Commentary

The great quarterback debate

Updated: August 12, 2010, 11:11 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Thank you, reader, for agreeing to take this blind taste test:

Quarterback A has a 9-20 record as a collegian, and he's never been to a bowl game. He has thrown 36 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions in 816 attempts. His total offensive production -- running and passing combined -- is 6,928 yards with one season of eligibility remaining. His career completion rate is 53 percent. His best single-season rating in pass efficiency is 130.

Quarterback B has a 26-1 record as a collegian, including a BCS bowl victory. He has thrown 64 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 836 career attempts. His total offensive production -- running and passing combined -- is 6,987 yards with two seasons of eligibility remaining. His career completion rate is 67 percent. His best single-season rating in pass efficiency is 162.

You'd take Quarterback B 100 times out of 100, right? He's a winner with sensational stats, compared to a guy with unspectacular numbers across the board.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBoise State's Kellen Moore has a 26-1 record as a starter with a BCS bowl win to go along with it.

So then why do Phil Steele and Playboy magazine, in addition to a whole bunch of Heisman predictors and All-America arbiters, rank Quarterback A (Washington's Jake Locker) ahead of Quarterback B (Boise State's Kellen Moore)?

Yeah, sure, because Locker plays in the Pacific-10 while Moore plays in the Western Athletic Conference. And because Locker was a national top-100 recruit while Moore was basically panhandling for scholarships. But more importantly, because of this: Locker is three inches taller, 43 pounds heavier, can dent titanium with a spiral and has great wheels.

In other words, because the National Football League is in love with Locker and cannot wait to throw $50 million at him next spring.

But this is here and now, and here and now means college football. And, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why anyone would rather have 6-foot-3, 230-pound Jake Locker than 6-foot-maybe, 187-pound Kellen Moore in the college game.

If you believe that the difference in conference affiliation and opponent strength precludes any valid statistical comparison of the two, I say this: Check their numbers against common opponents.

Both Boise State and Washington played Oregon in 2008 and '09. Both also played Idaho in '09. Moore wins.

Boise went 3-0 against the Ducks and the Vandals. The Broncos outscored their opponents in those three games 119-65. Moore completed 66 of 88 passes for 882 yards and nine touchdowns, with one interception. His total offense: 858 yards.

Washington went 1-2. The Huskies were outscored 110-71. Locker completed 52 of 97 passes for 622 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions. His total offense: 681 yards.

The point here is not to bash Jake Locker, who is universally acclaimed as a great representative of his family, his small hometown of Ferndale, Wash., his university and college football in general. I hope he has a great season.

The point is, you can overlook and underestimate a lot of guys who can win games but who also don't fit the "Stud QB" specs. One of the beauties of college football is that you can win with quarterbacks of all shapes, sizes and skills.

Louisville offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who worked under Urban Meyer and coached Alex Smith at Utah, listed these as his most important qualities for a college quarterback: leadership, efficiency, elimination of major mistakes and getting the team in the end zone.

Notice the absence of towering height, a howitzer arm and dazzling speed from that list.

"Accuracy and decision-making are huge," Sanford said.

Sounds like Kellen Moore. And it sounds like another guy who has had to fight his way into the spotlight, Houston's Case Keenum.

The two have become buddies, getting to know each other in the past year while on the awards circuit and working the Manning Passing Academy together. They have a lot in common, but have apparently never spent any appreciable time comparing notes on overcoming a youth devoid of hype.

They're too busy throwing touchdown passes and winning games to lament about what they haven't had.

"Everyone's got their different paths," Moore said.

"I think we're both really happy where we're at," Keenum said.

Keenum is a coach's son who received exactly one FBS scholarship offer. Houston was it, so the 6-2 kid from Abilene, Texas, accepted.

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireCase Keenum, who's posted consecutive 5,000-yard passing seasons, received just one scholarship offer.

"God opened the right door in sending me to Houston," Keenum said. "He didn't give me any choice."

Keenum has been part of one of the best three-year runs in Houston history, producing 26 victories. Meanwhile, he is coming off consecutive 5,000-yard passing seasons and is on pace to supplant Hawaii's Timmy Chang as the most productive passer in FBS history.

Moore on Keenum's game: "He gets completions; that's the biggest thing. He finds the open guy, and he makes big plays when you need big plays.

"Sometimes their defense last year, they weren't stopping too many people. But when they needed a score, he'd have an answer."

Moore is a coach's son who grew up in small-town eastern Washington, just hoping for a scholarship offer from Washington State. It never came. He remembers Cougars quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach telling him, "If we can get a 6-5 guy, we're going to take a 6-5 guy."

They came close -- the Cougars got 6-3 Marshall Lobbestael. But don't even bother comparing his career arc to Moore's, because it isn't pretty. And Washington State has become a train wreck of a program.

So, dinky Kellen Moore turned down Idaho and Eastern Washington and went to Boise State instead. He has been little short of ridiculous the past two seasons, setting an FBS freshman record for efficiency in 2008 and currently ranking as the career leader in that category among active players.

Keenum on Moore's game: "He's one of the best in the country at what he does. He's just a really, really smart football player. One of the smartest I know. I tried to get a couple of his plays put in our offense.

"When you watch their games, as a quarterback you're thinking in every situation what's the right thing to do. Every time, he does what you're supposed to do."

In addition to dealing with skepticism regarding their arm strength and derision of their competition, Moore and Keenum have both endured speculation that they're "gimmick" quarterbacks. In other words, that they're just products of systems that could transform any trained chimpanzee into a 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown star.

Maybe there is something to that. But there are worse things than being called a "system" guy. The fact is, it takes someone pretty skilled and smart to excel in those systems. And it takes a special kind of leader and winner to take his program to new heights.

Boise State begins the season in the top five for the first time ever. Houston was ranked as high as No. 12 this past season, won 10 games and is the landslide choice to win the Conference USA West title again this year.

"For quarterbacks," Moore said, "it really comes down to wins and losses."

Few QBs have won more than Kellen Moore and Case Keenum the past two years -- no matter what the NFL or anyone else thinks of them.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.