Oct. 30, 2003
By Brian Litvack
This Saturday is shaping up to be something special in the realm of college football. Ten of the top 16 teams face off and the BCS picture will be a whole lot clearer at the end of the day.
Following the mantra of the mass media, it is necessary to coin a phrase to sum up the importance of this weekend's contests. Separation Saturday sounds like a grotesque shoulder injury and Survivor Saturday could easily be a promotion tie in for reality television.
So the powers that be (i.e; me), have dubbed this QB SATurday, because for many top quarterbacks this Saturday will truly be an aptitude test.
Across the nation, quarterbacks of top 25 teams will face their toughest tests of the season. This group includes Michigan's John Navarre, MSU's Jeff Smoker, USC's Matt Leinart, Miami's Brock Berlin, FSU's Chris Rix, Oklahoma State's Josh Fields and Florida's Chris Leak.
The quarterbacks will face suffocating defenses (Fields, Leak), the adversity of playing on the road (Navarre, Berlin) and lingering questions as to whether they have what it takes to lead their team under pressure and be a star college quarterback (Berlin, Leinart, Rix and Smoker).
Now for the breakdown:
John Navarre - Navarre has been in college as long as Bluto was in Animal House. Unlike the classic degenerate, Navarre has made great strides in his college years and has developed into the leader of a prolific offense.
The most glaring weakness on Navarre's career resume is his inability to win on the road. Time and again Navarre has failed to lead the Wolverines to victory away from the friendly confines of the Big House. UM's two losses this year were at Oregon and Iowa.
In past seasons, he has come up short in road losses against UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame. Two years ago, Michigan went to East Lansing and lost a controversial game when T.J. Duckett scored on a 1-yard touchdown reception as time expired. Does Navarre have the maturity and moxy to go back to East Lansing and help the Wolverines come away with a victory?
Jeff Smoker- Smoker would be the comeback player of the year if there was such a thing in college football. He entered last season as an All-American candidate but was in rehab by Week 7. Smoker has apparently turned his life around and helped coach John L. Smith get State off to a 7-1 start. He is second in the Big Ten in passing efficiency with 2,070 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games.
Smoker and the Spartans face their biggest challenge of the season when the Wolverines come to town. Michigan is looking for revenge from two years ago, and the winner of this game is in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl. Can Smoker continue his success and lead the Spartans to the promise land?
Rix's soap opera stint as FSU's quarterback continues this week as the Seminoles travel to South Bend to try and avenge last years 34-24 loss. In that game, Rix was a meager 13-for-32 with two interceptions, and played poorly enough to find a seat on the bench.
Despite showing signs of being a typical college slacker (sleeping through exams, and parking his car wherever he damn-well pleases), Rix regained the starting job this season. Although Seminole country is still skeptical about his play, Florida State is sitting pretty at 7-1 and ranked third in the BCS. Will Rix be able to stay composed in the Golden Dome or will he melt down once again?
Matt Leinart- This season Leinart has beat out three other quarterbacks for the starting position. He's stepped into the shoes of Heisman-winner Carson Palmer and has kept freshman savior John David Booty off his heels. He's responded by leading The Men of Troy to a 7-1 records and has put up numbers (2175 yards, 21 TDs) that are gaudy enough to give him possible Heisman Consideration.
If Leinart can put up big numbers this week, he will solidify his starting spot for the future as well as put the Trojans on a direct path to the Rose Bowl. Can Leinart be a Heisman candidate or will he eventually be riding the pine?
Brock Berlin - Berlin has the talent and the team to be a stud. He has stepped into Ken Dorsey's domain and has played just well enough to keep Miami winning. Berlin had the performance of the year (so far) in leading the Canes back against his former team Florida earlier in the season. Yet Berlin has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and isn't being shown much respect by opposing defenses who routinely stuff the box against Miami to stop the run.
Berlin must go into the black hole of Blacksburg to face an angry Virginia Tech squad. Can Berlin play well enough to extend Miami's regular season winning streak to 40 and get them one game closer to the Sugar Bowl?
Josh Fields - Along with star wide receiver Rashaun Woods and running back Tatum Bell, Fields is part of the most underrated offense in college football. The Cowboys are fifth in the nation with 41.5 points a contest. A few weeks ago, Fields even taught uber-yardagemeister B.J. Symons a thing or two about scoring in a 51-49 victory over Texas Tech. Fields and the Cowboy offense have been nearly unstoppable all season.
OSU has had top-ranked Oklahoma's number the last two seasons. Last season Fields was 18-for-27 for 357 yards and four touchdowns as the Cowboys played the ultimate spoilers in a 38-28 victory.
Oklahoma State will be playing with confidence and experience. Can Fields actually go into Norman and pick apart an NFL caliber defense for a third straight Cowboy upset?
Chris Leak - The true freshman started October by throwing three fourth quarter interceptions in a loss to Mississippi that dropped Florida to 3-3. Since then, Leak has been magnificent in leading the Gators to road victories over top 10 teams LSU and Arkansas. In those two games Leak threw for 598 yards and three touchdowns.
Leak will face his stiffest test to date as he lines up against Georgia and its top ranked. Can Leak, one of the nation's most highly touted freshman, show that his time is now and lead the Gators to the upset.
All these quarterback face questions that are much more daunting then analogies and algebra. In the words of one Famous Collegiate Professor, "Tune in and turn on" to see which quarterbacks pass QB SATurday.
Florida freshman Chris Leak faces another big test against Georgia Saturday.