Quarterbacks we dare to compare
How do the high-profile quarterbacks in Monday's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl match up?
Stanford's Andrew Luck is a Mac. Plug him in and he's ready to go. No upgrades required. No drivers to install. He's got everything you need once you take him out of the box. He has the intelligence to run any type of offense you throw at him, he can read defenses better than any college quarterback and he has the arm strength and accuracy to back it up. His wow factor is understated, but his upside isn't.
As for Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, save your jokes and snide comments about his age. He can sling it. You know you're good when that's all people can come up with as a knock on your game. Weeden's best asset is his refusal to get rattled, along with his arm strength, and the accuracy needed to ascend atop a heap as college football's best quarterback.
There's no doubt we'll be watching two of the game's best passers on Monday night, who are a lot more similar than people think, even if they play in systems that are polar opposites. Let's try a few comparisons.
Fiesta Bowl QB debate: Luck or Weeden?
|Stanford's Andrew Luck
by Kevin Gemmell
|Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden
by David Ubben
|Short accuracy: This is when Luck is at his sharpest. He has such a quick delivery and he anticipates his receivers' breaks so well on timing patterns that he makes difficult passes inside of 20 yards look easy. He can deliver strikes on slant passes and touch on fades in the red zone. He finds small windows and leads his receivers well so that their momentum carries them to yards after the catch.||Short accuracy: Oklahoma State's offense depends on Weeden making these throws and he does that consistently. He spreads the wealth and hits receivers in stride, which is necessary to move the chains in this offense. It's predicated on getting the ball in playmakers' hands and Weeden does that. Eight OSU receivers have at least 19 catches.|
|Long accuracy: A little tougher to gauge since the Cardinal didn't take too many shots down the field this season. But on the ones they did -- more often than not Luck laid it right in his receivers' hands. His pass-catchers didn't do him any favors, though, as at least half a dozen touchdown passes of 35 yards or longer were dropped.||Long accuracy: Weeden's top target, Justin Blackmon, has been limited deep, so like Luck, we haven't seen Weeden do a ton of this in 2011, but he proved he could last year. He certainly has the arm to do it. Last year, Blackmon caught 12 touchdowns longer than 20 yards, and averaged 32.1 yards on his 20 TD grabs.|
|Arm strength: This might be the one question mark in Luck's game, though coach David Shaw says he's seen Luck throw the ball 70 yards. We saw him deliver a ball against USC that went 55 yards in the air and landed perfectly in his receiver's hands. His velocity on short slants is fantastic. He actually knows when to take something off on passes inside 15 yards. He might not drive the ball down the field, but he has more than enough to get it where it needs to be, when it needs to be there.||Arm strength: Hey, Weeden was selected in the second round of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft and threw a 94 mph fastball coming out of high school. He's still got it. And arm strength is a lot more than just chucking deep balls. It's velocity as necessary and putting the ball in the air for as short a period as possible. Weeden has a big arm, a tight spiral and throws the ball like a pitcher -- he knows where to put it.|
|Pocket presence: Luck had the benefit of two first-round draft picks on his offensive line this season in Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro protecting him. That always helps. But he also had three first-year starters and he understood where the leaks were most likely to come from. He feels the pocket and knows when to step up, sidestep or tuck and go.||Pocket presence: Weeden played behind such a dominant offensive line and Oklahoma State's offense is predicated on Weeden getting the ball out of his hand quickly, and not a lot of play-action from under center like Luck executes, but Weeden did what was asked. He was sacked just 21 times in 25 starts.|
|Mobility: It wasn't as prominent this season as it was last year, but he can move when he has to -- and move well. He's surprisingly athletic for his size (6-4, 235) and rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns this year. Luck has the feet to move to either side and then make the throws or tuck and run.||Mobility: Well, Weeden loves to ride his scooter around campus. That counts for something, right? He's certainly mobile in that sense. A walk-on golfer, he probably knows his way around a golf cart, too. But in the pocket? And running in the open field? Next category, please.|
