Is “Win Now” Culture a Problem For QBs?

David Marsh Editorials

Transfer quarterbacks have become all too common. In the Pac-12 alone, 6 of the 12 starting quarterbacks are transfers and the situation isn’t unique compared the rest of the college football world. In my second article with FishDuck, I explored this issue in Graduate Transfer Quarterbacks: Saviors or Usurpers, and looked at the cases of Vernon Adams and Dakota Prukop.

But now it is 2022 and Oregon is in its second consecutive year starting a transfer quarterback, which has left Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield fighting for the second-string position. Both were highly-ranked recruits coming out of high school, but both have failed to step on the field as starters. This has thrown into question whether there is any actual quarterback development going on within the Oregon program.

There is some development happening behind the scenes, but the biggest problem is the need to win right away. Coaches do not have time to play a quarterback for a year and let him take his lumps during a mediocre or losing season. Coaches need to win now.

It was that pressure that brought Adams to Oregon in 2015. Marcus Mariota left the program for the NFL and Oregon had plenty of talent to compete for the Pac-12 Championship and potentially even a playoff berth, though all those dreams came crashing down due to Adams breaking his finger. It does make us wonder, what if that didn’t happen?

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Adams was a resounding success overall at Oregon; he brought great energy and put the team on his back to win many games that Oregon should not have won. So it wasn’t too big of a surprise that the following year Mark Helfrich again looked to a transfer to guide the team to a winning season in Montana State transfer Prukop. Prukop was fine, but Justin Herbert emerged as the starter in a bad season where he had the opportunity to play because his development outweighed the need to win, though this would also prove to be a major factor in Helfrich losing his job. However, the biggest problem in that 2016 season wasn’t the quarterback play or even the offense — which was, on the whole, more productive than any offense during the Cristobal era. The biggest problem was the defense.

Vernon Adams was absolutely the savior of the 2015 season as there were no real options at quarterback behind him.

The very fact that for two years in a row Helfrich opted to bring in a transfer demonstrates that the pressures to win outweighed the development of players on the roster — and that was before the transfer portal came into full effect. The transfer portal has made movement easier in college football and has made quarterbacks prized commodities for programs in transition. It also meant the tolerance for top programs to take a year to develop their talent was no longer good enough. Programs could bring in a more experienced, pre-developed transfer quarterback to help the team win right away.

Anthony Brown was brought in during the Cristobal era as a quick fix after Herbert graduated. To be fair, 2020 was an odd year where Tyler Shough actually had the starting job and lost out to Brown. Then in 2021, there wasn’t really even a quarterback competition. Brown got the reps with the ones and during the 2021 spring game it was made even more clear as Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford split reps with the twos and threes.

During the season, Brown also held onto the top spot in part due to Cristobal’s play to not-lose mentality where Oregon won most games by one score. There weren’t too many opportunities for Brown to go to the bench and allow for one of the backup quarterbacks to get a few live game snaps. Oregon had a 10-win season, but it came at the cost of not developing one of the three freshman quarterbacks on the roster.

Anthony Brown led Oregon to a 10-win season, but fans questioned whether he should start.

We are yet again in another transfer quarterback year, this time with Bo Nix. Nix feels like he was a safety option for the new coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator Kenny Dillingham worked with Nix in 2019 at Auburn and Dan Lanning studied Nix on film for the past three years at Georgia as he prepared Georgia’s defense against Auburn. Nix was a known quantity on a team with two scholarship quarterbacks with unknown potential.

Now we find ourselves in the same situation as we have for the past few years, and we aren’t developing a quarterback for the future. It feels like the emphasis is on the quarterbacks themselves to have the talent and development needed to win the starting job on their own. Coaching turnover has certainly not helped to develop quarterbacks a long the way, but each coaching staff seems to want ready made starting quarterbacks coming out of high school. Herbert was an anomaly being ready to play in his freshman year. The vast majority of quarterbacks coming into college need time to develop.

This lack of development doesn’t just fall on coaches either. High ranking quarterbacks now enter college expecting to start rather than having to earn it and if they don’t start they transfer. That expectation is only going to rise with large NIL paychecks coming to top recruits. They will expect to start, as that will develop their brand, and fans will demand to see these highly-rated players because of all the hype around them.

By all accounts, Thompson is not ready to start at Oregon. He looked better than we have seen him to date against Eastern Washington, but he still made a few mistakes on the field and didn’t look fully confident. But that hasn’t stopped fans from continuing to demand that the highest rated quarterback in Oregon’s history start.

The culture of college football has changed, and the pressure for coaches to win is greater than ever. Even a rebuilding year is unacceptable. It feels like fans need to decide: do we want coaches to take the time for the young talent to develop, or do we want coaches to ensure we have a winning season now?

David Marsh 
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Eugene Johnson

Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.


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