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Boringly flashy Luke Falk is a whole lot more than a system quarterback

After throwing for 4,561 yards in 2015, Luke Falk could take the next step this year

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NCAA Football: Colorado at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leach doesn’t care about what most people think. In his mind, dirt clods are more “productive” than cell phones, and Luke Falk more deserving of the Heisman Trophy than Christian McCaffrey.

Although by defying convention, Leach may have ruffled a few feathers (or needles, in this case), he also made a point that should be obvious: Falk is one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

Sure, Falk definitely didn’t deserve to win the Heisman more than McCaffrey last year — much less be seriously considered for it — but that doesn’t mean he should be dismissed as a purely “system” quarterback.

That undesirable label is usually slapped upon spread and Air Raid quarterbacks alike, implying that their success is hollow because of their ostensibly simple systems. Certainly they could never repeat that performance in a pro-style system. They could never make those reads. Or those NFL-type throws, for that matter.

If you’ve watched a Washington State game, you’ll know that’s not Falk’s game. Sure, he isn’t asked to make throws into windows smaller than keyholes or use multivariable calculus to make reads, but he does what is asked of him exceptionally well. And that’s what counts.

We can only judge him based on the system he plays in. There’s no way to definitely determine if he would be just as successful in some hypothetical, complex system. But what we do know is that accuracy and poise transcend systems. Falk has plenty of each.

Most of his throws are short slants or mesh routes, but he rarely ever misses. When he’s asked to step up and make more difficult deep throws, he does so with flying colors.

When I watched Falk’s tape, I had trouble staying awake. Watching pass after pass hit receivers right between the numbers has a certain soporific effect. And that’s to his credit.

For a guy that puts up such flashy numbers (nearly 400 passing YPG in 2015), Falk’s game is shockingly devoid of drama. Hardly ever a floating duck, daring scramble, or a throw that makes you clench your teeth — he makes it look so easy that it’s almost boring. You know he’s going to make the play.

That assured feeling you get watching him remains when he’s under duress. Although he’s not the most mobile quarterback out there, you can trust that he’ll shimmy around the pocket enough to procure some time and find an open receiver.

If there aren’t any good options, he’s more than likely to take the sack or throw it as far away as possible while still avoiding the penalty.

He’s a highly risk-averse passer, college football’s version of a mutual fund. However, that doesn’t mean he’s weak in the pocket. Rather, it’s the contrary — he’s a confident, strong presence with defenders in his face.

For example, take this play against Arizona State. It’s a standard Air Raid formation, out of the shotgun with twin sets of receivers on both sides. None of the routes fool the Sun Devils’ secondary, and Falk quickly finds he has no real options downfield.

Some might panic and try to scramble or force a desperate throw, but not Falk. Instead of playing hero ball, he trusts that his teammates will eventually get open. Even when there’s a defensive lineman hot on his tracks.

Then, he has the awareness and field vision to spot the receiver that broke free downfield and adjust accordingly. He takes a short step back, giving him enough separation to push the ball downfield and pick up an easy explosive play to get the Cougars across midfield.

The numbers reinforce Falk’s value as a clear-headed, pure passer — he received a grade from Pro-Football Focus that made him the 12th-best overall quarterback in the nation last year. These rankings don’t overstate the value of the misleading but eye-popping yardage totals that Leach’s system fosters — it creates a level, context neutral playing field for players to be evaluated for their contributions on a per-play basis.

And for his passing, he was rated second in the nation in ESPN’s Pass EPA, a stat that measures a quarterback’s “expected points added on plays with pass attempts.” Essentially, Falk created the second-most value in the nation with his arm last season.

Considering those numbers, it’s hard to make the case that Falk has succeeded solely because of his simplified offensive system. It has made it easier on him, but the reports of such a system making dominance automatic for Falk have been greatly exaggerated.

The entrenched reputation of Leach’s system heavily colors perceptions of Falk’s performance -- something he’ll need to shed if he wants to become a legitimate Heisman contender this season.

Falk could put up the kind of production necessary to warrant such consideration, if he didn’t already. With another year under his belt, Falk could put up gaudy numbers, perhaps enough that they’d be impossible to ignore. If he does, that could help his Cougars take the next step and make the Pac-12 North a four-team race.

As usual, you can trust that he’ll be boringly flashy enough to do it.

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