quarterbacks in the coming weeks. Cincinnati signed three star quarterback Patrick Coyne in 2011, and should find out if it will receive a commitment from one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks in Plant City, Florida's Benny Coney. It is widely believed to be a battle between Virginia Tech and Cincinnati for Coney and the Bearcats are in good shape. South Florida will find out Tuesday if it will receive a commitment from another Elite 11 quarterback for the class of 2012 in Tyler Cameron. Cameron is believed to be favoring the Bulls and would arrive in Tampa in time to sit for a year behind BJ Daniels before taking over the offense. Even future Big East member TCU also has a commitment from four-star quarterback Tyler Matthews.
2012 Should Be Even Bigger
For fans of the Big East, the quarterback play in 2011 should be fun to watch, but it will only be the beginning. Of the returning six quarterbacks, only Cincinnati's Zach Collaros is a senior. That means fans will be treated to a second season of Tino Sunseri and Geno Smith in their respective wide open offenses, Ryan Nassib in his third year under Doug Marrone, Teddy Bridgewater with a year under his belt in Sanford's offense, BJ Daniels in his third year as a starter, Nebrich (or perhaps Michael Box, but my money's on Nebrich) in his second year as a starter for UConn, and Dodd in his second year under Cignetti. With so many quality players staying in the league after this season, critics won't be able to criticize Big East offenses any more.