- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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If Michigan had hired LSU's Les Miles or Stanford's Jim Harbaugh -- two of its former players -- as its coach instead of West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez in December 2007, current Arkansas star Ryan Mallett might still be playing quarterback for the Wolverines.
If former Florida All-American Tim Tebow had left for the NFL after his junior season, instead of returning for his senior campaign in 2009, Cameron Newton might have never led Auburn to the Jan. 10 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
And if Zach Frazer hadn't been the odd man out in a four-man quarterback race at Notre Dame in 2007, Connecticut might have never earned a trip this season to its first BCS bowl game, against No. 7 Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.
Frazer, Mallett and Newton have guided their second teams to unprecedented heights, after failing to find homes for various reasons with their original teams.
Newton, from College Park, Ga., might be remembered as the greatest one-and-done player in college football history if he leaves the Tigers after his junior season and enters this spring's NFL draft.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy earlier this month after becoming only the third player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to run and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season, after barely playing in his two seasons at Florida in 2007 and '08.
"I don't recall a lot of lows with him, but I recall a lot of highs," Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. "I'm just impressed with him, period, both as a person on and off the field and the way he has progressed as a football player for us in this system. Obviously, he's one of the huge reasons why we're here, along with many others."
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said the Tigers found Newton at Blinn College, a junior college in Brenham, Texas, out of happenstance more than anything else. According to Malzahn, Tigers running backs coach Curtis Luper went to Blinn College last year to recruit wide receiver Dexter Ransom, who eventually signed with Utah.
But Luper ended up signing Newton, who led Auburn to a 13-0 record and an SEC championship. The No. 1 Tigers play No. 2 Oregon in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10 for the BCS national championship.
"We were not even going to take a quarterback," Malzahn told The Associated Press last month. "Coach Luper went down and said, 'You've got to take a look at this quarterback.' It just so happened [that] one of our guys was leaving, and it opened up a spot. I'd never even heard of him. I didn't even know who he was."
In Newton's two seasons at Florida, he was buried on the depth chart behind Tebow and then-freshman John Brantley III. Newton played in five games as a freshman at Florida in 2007, then transferred after playing in only one game in '08.
This season, Newton was the SEC's leading rusher with 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns while leading the country in pass efficiency, completing 67.1 percent of his passes for 2,589 yards with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Chizik said he was even more impressed by Newton's ability to avoid off-field distractions. Newton was declared ineligible by Auburn officials Dec. 1 and reinstated by the NCAA the next day. The NCAA said Newton's father, Cecil Newton, broke its rules by soliciting $180,000 from Mississippi State boosters before Cam Newton enrolled at Auburn.
"It's been a pleasure to watch him work because really and truly he just really never changes," Chizik said. "He's a huge competitor. He's a guy that loves the thrill of competition. If the game's on the line, he wants the ball in his hand and he's ready to compete. No matter what is out there and what is circulating and all of the other distractions there are, he just doesn't really deal with those, and he has that innate ability to focus."
Mallett, from Texarkana, Texas, threw seven touchdowns in 11 games at Michigan as a freshman in 2007. He transferred to Arkansas after one season because he didn't think he was a good fit for Rodriguez's spread offense.
"As far as what Coach Rodriguez wants his quarterbacks to do, we both agreed it wasn't for me," Mallett said. "I decided to take a pass and let him get his own guy in there to be successful."
Mallett, who threw for 3,592 yards with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season, seems to be the perfect fit for Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino's offense. The No. 8 Hogs will appear in their first BCS bowl game when they play No. 6 Ohio State in the Jan. 4 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Frazer's journey to the Fiesta Bowl has been much more arduous. He sat out the 2007 season under NCAA transfer rules, then he and Cody Endres rotated as the Huskies' starting quarterback in 2008 after Tyler Lorenzen got hurt.
Frazer opened each of the past two seasons as the starter but was benched after struggling. Each time, he reclaimed the job and led the Huskies to a late-season resurgence. This season, he was benched before halftime of a 45-21 win over Buffalo on Sept. 25, then was demoted to third string behind Endres and Michael Box and didn't play in the next two games.
But Endres was kicked off the team for an unspecified violation of university policies before the Huskies' 26-0 loss at Louisville on Oct. 23. Box struggled against the Cardinals, and Frazer won the job back once again. The Huskies won their last five games and claimed a Big East championship.
"Zach's a winner," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. "He can make the throws that we need him to make. He ends up finding a way to make plays that allow you to do the things that you want to do. He keeps the chains moving."
And Frazer keeps finding ways to win games. He's 11-3 in games he starts and finishes for the Huskies, even if his performance isn't always as impressive as what Mallett and Newton do. With Jordan Todman running for 1,574 yards with 14 touchdowns, the Huskies haven't asked Frazer to throw much.
Frazer, a senior from Mechanicsburg, Pa., completed 52.7 percent of his attempts for 1,202 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
"He can get you a touchdown with the throw," Edsall said. "Quarterbacks are usually judged by how many they win and how many they lose. It's not about the style points all the time. It's about do you win and make enough plays to help your team win?"
The three transfer quarterbacks in BCS bowl games each accomplished those goals this season.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zach Frazer, Ryan Mallett and Cam Newton have guided their second teams to unprecedented heights, after failing to find homes for various reasons with their original teams.