|Intelligence: Off the charts. No college QB does more pre-snap than Luck. The Cardinal go into a game with almost 250 plays -- double the average -- and Luck knows all of them and has his pick of all of them. Pre-snap he evaluates the defensive front and makes the calls accordingly and after the snap, he knows when secondaries are trying to disguise their coverages and he either looks off a defender or checks down to his second or third option.||Intelligence: We can't all go to Stanford, but Weeden is plenty smart. An Edmond, Okla., native, he chose Oklahoma State because he was accepted as a walk-on. Weeden has to make plenty of quick decisions and does it well. Oklahoma State has plays in which he'll decide, based on how the defense reacts, if it's a run or a pass, if he hands it off or if he keeps it and throws. Clearly, he's pretty good in that area.|
|Toughness: The few times Luck was sacked this year -- and there were a couple of big hits -- he bounced right back up and usually smacked the sacker on his helmet with a big smile. No quarterback likes contact (if they did, they'd be linebackers), but he's certainly not afraid of it. He'll hang in the pocket and step into a throw knowing the hit is coming. When you see him run out of bounds on scrambles, that's by head coach mandate, not by choice.||Toughness: Weeden's got plenty of mental toughness. It might be his best attribute. He threw a pick-six against K-State earlier this year that put OSU down 24-14 and gave the Wildcats 24 consecutive points. He went to the locker room down 20-3 in the Big 12's toughest environment to top-10 team Texas A&M. The Cowboys won both games. Why? Because Weeden played like his usual self, despite some mistakes. That's toughness.|
|Leadership: Not that anyone on the Cardinal questioned Luck's leadership, but the USC game is a perfect example. After throwing a pick-six, from his own 23 with 3:45 left in the game to put the Trojans ahead 34-27, Luck shook it off and drove his team 76 yards on 10 plays, completing 4 of 6 passes and rushing for another 15 yards. He never lost his composure and his teammates fed off of that.||Leadership: No question Weeden's team responds to him in this area. He's not a big screamer but he'll get after guys when it's necessary. And in this case, being the locker room's elder statesman pays off in a big way. He's 28, sure, but this is his fifth year in the program. He knows what's expected of every player on the team, and he's willing to make sure each player is providing that.|
|Intangibles: Luck had plenty of chances to point the finger this season -- and it would have been warranted. Five of his nine interceptions came off dropped passes or incorrect routes. But he didn't. He shouldered the blame. In a year when he could have made it all about him, he praised his teammates without end and protected them when the criticism was more than deserved. And he's a pretty darn good receiver also.||Intangibles: Weeden likes to talk about how he's dealt with failure before, and it helps him not freak out on the field. That baseball career didn't work out. So what? This has been better than anything Weeden could have imagined. He's mature. He knows there's a lot more to life than football. He plays like he's a college kid living out his dream.|
|Who would I take? If I were running a pro-style system, I'd take Luck. If I were running a spread system, I'd take Luck. If I were running a triple-option system, I'd take Luck. If I were running a marathon, I'd probably pass out after five miles, wake up, and then go watch film of Luck. There's a reason NFL coaches can't wait to get their hands on this guy. He's cut from a cloth rarely seen at this level of football. He elevates the game of everyone around him. Make a checklist of everything you're looking for in a quarterback and there will be a couple of holes on Weeden's list. Luck's will be dripping with ink. We can't say for sure how he'll do at the next level -- not knowing which team he'll go to, who his coordinator will be, what his offensive line looks like and who he'll be throwing to. But we know he's an exceptional talent who has done things rarely seen at the collegiate level.||Who would I take? You know who. This isn't the NFL. Luck will have his time, and he'll play on teams with better weapons than he has now. But draft picks aside, Weeden has been a better college quarterback. His numbers are big and his team depends more on him to win games. With an average quarterback, Oklahoma State probably wins eight or nine games this year. Weeden's accuracy and demeanor take the Cowboys to the next level. Maybe Luck could do that if he had to throw as many times as Weeden does, but we'll never know. We know exactly what Weeden can do if he needs to throw the ball a million times. He does things very few college quarterbacks can do. Maybe Luck is one of those guys, but Stanford's unorthodox offense didn't offer us a real opportunity to know for sure.|
ESPN.com's Kevin Gemmell covers Stanford football and David Ubben covers the Big 12.
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