The NFL’s quarterback revolution grinds on, each episode more revealing than the last. Russell Wilson stands at the forefront just now after guiding Seattle to that astonishingly comfortable Monday night victory over New Orleans, but this is a four-pronged affair, likely to entertain fans for the next 10 years.
And so, the question: If you had to pick one of last year’s revelations with an eye on the future, would it be Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III?
So much has changed in a matter of months. Griffin’s stock has taken a mighty fall. Kaepernick has felt the sting of criticism and doubt. Luck stays on course, to no one’s surprise, and Wilson’s ascent has captivated the nation. But that’s just for the moment.
Here’s how one observer answers the question, ranking the four game-changing quarterbacks in order (no slight to Cam Newton, who debuted in 2011, the season Kaepernick essentially watched from the sideline):
– Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle
When I wrote in an Insider article two years ago that the Pac-12 had an opportunity to close the gap between it and the SEC as the top college football conference in the country (an article that drew its fair share of discussion), Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was still in the formative and visionary process of building up the league. He had brokered the richest television deal in college sports, and the conference was taking shape with its new members and new direction.
Two years later, the conference continues to close the gap, and while its 12 members cannibalized their own chances at a BCS title in 2013, the vision continues to look very promising. Here are four reasons the Pac-12 continues to pose a long-term threat to the SEC in terms of college football supremacy.
It wasn’t long ago the Pac-12 was near the bottom of its peer group in revenue streams, television exposure and market reach. Much to the chagrin of some of its fans, the conference’s teams play all hours of a Saturday, as well as many Thursdays and Fridays during the season. While the traditional 12:30 PT kickoffs are a relic of the past, the trade-offs are tens of millions of dollars in the pockets of each athletic budget annually.
And the money isn’t burning holes in anyone’s pocket. From Salt Lake City to Eugene, from Tucson to Seattle, the member institutions combined are spending more than $1 billion on stadium renovations, football offices and facilities built exclusively for the football engine that drives athletic departments. Even the folks in Boulder, who have been slowest to the draw and are spending “football stimulus dollars,” have a $170 million building campaign underway.
The SEC set the tone in the arms race for indoor facilities, first-class stadiums and football-specific training centers. The rest of the college football world has played catch-up, and no conference has been as committed or opportunistic as the Pac-12 at closing that gap. That plays a huge role in recruiting, which brings me to my second point.
“The conference has never been stronger, top to bottom, in my 13 years coaching in it,” former Washington Huskies coach and new USC Trojans head man Steve Sarkisian recently said. Get on the phone with the longest-tenured coach in the conference, Oregon State’s Mike Riley, or its newest member, California’s Sonny Dykes, and the message will be the same. The depth of talent among teams one through 12 in the conference has never been better.
–Brock Huard, ESPN Insider
This is bigger than scrounging for a late-season win. Bigger even than keeping alive hopes of winning the NFC West.
Sunday’s anticipated showdown is about reclaiming mojo. The credibility of the 49ers is at stake.
It’s not that San Francisco needs to prove anything to the media. This is not about justifying the rabid belief of its diehard fans. This is one of those look-yourself-in-the-mirror things.
San Francisco elevated itself to elite status by bullying teams. Wearing machismo on their sleeves, the 49ers pounded opponents into submission.
So far this season, they’ve merely feasted on mediocrity. No doubt, you have to be a pretty good team to be 8-4. But the 49ers are better than pretty good. They’re supposed to be, anyway. That is why their eight wins pale in comparison to their four losses.
Each time the 49ers have lined up against teams that aren’t holistically inferior, teams they couldn’t just dominate with force and talent, they have lost. To Indianapolis. To Seattle, embarrassingly. To Carolina. To New Orleans. For whatever reason, they haven’t gotten it done.
San Francisco’s eight wins are against teams that currently boast a combined record of 30-53-1. The only winning team the 49ers have beaten is Arizona.
It’s got to be hard to poke your chest out and mean it when your most worthy victim is led by Carson Palmer. Hard for the tough talk to be sincere when you lose to every team that pushes back.
The 49ers’ mission has changed. Once a favorite for home-field advantage, they now need to get hot. How do you do that when you’re 0 for 2013 against the really good teams you’ve faced?
This is about re-establishing confidence. No better way to do it than by humbling Seattle.
–Marcus Thompson II, San Jose Mercury News