Who is the best freshman quarterback from 2016 to build a college football program around? The Campus Insiders team debates in this roundtable.
The Pac-12 is loaded with great, young talent, Shane Buechele is breaking Colt McCoy’s records in Austin, and the SEC East has multiple fantastic freshmen quarterbacks. And with all of them in play for this wonderful youth movement, I’m taking Jalen Hurts as the best to build a college football program around.
Consider that this kid is a true freshman and is leading the far-and-away best team in the nation. Hurts went into Death Valley at night and threw a pick in his second pass attempt. From there he proceeded to throw eight of his nine total incompletions in the first half. Rather than crumble, Hurts played within the second-half game plan, completed the necessary passes and won the game with his legs.
For those saying he can’t throw, Hurts came out the following game against Mississippi State and passed for a season-high 347 yards and four touchdowns. So much for that criticism.
He’s a player reminiscent of A.J. McCarron – not so much in style, but in that he just does whatever the coaching staff instructs in order to get the win. Team first, stats second. Hurts operates within a system, but can win a game on his own when needed – just watch the second half of the LSU game where he slowly imposed his will on a gassed Tigers defense. If not for being a true freshman and part of the Alabama juggernaut, Hurts would be in the thick of the Heisman discussion (after all, he is a quarterback with nearly 3,000 yards of total offense and 27 total touchdowns on the lone undefeated Power Five team in the country).
Nick Saban praises his mental fortitude, while Lane Kiffin trusts his decision making enough to run the read option (remember: this is a true freshman we’re talking about). That’s good enough for me to build a program around. Hurts is going to be a special player to watch over the next couple of years, and may go down as one of the program’s all-time greats.
Now this is the kind of roundtable I can get on board with. After having covered these guys on the recruiting trail, I feel as though I have a solid grasp of how high their ceilings are. Each freshman quarterback playing right now has a lot to offer.
I’d love to pick Sam Darnold, but he can leave early for the NFL Draft after the 2017 season, so starting a program with him wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Jacob Eason has impressed me, but the expectations for him in Athens were also sky high. Jalen Hurts can do a lot of positive things with the football in his hands, but there are many who believe he’s the beneficiary of Alabama’s program. Shea Patterson looked like Johnny Manziel reborn against Texas A&M, and I can’t wait to see more of him for the Rebels.
But if I’m choosing one to build a college football program around, I’m going with Shane Buechele. He’s not as agile as Hurts, but the kid can move. Buechele throws a beautiful deep ball, and that performance he put on against Notre Dame – yes, I know it was against Notre Dame – was unbelievable. For a true freshman to step out onto the field and sling the rock like that … I was amazed. I’d pick Buechele, but there’s really no wrong answer with this crop of talented players.
All of these quarterbacks would be tremendous options to have as the face of an offense and a college football program, but I am rolling with Jacob Eason. Perhaps it has something to do with my man crush on Georgia alum Matthew Stafford, who will eventually lead the Detroit Lions to the Super Bowl. In all seriousness, it has to do with Eason possessing elite talent along with moxie and grit. My favorite play of his young career thus far was the 47-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley that should have beat Tennessee. Of course, the Vols would win that game mere seconds later. While the Bulldogs aren’t having the type of season they would like, the offense is in great hands with Eason, who has experienced his share of ups and downs but has not thrown an interception since October 9.
How is this anyone but Jalen Hurts? Have my coworkers been watching him this season? He’s amazing, and has stepped in and became a leader as a true freshman at Alabama. That doesn’t happen. He’s only going to get better, he’s clutch (see: Alabama game), and he seems like a great kid that has a good head on his shoulders. Nick Saban has praised him continuously, and that never happens either. I’m taking him every single time over the rest of the pack.
I agree with Brian. And I hate agreeing with Brian. I found my mind wandering a bit on this topic, but that’s only because Jalen Hurts is the easiest answer. That’s exactly why he’s my pick, because there’s little debate about how talented he is and will become. Hurts has everything any college football team could want in a modern-day quarterback, and that’s the exact reason Nick Saban made sure he went to Tuscaloosa.