I recently took a look at the top candidates for a 1,000-yard rushing season among Big East running backs in 2011. Another offensive milestone that intrigues me is 3,000 yards passing for a quarterback.
Even with the proliferation of spread offenses, topping 3,000 yards is not easy. It requires that a quarterback exceed 230 yards passing per game over a full 12-game season, plus a bowl. That also means he has to stay healthy and not miss time. Bad games and tough weather conditions can also affect the numbers.
No one in the Big East topped 3,000 yards passing in 2010; in fact, no one in the league has done it since Mike Teel in 2008. So it's entirely possible that no one will get to 3,000 in 2011, and you can instead consider this a list of candidates to lead the conference in passing yardage if you like. But my prediction is the first three on this list will in fact go over the 3,000-yard mark in 2011 (last year's passing total in parenthesis):
1. Geno Smith, West Virginia, Jr. (2,763 passing yards in 2010): Here's how the last three quarterbacks who have played in Dana Holgorsen's offense have fared in passing yards:
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State 2010: 4,277
Case Keenum, Houston 2009: 5,671
Case Keenum, Houston 2008: 5,020
Throw in the fact that Smith shined in his first season of starting last year and there is no clear star at running back, and I would be absolutely stunned if he does not eclipse 3,000 yards this season (health willing, of course).
2. Zach Collaros, Cincinnati, Sr. (2,902): Collaros very nearly got to 3,000 last year. And that was with him missing a game because of injury and Cincinnati not reaching a bowl. I look for the Bearcats' offense to be more efficient this year in the second season under Butch Jones, and Collaros should get there if he stays in the lineup and leads his team back to the postseason.
3. Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh, Jr. (2,572): Here's a look at how the past four Tulsa quarterbacks in Todd Graham's offensive system fared in passing yards:
Much like Geno Smith, Sunseri is clearly in an offense designed to put up huge numbers, as his 400-yard passing day in the spring game illustrated. I wouldn't be surprised to see Sunseri lead the league in passing yards, but I don't think he's quite as skilled as either Smith or Collaros, especially on deep throws.
4. Chas Dodd, Rutgers, Soph. (1,637): Surprised to see Dodd this high on the list? Don't be. He might have the deepest and most skilled receiver group in the league, led by Mark Harrison and Mohamed Sanu. Of course, he'll need much, much better protection from his line, and I doubt he gets to 3,000 since new coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. wants to establish the running game. But remember Bill Stull's 2009 season under Cignetti? No reason to think Dodd can't replicate that.
5. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse, Jr. (2,334): Nassib will be in his second year of starting, and he has more and better receiving targets, especially since Marcus Sales has emerged as a deep threat. Syracuse will try to make hit big plays this year. Yet I still see this as an offense with a run-first mentality, and Nassib strikes you as more of a solid game manager than a big stat producer.
6. B.J. Daniels, South Florida, Jr. (1,685): Daniels is a much better bet to aggregate 3,000 total yards when his rushing total is added in. He has been too unreliable a passer to think he will challenge the 3,000-yard milestone, and his receivers did not impress this spring. Still, he's the most experienced passer in the Big East in terms of starts, and when he puts it all together like he did in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Clemson, he's very dangerous.
7. Will Stein, Louisville, Jr. (72): Stein appears to have solidified himself as the starter for the Cardinals after a solid spring game. Co-starters Adam Froman and Justin Burke combined for more than 2,400 passing yards last year. The problems for Stein are a very young (though potentially more talented) group of wideouts and a power running game philosophy. And no matter how much he has the edge now, it's hard not to envision freshman Teddy Bridgewater at the very least taking away some snaps from Stein this year as Louisville grooms him for the future.
8. Unnamed Connecticut quarterback: UConn almost gets the No. 8 slot by default since we don't know who will be the quarterback this year. It's entirely possible that more than one player starts under center in 2011, which would hold down the individual numbers. Paul Pasqualoni and George DeLeone will throw it more than Randy Edsall did. But when you see the horrific stats that Huskies signal-callers amassed in the spring game (albeit in bad weather) and factor in the continued lack of big-time playmakers at receiver, it seems doubtful that a UConn QB will be challenging for any league passing titles in 2011.