The U.S. is starting to get out of the hero building business in almost every entertainment business. I challenge just about anyone to name the guitarist in any band that has broken in the past 10 years, movie stars are rarely commanding $20 million pay days anymore and pretty much every politician or leader in general has about a 50/50 percentage at best for being compared to Hitler in Internet comments. For the most part, we are moving towards a more realistic view of public figures and getting more into the business of tearing them down, except maybe in my personal favorite thing, college football, specifically with star quarterbacks.
There is nothing that people love more in college football than star quarterbacks (Okay, maybe drinking in parking lots). We still fawn over the mostly-meaningless Heisman chase and usually assume that having a future first-round draft pick is an automatic ticket to glory for a college football team.
I admit that I am just as guilty about this as pretty much everyone else (though I would say that it can sometimes get ridiculous during the live broadcasting of premiere national games). However, after watching Washington transition from Keith Price, I realized that many took the three-year starter for granted because he didn't have the NFL intangibles that we all love. Aside for feeling bad for Price for getting too much scrutiny from people like me, I started to wonder if having an elite quarterback with NFL potential really matters that much in the overall picture of success for college football teams. *And by elite quarterback, I mean a potential high NFL Draft pick, not a 4 or 5-star recruit or someone who was a great college player, but not an elite NFL prospect ala Tim Tebow or A.J. McCarron.
After doing some research in recent Pac-12 history, I am beginning to think that it does not, at least not as much we act like it does, particularly in the Pac-12.
While doing my research, I took a look at recent teams in the Pac-12 that have had recent first-round draft pick quarterbacks (Stanford - Andrew Luck and Washington - Jake Locker) or are going to almost assuredly have one next year (Oregon - Marcus Mariota) and took a look at their records. I had already started to build some suspicions, but what I discovered pushed those suspicions even further.
When taking a look at Washington, I will admit that it is the most unfair of the comparisons, as Locker spent the first two seasons of his career in the Tyrone Willingham disaster era while Price spent his whole career starting in the improving Steve Sarkisian era. However, the disparity still goes along with my point and fits into the overall picture. The Huskies' record with Locker as their starter is 16-26, with Price 23-16.
This is a testament to Steve Sarkisian steadying the Husky ship, but that is part of what I am saying. Having a steady overall program and quality scheme is much more important than having an elite quarterback.
The Washington analysis might have some holes in it, but moving forward to the conference's premiere programs for the past half decade, I feel that it is easier to make the comparison and point. The picture is much clearer when you are dealing with programs that were stable when all of the quarterbacks entered and left.
We are all more than familiar with Andrew Luck, but I don't think most are familiar with Stanford's record during his time as a starter in college - 31-8. We all know that is an excellent record and Luck's stats were even more impressive, but what about Stanford's record since with Kevin Hogan (plus a few from Josh Nunes) starting? 23-5. I know that is not a big difference and it is only fair to point out that the Cardinal were just starting to break out in Luck's first season, 2009, which accounts for a good chunk of his losses, but you would expect one of the greatest talents to ever play quarterback in the Pac-12 would make more of a difference. Also interesting that Luck lost to Oregon by more than 20 in his last two tries and the Cardinal are undefeated against the Ducks since.
*Note that for examinations that include current players, I have not factored in this season's results.
Now I know that the Stanford comparison has some holes as well - Stanford being better overall the past couple of years than they were in Luck's first is the key one and some would argue that Hogan is an elite quarterback himself (I would argue that he has elite potential, but has failed to fulfill it thus far in his career).
The final Pac-12 program I took a look at provides thus far what I would say is the best and most recent evidence - Oregon.
I know that not factoring in this season yet could be a mistake and Oregon could very well go on and win the national championship with Marcus Mariota, but that aside, at the moment, the overall difference for Oregon with Marcus Mariota (23-3 no Pac-12 championships, one BCS bowl) and Darron Thomas (24-3 two Pac-12 championships, two BCS bowls) when it comes to winning is even and actually favoring Thomas' era if you had to choose. I'm not saying that Thomas is a better quarterback than Mariota, I'm saying it doesn't matter that much. Also interesting that you see the same thing here that you see with Luck and Stanford against Stanford, non-elite Thomas was undefeated against Stanford while Mariota is 0-2 thus far.
After looking at the record comparisons, it is hard for me to not draw at least one conclusion, and that is scheme and strategy are infinitely more important than having an elite quarterback in college football, even if he is Andrew Luck... or the next Andrew Luck.