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Tyrod Taylor Looks Forward to Big Senior Season
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, TSLMail #434, May 28, 2010

Recently, on ESPN's College Football Live, they ran the results of an ESPN.com poll that asked readers to rank the top college quarterbacks in the country. The results came out like this:

1. Jake Locker, Washington
2. Kellen Moore, Boise State
3. Terrell Pryor, Ohio State
4. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
5. Andrew Luck, Stanford
6. Case Keenum, Houston
7. Matt Barkley, USC
8. John Brantley, Florida
9. Garrett Gilbert, Texas
10. Christian Ponder, Florida State

I found myself thinking, "Really? John Brantley? Garrett Gilbert? Really?" Why no Tyrod Taylor?

To be fair, the "poll" wasn't really a poll, and it wasn't open-ended. More precisely, it was a "List Ranker" feature on ESPN.com, where they present the reader with ten pre-loaded choices, and the reader is supposed to rank the choices 1-10. Here's the QB list-ranker that produced the results above.

So blame ESPN for not putting Tyrod Taylor, a rising senior QB who finished 13th in the nation in pass-efficiency last year and is a proven winner (23-5 as a starter, or so we've heard), into the list of options.

But it got me to thinking, what's the definition of a "top quarterback"? You've got statistical freaks like Case Keenum of Houston (5,671 yards passing, 44 TDs, #6 in pass efficiency), whose talent is obvious. But Keenum couldn't lead his Cougars to victory in the Conference USA Championship Game at East Carolina, a place where the Hokies won handily last fall.

Then you've got guys like Alabama's Greg McElroy, whose statistics are relatively modest (2,508 yards, 17 TDs, #28 in pass efficiency), but who are at the helm of winning teams.

Then you've got guys who are both, like Tim Tebow, who finished #1 in the nation in pass efficiency last year and led the Gators to a 13-1 record.

Top quarterbacks can't be measured by statistics and wins alone, though. Another metric I really like, except it's not really a metric because you can't measure it, is crunch-time performance and leadership. (It's not exactly a secret that those qualities will lead to wins.)

And another question you can ask is this: Does the quarterback do what's asked of him, and does he do it very, very well?

This is where Tyrod Taylor is poised to have a great senior season, and to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. He's already the #7 returning QB in terms of passing efficiency, going off last season's numbers. As difficult as it will be to improve upon last year's pass efficiency numbers, Taylor can do it. He completed fewer than 50% of his passes through the first four games of last season (he finished at 56% for the year), and he only threw 13 touchdowns in 13 games, so the numbers can go up.

But beyond the numbers, Taylor has a chance to make a statement by coming through in the clutch and making game-winning plays. He'll be thrust into the national spotlight on Labor Day night against Boise State, which will be his first chance to step up. Everyone will be talking about Boise State's Kellen Moore going in, and Moore finished second in the nation in pass efficiency last year, so he has earned the attention.

By outplaying Moore and leading the Hokies to victory, Taylor can establish himself in the national consciousness.

By shepherding the Hokies through the next seven games and into November 8-0, Taylor can clearly establish himself as a winner.

And once November, with its brutal stretch of GT-UNC-Miami starts, the landscape will be ripe for Taylor to make a name for himself. No one can predict how those games will come out, but Tyrod will have plenty of opportunities to make plays and be the difference between a loss and a win.

Making the plays that make a difference is the big step that Bryan Randall made from his junior year to his senior year. Prior to 2004, Randall was generally a good caretaker of the ball, but many memorable moments were of the wrong variety: the interception against Syracuse in overtime in 2002; the interception in the end zone late against West Virginia in Lane Stadium in 2002; the critical interception on VT's opening drive at WVU in 2003; being pulled late in the game at Pittsburgh in 2003, for Marcus Vick; and so on.

But in mid-2004, Randall caught fire, leading the comeback win at Georgia Tech, making Maryland look silly on a Thursday night in Lane Stadium, throwing touchdown passes against Virginia, and leading the gutsy win at Miami to clinch the ACC championship.

Randall only finished 39th in the nation in pass efficiency that year, but by the end of the season, there was nary a QB in the nation I would have traded him for.

The opportunity exists for Tyrod Taylor to do in 2010 what Bryan Randall did in 2004. Taylor flashed that difference-making ability against Nebraska and Ndamukong Suh in two critical plays that led the Hokies to victory. He was unable to will wins against UNC and Georgia Tech, though. The rest of the Hokies shared the blame in those losses, but truly transcendent quarterbacks pick up their whole team and lead them to victory.

I think it's completely reasonable to expect Tyrod Taylor to finally put it all together in 2010, and combine the intangibles with his already impressive statistics. Because of the system he plays in, he is unlikely to post numbers anywhere close to those you'll see from, yes, John Brantley and Garrett Gilbert, but beating the numbers isn't the goal.

The goal is for Tyrod Taylor to get to the point where you wouldn't trade him for any other QB in the country. If he takes the next step up, as he should, ESPN's season-ending "list-ranker" for QBs, if there is one, will have Tyrod's name on it.


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