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Can Josh Rosen lead UCLA to the playoff? History says no

If he did, he would be an outlier to previous top ranked quarterbacks

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Rosen's credentials are as impressive as just about any quarterback prospect that has entered college football in the last decade.

He broke school records for passing at St. John Bosco while leading them to a 28-2 record (16-0 and a number one ranking in the nation as a junior) his last two seasons. He's been compared to Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman and he hasn't even taken a snap in an actual college football game yet. USA Today's Paul Myerberg said that "his ball is so pretty it should come with a sash and tiara". I saw him at the Elite 11 last year and anyone else who did clearly saw he was in another league compared to the other quarterbacks who were in attendance even if he ultimately wasn't named the best quarterback at the event for other reasons. What I'm saying is that everything you've heard about him as a quarterback prospect is completely justified. He was the number one quarterback recruit in America for a reason.

When he was named the starting quarterback for UCLA heading into the season, the only question was why did it take so long? It was expected from pretty much the time he enrolled early and Brett Hundley had left for the NFL. But with him winning the job comes a whole other set of expectations than just being good for a freshman.

There are people picking UCLA to make the college football playoff this year, which is kind of insane considering the circumstances of having a true freshman playing the most important position on the football field. Even with Rosen's credentials and his nickname (J-Chosen), it's still insane.

Every player is different and every team is different. There is no doubt that Rosen is stepping into a situation where there is a talented team around him. But if history is any indication, Rosen's chances of leading the Bruins to a conference championship and a playoff appearance are not very good.

There have been some very notable redshirt freshman quarterbacks who have had remarkable first seasons. Johnny Manziel immediately pops out with his phenomenal Heisman season and both Jameis Winston and Michael Vick were both outstanding in leading their teams to national championship games with Winston of course winning a national championship and Heisman in 2013.

True freshman quarterbacks haven't been nearly as successful and even the ones who are considered the elite of the elite haven't experienced national championship contender type of success at the start.

During the era (2002 to present), six of the quarterback who were the top rated quarterback in the nation started in their first season. That already puts Rosen in rare company because, but he'd have to be an even greater outlier to help the Bruins reach the level of expectation that some have placed on them this fall.

Here's how the six other top rated quarterbacks did during their freshman seasons:

Matthew Stafford (2006)

Stafford did not start right off the bat at Georgia like Rosen is going to. It took him until the fourth game of the season and an injury to the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs to let him take the reigns. They went 9-4 on the season and he threw 7 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He obviously made big strides as his career progressed and eventually became the number one pick in the NFL Draft, but clearly wasn't ready to lead Georgia to a national championship or anything close in year one.

Jimmy Clausen (2007)

It was a disaster of a first season for Notre Dame and Clausen got thrown into the mix behind a bad offensive line and a young team devoid of top talent. They went 3-9 and he started from the second game of the season with him throwing only 7 touchdowns and throwing 6 interceptions. He put up big numbers in his junior year and was an eventual second round pick.

Terrelle Pryor (2008)

Pryor might have been on the most talented team out of all of these freshman starters with several future NFL players and a really good defense. He started from the third game of the season and had decent numbers with 12 passing touchdowns against 4 interceptions. He also had 631 yards rushing with 6 rushing touchdowns. The Buckeyes went 10-3. A good season, but not one that would have got them anywhere near a playoff spot if it existed at that time.

Matt Barkley (2009)

USC was in a transition year after having Mark Sanchez leave early for the NFL and no heir apparent on campus. Barkley started the first game of the season and missed on start due to injury in leading the Trojans to a 9-4 record. He threw 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Jake Heaps (2010)

Heaps had a 6-4 record as a started during BYU's 7-6 season. He threw 15 interceptions against only 9 picks. He then went on to...well, it didn't end well for him.

Kyle Allen (2014)

Allen didn't start the season. That honor went to Kenny "Trill" who was getting Heisman hype after the first game of the season. The hype died down with Allen taking over as the starter and throwing 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a squad with a horrendous defense that went 8-5.

The analytics people would call that a small sample size and it certainly is. Any football coach would tell you that Rosen is a different player than those other players and the team he is going to be quarterbacking is much different too. He may be a better player at this stage of his development than those other players were and his team may be better than any of those teams as well.

Rosen has to play in the Pac-12 South, though. It may be the toughest division in all of college football. He'll have to face teams like USC, Arizona, and Stanford on the road. Those are tough matchups for even the most seasoned college quarterbacks. It's not going to be an easy task for him and the Bruins to get through the season by winning the division and then having to beat a team like Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game. If they're going to be selected for the playoff, they aren't going to be doing it without winning the conference.

Thirty years ago Jamelle Holieway was a true freshman quarterback who came in and ran the wishbone for Barry Switzer at Oklahoma after replacing an injured Troy Aikman. He leds the Sooners to an 11-1 season and a national championship.

That was a different era, though. The Big 12 was the Big 8. There were no conference championship games and there was far less parity. What Rosen would have to do to help UCLA get to the promised land is much different than the challenges Holieway faced. But if Rosen can get the Bruins to the playoff, they'd have to re-write the history books and those that have compared him to Manning and Aikman will start to look pretty darn smart.