ON THE MARK
Originally Published: Sep 9, 2013

Fortunes change as quarterbacks change

By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

UCLA has Brett Hundley under center -- and USC doesn't.

Texas A&M has reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel -- and Texas doesn't.

Florida State has "Famous" Jameis Winston (and Miami has Stephen Morris) -- and Florida doesn't.

After only two weeks of the 2013 college football season, there appears to be a seismic shift in power in the sport's traditional hotbeds. While Florida, Texas and USC are coming off deflating losses on Saturday, the Aggies, Bruins, Hurricanes and Seminoles appear poised to surpass their fiercest rivals.

And, more than anyone else, the upstarts can thank their quarterbacks for their surging positions.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC is still looking for answers at quarterback.

In today's college football, in which offense, passing and scoring seem to matter more than anything else, Florida, Texas and USC are getting left behind, even in their own states. While good quarterbacks can't mask everything -- like Texas' woebegone defense -- they can help teams overcome other deficiencies. But without a good quarterback, most teams won't have a chance.

"If you have a fantastic defense and a great kicking game, you can maybe get by with an average quarterback," said legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who coached two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000. "A great quarterback can overcome your weaknesses and deficiencies, but an average quarterback can't."

Ask USC.

The Trojans, who finished 7-6 in 2012 after starting the season ranked No. 1, lost to Washington State 10-7 at the Coliseum on Saturday night. With coach Lane Kiffin calling the offensive plays, the Trojans passed for only 54 yards and finished with 193 yards of offense. Starting quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 41 yards on 8-for-13 passing with one interception, while backup Max Wittek passed for 13 yards with one pick on 3-for-8 passing.

Kiffin seemed to have such little faith in his quarterbacks that he refused to throw the ball down the field. The Trojans averaged only 2.6 yards per pass attempt and didn't complete a pass longer than eight yards -- even with All-America receiver Marqise Lee lining up against Washington State's suspect defense.

"We obviously weren't prepared well enough on offense," Kiffin said. "It just didn't seem in our best interest to put the quarterback back there and let him get hit and let balls get tipped and turn the ball over."

Florida can certainly relate to USC's problems on offense. After finishing 114th out of 120 FBS teams in passing (146.3 yards per game) last season, the then-No. 12 Gators were upset 21-16 at Miami on Saturday. Quarterback Jeff Driskel completed 22 of 33 passes for a career-high 291 yards with one touchdown, but he also turned the ball over three times, throwing two interceptions in the red zone and losing a fumble at the Florida 4.

Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel had trouble in the red zone, committing multiple turnovers against Miami.

"I thought he hit some balls down the field," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Thought he did some nice things in the running game. But you can't have those turnovers in the red zone. Can't do that. You have to make better decisions."

Obviously, Texas' biggest problems are on the other side of the ball. The Longhorns reassigned defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on Sunday, one day after UT allowed 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU. Coach Mack Brown replaced Diaz with ex-Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, a former defensive coordinator at Texas and Michigan.

While junior David Ash has played relatively well in the first two games, completing 62.9 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions, poor quarterback play has been perhaps the Longhorns' biggest wart since All-American quarterback Colt McCoy left after the 2009 season. UT didn't finish higher than 41st nationally in passing in each of the past three seasons. Brown and his staff installed a fast-paced spread attack during the offseason to try to jump-start the offense.

But against BYU, the only thing the hurry-up offense seemed to accomplish was getting UT's struggling defense back on the field quickly. The Longhorns opened the game with three consecutive three-and-outs.

And it seems pretty clear Texas doesn't have the defense to compensate for its quarterback, either.

On the Mark

Jerod Foster/Icon SMIBaker Mayfield has enjoyed a near perfect start to his Texas Tech career.

It can't help Brown's cause that first-year Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has turned a freshman walk-on from Austin into one of the country's top passers through two weeks. Although the Red Raiders have played inferior competition to start the season, Baker Mayfield's production has been astounding, especially for a guy whose only other scholarship offer was from Florida Atlantic. He didn't even arrive in Lubbock until July.

Mayfield, who had a 25-2 record as a starter in high school and led Lake Travis (Texas) High to a...

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