SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/23/2006 01:07:00 PM
West Coast Savior?
Just 48 hours after naming Sam Keller (above) Arizona State's starting QB, Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter reneged.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
The future of the West Coast Offense in college football could be riding on one man's right arm. Here's why.
According to various published reports, recently demoted Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller is considering transferring to Nebraska. It would be a marriage of convenience for both parties, seeing as Keller will have just one season of eligibility remaining after he sits out a year and needs a place he can step in right away. Current Huskers QB Zac Taylor is a senior, and his one-time heir apparent, Harrison Beck, recently bolted for N.C. State.
But while Keller is a proven collegiate passer who completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 2,535 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in eight starts at ASU, there's no guarantee he'll have similar success in Lincoln. As most of you know, Nebraska coach Bill Callahan runs a full-scale, Bill Walsh-style West Coast Offense which he brought with him from the Oakland Raiders. Critics of the system -- which requires mastery of a complex, timing-based horizontal passing attack loaded with terminology -- say it's too complicated for college athletes, who can't devote nearly the same amount of time to film and playbook study as their professional counterparts.
The common belief is that it takes three years for a college quarterback to fully master the offense. Such was the case for UCLA quarterback Drew Olson, who struggled mightily his first two seasons in head coach Karl Dorrell's offense before exploding as a senior. Notre Dame's Brady Quinn took his lumps as a freshman and sophomore under West Coast proponent Tyrone Willingham before thriving as a junior under Charlie Weis. Even the Huskers' Taylor, who's only entering his second year there, is still very much a work in progress.
Obviously, Keller does not have three years to learn the offense. He has one. But at the same time, he comes in having already spent far more time in a major college system than the three aforementioned players did when they began their learning process. A young quarterback is liable to struggle in any offense, nevertheless Callahan's. If fifth-year senior/legitimate NFL prospect Sam Keller struggles, however, it wouldn't exactly be a ringing endorsement for the West Coast Offense in college football.
West Coast, Pro-Style, Spread or Option...Nebraska's worries next year won't be their offense. After the 2006 season, the Huskers will graduate the majority of their D-Line, half of their secondary, and a linebacker or two. In a game where "defense wins championships", I think that Coach Callahan has bigger fish to fry than just upholding the reputation of an Offensive scheme.
I think more important and telling will be how Alex Smith and Vince Young end up doing in the NFL. The West Coast offense works in the NFL. As talented as they are, they did not come from a pro-style offense and if their collegiate success does not translate into the NFL, we may see those systems go the way of the wishbone...
As Far as next year for Nebraska, solving the quarterback situation will indeed help. The Nebraska defense does graduate several D-Line members, but has several younger members ready to step into starting roles. Several Linebackers will be back next year and the Secondary lacks any dominant Senior that would leave a hole to fill. The RB's are all back as well as any contributing WR's. The QB was the only major question mark.
Nebraska will lose their whole D-Line, their least important linebacker and their least important safety. The line will be re-stocked by solid players and the only real concern is whether there will be adequate depth. Nebraska will be very, very good next year with Keller at the helm. Keller is probably the best QB on the roster now, he just can't play.
Nebraska does not graduate half of their secondary. The Husker will return CBs Bowman, Grixby, and 2006 starter Andre Jones. 1 of 2 safeties return, as do all the top backups at both S and CB. At LB, 5 of the top 6 return, losing only Bradley. The 2007 Husker defense will be loaded.
College football is college football; it's not the triple-A for the NFL. So why would the lack of success of either Alex Smith or Vince Young in the NFL have any impact on what styles of offense are used in the college game?
If I were Sam Keller I would be very concerned that I wouldn't be taking a snap until Fall of 2007. This guy hasn't seen any action since just after the 05 USC game. Koetter screwed this kid and I think the lack of playing time ina game situation could be a point of no return. On that note- KOETTER MUST GO
Chad from Dallas is pretty uninformed. Nebraska loses all of their starting DL, but the two interior DTs will have two top backups that will return and are very good players, Brandon Johnson and Ndamukong Suh. Not to mention the backup DE, Barry Turner. Nebraska only loses one of their linebackers, Stewart Bradley and no one in their secondary. The safeties who are Tierre Green and Ben Eisenhart are both juniors as is the starting DBs Andre Jones and Cortney Grixby. In fact, Nebraska will also return who was to be their top DB, Zach Bowman, after he tore his ACL this fall. Sounds pretty bitter to me...must be a Sooner fan. If I were a Sooner fan I'd be bitter too.
Nebraska has Zero seniors in the secondary and one senior linebacker. The Line may be an issue but they have some incredible young talent, maybe not Carriker and Moore, but I don't think you have your facts correct
What about this year. As one of his 16 teams with a shot at the national title, Mandel actually called the Huskers' secondary a strength. Even before Bowman went down with an ACL, we returned two new faces at safety. I love Nebraska football, but I don't look forward to the USC game.
I think before any saviors are nominated lets see what happens when Callahan has a couple of true freshman develop within the system. This is the third year of his offense. The younger QBs haven't had any experienced players to tutor them as would be the case in an established system. If Callahan cannot teach players that have a couple of years in the system before seeing playing time and not "get it" these kind of articles might have some merit. Until then all debates and articles such as these are premature.
A few years back everyone in Husker land said the running QB was dead and that we had to join the rest of the world with a traditional passing offense. I disagreeded, noting that while we got our butts kicked in the Rose Bowl, our option-offense still got us there. For the most part I really like Callahan, and I'll always be a faithful member of Husker nation, but I sure wish that we kept recruiting mobile QBs or at the very least focused the offense around the existing players rather than try to fit a square peg in a round hole.
The term "critics" often equates to "never hath donned a jockstrap," or, aka, sports writers. Sure, Callahan's offense may be complicated, but so are many others, including USC's. Even Dr. Osborne's famed option attack with multiple blocking schemes had a thick playbook. Whether it's west coast, east coast, or no coast, moronic QB's ill-equipped to learn, lead, and compete need not apply. The truth of the matter is that NU is poised to compete in the new era after unprecedented change, offensively, defensively, and in special teams. OU, by comparison, was the rug of the Big 8 for almost a decade while they tried to convert to a run/pass balance. The state of Nebraska IS football and NU will continue its legendary tradition for years to come under Callahan and a proud Husker Nation that flat out loves its football.