New wave of game-breaking QBs injecting life into teams, sport
Michigan, Auburn and Nebraska have highlight-generating players at quarterback
Once again the ACC has reminded us that it's not quite ready for primetime
Alabama removed any doubts over whether it deserves the nation's No. 1 ranking
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to a new generation of fleet-footed quarterbacks: Michigan's Denard Robinson, Auburn's Cameron Newton and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. All first-year starters, they've ignited their teams' offenses, generated a bevy of highlights and sparked giddy anticipation of more to come.
Robinson -- a.k.a. "Shoelace" -- has been the undisputed star of the season's first two weeks. His 186-yard rushing day in the Wolverines' opener against Connecticut proved to be a mere appetizer for Saturday's Herculean performance against Notre Dame, in which he accounted for a staggering 502 yards of total offense (258 rushing, 244 passing) and led a game-winning drive to beat the Irish 28-24. He is currently the nation's leading rusher, regardless of position, and is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes.
"I've had some terrific quarterbacks," said Robinson's coach, Rich Rodriguez, "but I don't know if I've had anybody that's had that many yards rushing and passing combined." Not under his watch, at least. Among his previous FBS standouts (Shaun King, Woody Dantzler, Rasheed Marshall and Pat White), only Clemson's Dantzler had a bigger game (517 against N.C. State in 2001), and that was after Rodriguez had left for West Virginia. White came the next-closest, notching 424 in a 2006 game against Pitt.
Meanwhile, viewers who tuned in to ESPN last Thursday night got their first taste of Newton, Auburn's 6-foot-6, 250-pound dynamo, who put up more modest numbers against Mississippi State (70 rushing yards, 136 passing) than he did the week before against Arkansas State (171 rushing, 186 passing), despite personally outgaining the Bulldogs, 146-125, in the first half before cooling off. Right now Newton looks a little bit like Terrelle Pryor did earlier in his career (albeit in a completely different offense): capable of moving the chains with a simple scramble, but still clearly a work in progress as a passer.
"We have some designed run [plays] that we feel good about, but the thing you really can't account for is the runs that aren't designed," said Auburn coach Gene Chizik. "That's what he brings to the table with his athletic ability. There's obviously been moments where there was much-needed improvement, but for the most part he's tried to do exactly what we've asked him to do."
And then there's Martinez, the budding phenom in Lincoln who most of the country has yet to see. In two games against Western Kentucky and Idaho, the redshirt freshman -- a.k.a. T-Magic, a.k.a. T-Mobile, a.k.a. whatever nickname 'Huskers fans dream up next -- has rushed for 284 yards and five touchdowns, including a 67-yard dash Saturday against the Vandals.
If White is the default comparison for Robinson, former Nebraska Heisman winner Eric Crouch is for Martinez. That may seem a bit premature for a guy who's yet to face a BCS-conference opponent. (He'll get his first crack Saturday at Washington.) However, Wendell Barnhouse, longtime college writer for the Fort Worth Star Telegram who now works for the Big 12, tweeted this Saturday: "People [are] comparing Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez to Heisman winner Eric Crouch. Here's this opinion: Martinez is faster than Crouch."
Crouch, lest we forget, was pretty darn fast when he turned on the jets.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, note that each of these guys is still just two games into his respective tenure as a starter (though Robinson played at times last season), and faces tougher days ahead.
Even with those 502 yards, Michigan went nearly the entire second half without scoring against the Irish. Robinson can't keep running 28 times a game, not just because he might break in half, but because the Wolverines will eventually face faster defenses capable of squeezing his running lanes. Just as White had Steve Slaton and Noel Devine, Robinson will need running backs Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw to become viable zone-handoff threats if Michigan hopes to keep defenses honest.
Meanwhile, Newton and the Tigers ultimately needed big help from their defense to fend off mediocre Mississippi State. He figures to be a hot-and-cold guy for the time being. Saturday will be the first chance to see whether Martinez can be as effective against a more respectable foe. He's got the help of a capable I-back in Roy Helu, but it remains to be seen how he'll fare as a passer.
But whether next week or next month, chances are all three will be regular fixtures on SportsCenter's top 10 this season, which is a good thing. We were due some fresh highlights.
Ready for some more premature hyperbole? This one I'm fairly confident about: South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore is the most physically gifted freshman running back I've seen since Adrian Peterson six years ago.
Lattimore's performance Saturday in the Gamecocks' 17-6 win over Georgia was one for the ages. In just his second college game, the 6-foot, 218-pound sensation toted the rock 37 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs flat-out couldn't handle him.
"I don't think I've ever had a running back break as many tackles as Marcus Lattimore did yesterday," Steve Spurrier said Sunday after watching tape of the game. "We didn't count 'em, but it was a whole bunch of 'em."
Travis Haney of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier did count them. His review of the game tape found that on Lattimore's 38 touches (which included a 16-yard reception), he broke 28 tackles and gained 121 yards after contact.
Monitoring Twitter during the game, I noticed some undue surprise that a running back would get so much attention in a Spurrier-coached offense. Yes, the Ball Coach is known for his quarterbacks, but at its core, his passing offense is predicated on the threat of the play-action, which works best with a potent runner. He had quite a few in Gainesville -- from Errict Rhett to Fred Taylor to Earnest Graham -- but Lattimore is by far the best talent he's had at South Carolina.
Much like Peterson at Oklahoma, Lattimore appears beyond his years both physically and mentally. Both were the top-rated running backs in the country coming out of high school, and both were asked to shoulder a heavy load nearly from day one.
"I think Marcus can handle all the attention he's receiving very well," said Spurrier. "He's a very level, grounded young man.