By now, most college football observers know this is a special season when it comes to quarterbacks that have the talent to play in the NFL. In the season's opening week, I watched one of those quarterbacks, Jameis Winston, make his much-anticipated college debut and lead his Florida State team to an easy victory over Pittsburgh. The Seminoles were clearly the better team, and Winston was the game's star. But I wanted to see Pitt again because I was intrigued by its quarterback, a player I'd never really heard about before.
A few weeks later, I watched this quarterback throw for six touchdowns while completing 23 of 33 passes for 424 yards against Duke. He showed that he could make every throw, connecting on deep passes, crossing routes, throwing out to the sideline, and checking it down to a running back. Perhaps most impressive, he was able to perfectly lead his receivers so they didn't have to slow down to make a reception.
Watching this game, the quarterback, Tom Savage, reminded me a lot of a player I had the privilege to scout and eventually draft back in the 1980s -- Troy Aikman.
Now, Aikman is a Hall of Fame quarterback who won three Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys; Savage entered his senior season with barely more than a dozen starts under his belt at the collegiate level. The similarities I see between the two aren't so much in their results as they are in the way the QBs carry themselves on the field. Physically, when I see Savage, he reminds me of Aikman. He is well built at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds. He has a very strong arm and above-average accuracy on his throws. He is more of a pocket passer than someone who will beat you with his legs. Not a lot of prospects have the combination of size, arm strength, and passing ability that I see in Savage.
Hot 100 seniors
When I update my Hot 100 senior prospects next week, Savage will be on the list. And from the little I've seen of him, he has the chance to ascend into my top 50.
So why isn't anyone talking about Savage? Much of the reason might be that, entering the 2013 season, he hadn't taken a snap since 2010 and simply fell off the map. After starting as a true freshman at Rutgers in 2009, winning eight games and garnering team offensive MVP honors, he was injured early in 2010 and decided to transfer to Arizona. He sat out the 2011 season because of the NCAA's transfer rules, then transferred to Pittsburgh and sat out the 2012 season.
Because of the missed time, Savage enters Saturday's game against Virginia Tech with just 20 starts. Typically, you'd like for a college quarterback to have about 30 starts, giving him time to improve his ability to read defenses on the field rather than on a chalkboard or on tape.
Time will tell if Savage continues to progress, but through six weeks, he has come out of nowhere to emerge as a prospect to watch and is the player who's excited me the most this season.
Could he be another Ryan Tannehill, the Texas A&M quarterback who went from a prospect no one talked about to the eighth overall draft pick in 2012? I was higher on Tannehill than I am on Savage, but it's a similar situation in that Savage is an unheralded QB who has a chance to take off. And I do think that Savage has the ability and the upside to become a top-50 pick.
Week 7 games that interest me
Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech: Besides Savage, this game will give us a chance to see Hokies QB Logan Thomas, who has been evaluated as everything from a future first-round pick to a reject. Thomas is a big, strong quarterback with a cannon for an arm, and he played very well last weekend against North Carolina. His problem has been inconsistency. The Panthers are nine-point underdogs in this one. I like Virginia Tech to win, 31-28, but I expect Savage to outperform Thomas.
Texas vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas): This game will be played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which is just about the midpoint between the Longhorns' home in Austin and the Sooners' home in Norman, Okla. The teams should have an equal number of support in attendance: From one end zone to the 50-yard line will be fans wearing Texas' burnt orange, and from the other end zone to the 50-yard line will be fans wearing Oklahoma's red. This is a very important game for the Longhorns -- there are a lot of people in Texas grumbling about the team's performance over the last few seasons, and the school is feeling the pressure to make a decision on coach Mack Brown's future. QB Case McCoy is likely to fill in again for the injured QB David Ash, so the Longhorns must rely on running the ball against a very good Oklahoma defense that is allowing just 13 points per game. The struggling Texas defense, on the other hand, will have to stop Sooners QB Blake Bell. I'm predicting Oklahoma 35, Texas 13.
Oregon at Washington: The Ducks are the No. 2-ranked team in the country, and some think they are the best. The Huskies are ranked No. 16 after losing their first game last week at Stanford. Washington controlled this series for many years but has lost nine straight by an average of 26 points. Oregon is led by Marcus Mariota, who had 32 touchdown passes last year plus six rushing touchdowns, and its left tackle, Tyler Johnstone, is a future NFL offensive lineman. This may be the fastest team in college football. Oregon wins, 30-24.
Penn State over Michigan: The Nittany Lions are coming off their first-ever loss to Indiana but have beaten Michigan three straight times in the last five years. Penn State plays tough at home, and Michigan QB Devin Gardner is not playing very well.