Posted: Thursday November 9, 2006 12:38PM; Updated: Thursday November 9, 2006 1:42PM
Creme of the crop
Stats of the starting quarterbacks for the nation's Top-10 teams
Colt McCoy, Texas
Pat White, WVU
Troy Smith, OSU
Nate Longshore, Cal
Brady Quinn, ND
Brandon Cox, Auburn
Brian Brohm, Lou.*
Chris Leak, Florida
John D. Booty, USC
Chad Henne, Mich.
* -- missed two games
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Davis estimates that at the start of the season, the 'Horns were running "about 70 percent of what we would have if we'd opened the season with Vince." McCoy did put up some decent passing numbers early in the season, but much of it was thanks to receivers like Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman catching a short pass and breaking downfield against some overmatched defense.
Then came the Red River Shootout. At halftime, Texas trailed the archrival Sooners 10-7, and McCoy had completed 6-of-11 passes for just 41 yards. The 'Horns coaching staff agreed the only way they were going to win the game was to take the training wheels off their quarterback. "We hadn't gotten the ball downfield for him as much as we wanted to," said Brown. "We told him, 'We're going to trust you. We're going to turn you loose.'"
On his first snap of the third quarter, McCoy fired a completion to Pittman 17 yards downfield. Two plays later, he connected with a wide-open Sweed streaking down the sideline for a 33-yard touchdown. He would go on to lead another touchdown drive later in the quarter, and Ross' three takeaways down the stretch would seal a 27-10 win. "[McCoy] took over in the second half of that Oklahoma game and he's been very consistent ever since," said Brown.
How consistent? The next week against Baylor he threw for six touchdowns. In the cold and snow at Nebraska, he went 25-of-39 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, completing a critical 14-yard throw to Quan Cosby on third-and-2 with 1:37 remaining to help set up the game-winning field goal. At Texas Tech, an early interception contributed to the Red Raiders jumping to a 21-0 first-quarter lead, but the 'Horns rallied to victory behind McCoy's 256 passing yards, 68 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Then, last week against 5-3 Oklahoma State, McCoy had his finest performance to date. With the Cowboys' defense determined to take away Texas' running game, the QB went 23-of-29 for 346 yards, three TDs and no interceptions in a 36-10 win. "He threw two of his TDs on run-pass checks at the line," where the quarterback reads the defense and checks out of a running play, said Davis. "He had one third down where he changed protection and he was wrong -- it changed him from hot on one side to the other -- but he hit the tight end on the [hot] side for  yards."
It's that kind of savvy decision-making that has enabled McCoy to have a very un-freshman-like season. Texas' coaches knew coming into '06 that McCoy had the physical ability, but there's no way to predict how a quarterback will handle the mental part of the job until he's thrown into the fire. Just look around the country. At Georgia, freshman Matthew Stafford -- one of the three highest-rated QB prospects in last year's recruiting class -- has struggled mightily, throwing 12 interceptions (though he also doesn't have the pieces around him that McCoy does). And even as a senior, Florida's highly touted Chris Leak continues to be plagued by many of the same mistakes he made as a freshman.
McCoy, whose "aw, shucks" demeanor greatly belies his intelligence, has had no such problems.
"The biggest shock to us is how far mentally he is through 10 games," said Davis. "He's just mature beyond his years."
But is he mature enough to make a nationally televised Heisman speech?
Admittedly, the possibility still seems far-fetched at this point. For one, McCoy would need to keep up his current level of play through three more games and lead Texas to a Big 12 championship. He also needs his two more established counterparts, Smith and Quinn, to flop in their upcoming showcase games against Michigan and USC, respectively.
But most of all, he would need the Heisman electorate (not to mention his own coach) to ignore a 71-year tradition of shunning underclassmen. No freshman or sophomore has ever won the award, though Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick (third as a freshman in 1999), Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald (second as a sophomore in 2003) and Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson (second as a freshman in '04) have come close in recent years.
And there's the rub. All three of those players were considered superstars of the highest order. Gaudy statistics or not, McCoy has yet to be embraced as the biggest star on his own team -- except by one particularly noteworthy person.
"He's a superstar," said Ross -- UT's "official" Heisman candidate -- after last Saturday's game. "I tell him that every day."
Apparently, the superstar hasn't gotten the message.
"I feel like I've done my job," said McCoy. "Teams are really trying to stop the running game and make me throw the ball, and I've got great receivers to throw to."
You heard it, folks -- he's just doing his job. It just so happens he's accumulated Heisman-level statistics while doing it.