College Football Week 0

The top two college QBs in week zero included returning Heisman winner Caleb Williams at USC, and Notre Dame’s portal acquisition from Wake Forest, Sam Hartman. Neither disappointed. Williams led Southern Cal to an expected win over San Jose State 56-28 while Hartman’s debut with the Irish resulted in a 42-3 rout over Navy in Dublin, Ireland. Hartman lived up to his billing as a prolific passer by completing an almost perfect 19 for 23 for 251 yds and 4 TDs (0 Ints) vs Navy. Navy’s new first year head coach, Brian Newberry, called Hartman “a coach out on the field.”

Meanwhile, Caleb Williams was keeping pace with his 18 of 25, 278 yds, 4 TDs (0 Ints) vs San Jose State. There is a good reason why there has only been ONE repeat Heisman winner (Archie Griffin, Ohio State 1974-75) and 11 have failed at the opportunity to repeat (8 of those were QBs) since Griffin. Every defense on the USC schedule is circling the date and building game-plans to shut-down, or at least contain, Caleb Williams.

Heisman Showdown

The date we should all mark on our calendars is October 14, when Caleb Williams and USC square up against Sam Hartman and Notre Dame in South Bend. This game will not only have serious national ranking implications, but could also be the showdown between the top two Heisman candidates. Certainly other QBs like Drake Maye (UNC), Michael Pennix (Washington), Bo Nix (Oregon), Jayden Daniels (LSU), Jordan Travis (FSU), Quinn Ewers (Texas), JJ McCarthy (Mich), and Michael Pratt (Tulane) will have much to contribute to the final Heisman discussion. But any of these QBs will be hard-pressed to enjoy the national stage and audience tuning in to South Bend on Oct 14.

USC vs Notre Dame

This rivalry began in 1926 and at 90 games is one of the longest running in the country. Notre Dame leads the series 48-37-5 and the winner retains the game trophy, the Jeweled Shillelagh (pictured above), until the next meeting. The two schools have won a combined 24 national championships and 15 Heisman Trophies. Notre Dame leads college football with 102 Consensus All-Americans (102) while USC (82) is close behind. The rivals account for the highest number of players selected in the NFL Draft with Notre Dame at 546 and USC with 530.

Caleb Williams

This version of the rivalry will be Caleb Williams vs Sam Hartman, two decidedly different QBs. Williams: 6’ 1” and 220 Lbs. The highest rated QB prospect of his HS class (Gonzaga College HS, Washington, DC) in 2020, Williams committed to play at Oklahoma. As a true freshman, Caleb entered the Red River Shootout vs rival Texas with the Sooners down 17-35. His 212 yds passing and 88 yds rushing brought Oklahoma all the way back to a 55-48 victory. Williams would finish with 22 passing TDs and 6 rushing TDs over the last 7 games of the season.

When coach Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma in 2022 for the rebuilding job at USC, Williams followed via the transfer portal. Named starter and team captain, Williams dazzled his way to the Heisman, AP College Player of the Year, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and a unanimous All-American selection. Caleb Williams sees the entire field and can burn you with a rifle arm or his incredible athletic ability that shines when the platform is broken down. He is a gunslinger that can break a game open at any time. When I think of Caleb Williams I am reminded of Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Brett Favre and maybe even Roger Staubach.

Sam Hartman

Hartman mirrors Williams’ size at 6’1” 212 Lbs, but they are QBs with decidedly different styles. Hartman was rated the #12 pro-style passer in the 2018 HS class and a 3 star recruit coming out of Davidson Day School in Charlotte before transferring to Mount Pleasant HS, South Carolina. Hartman won the QB1 job at Wake Forest in preseason and became the first true freshman to start a season-opener in school history. Injured after 8 games he lost the job his sophomore year and red-shirted. The following season he was named QB1 and team captain, but COVID shortened the season and Hartman would return in 2021 as QB1. That year he led his team to an 8-0 start, the best in school history. He set several Wake seasonal records including 39 TD passes and 4,228 yds. His ACC career records include 110 TD passes and 12,967 passing yards.

Sam Hartman is 24 yrs old and seeking a job in the NFL. He believes his transfer to Notre Dame will enhance his possibilities. The Irish have struggled at the QB position since Ian Book graduated in 2020. Both incumbent QBs, Drew Pyne (Arizona State) and Tyler Buchner (Alabama) have transferred since Hartman’s arrival. Sam is bringing that “coach on the field” mentality and skill set to stabilize the Irish offense. He is a very accurate passer both on intermediate and deep passes, but lacks the Caleb Williams overall arm strength and release. He may not burn you with his legs, but he can beat you on pure guts and competitiveness. When I think of Sam Hartman I’m reminded of Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr. Maybe even a piece of Joe Montana and Bart Starr?

October 14

Look for both QBs to light up the field that has “Touchdown Jesus” as its caretaker. Ironically, in the end it will be defense that wins this game. Which defense will find a way to shut down these two Heisman and NFL hopefuls? That remains to be seen.

NFL Training Camp Updates

As roster cuts hit the NFL this week there were a few eye rolls by fans in several markets. This starts with the Arizona Cardinals who are beginning yet another front office make-over after ousting head coach Kliff Kingsbury and General Manager Steve Keim. The new regime includes head coach Jonathan Gannon and GM Monti Ossenfort. They apparently are not enamored with the Cardinals’ Quarterback room they inherited as 13 year veteran and presumed week one starter, Colt McCoy, was just released. First response might be, “say what?”

Murray in or out in Arizona?

We all know the former Heisman winner and #1 pick in the 2019 draft, Kyler Murray, has been out since sustaining a torn ACL in week 14 of the 2022 season. Popular opinion was the Cards were hoping Murray might make it back for the start of 2023. But, that aint happenin’ as this week the Cardinals designated Murray for the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. This means he is ineligible to play in the team’s first four regular season games. