Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Virginia Tech Quarterback Battle

By Kevin Beane

It's not always easy for me to come up with ideas for this column. That's because, no matter what's going on in the world of sports, it can't be taken for granted that I have an interesting, passionate, and/or original take on an issue. Not to pat myself on the back, but I refuse to take the Bayless/Steven A. Smith approach of being bombastic and hot take-y just for the sake of it.

So that's why I have my go-to gimmicky columns, like answering mail intended for other sports columns. Occasionally, however, I like to clear my writer's block by picking a team in any sport at random, reading up on what the fans are talking about, which issues are pressing, and writing about that.

Here's one of those types of columns. Glad I could give you a peek under the Slant Pattern hood.

Virginia Tech has a quarterback battle on its hands. All-everything quarterback Jerod Evans is gone, and whomever replaces him will have no meaningful college experience. So who are they candidates?

The first is Josh Jackson. Evans only barely beat Jackson out for the job last year, but Jackson sagely took a redshirt year rather than playing mop-up duty, and hence has four years of eligibility remaining.

How inexperienced are these quarterbacks in the hunt for the starting job? Jackson is the only one with a year in the program. He's a Brad Johnson-type. Not particularly mobile, not a huge arm, but accurate. Despite his lack of mobility, he is willing to leave the pocket, and his accuracy doesn't wane when he does.

Then there's A.J. Bush. He started his collegiate career at Nebraska, transferred to a JUCO (Iowa Western), played terribly, and yet still got to make the jump to a good team in a power five conference because of his tools and "potential."

Meaning, in this case, that he has both a big arm and can run. And given that Tech coach Justin Fuente used Evans to run quite a bit last year, that's a big plus. But how bad was he in junior college? I know completion percentage is an overrated stat, but Bush completed less than 50% of his passes, threw 3 touchdowns, and tossed 8 interceptions. Once again, that was against junior college competition. If Bush garners significant playing time, particularly if it's due to the injuries of others, start betting heavily against the Hokies.

Finally, there is Hendon Hooker. He's Fuentes first quarterback recruit at Virginia Tech, and they went out of their way to have him enrolled and eligible for spring drills. Like Bush, he's a runner and he doesn't have the black mark of Bush's dreadful JUCO stats. But he's a freshman going up against a more experienced freshman who almost won the job last year, so he will be a long-shot unless Fuentes decides to use a multi-quarterback system to take advantage of the mobility of Hooker or Bush.

But honestly, this really seems like Jackson's job to lose, even though Fuentes is playing it close to the vest. One wild card to keep in mind is Ryan Willis. The former starting quarterback of Kansas has transferred to Virginia Tech. He'll have to sit out a year, but no Hokie columnist I have read seems to think he will be a factor in the quarterback race even next year. Such is life coming from the worst football program among the power five.

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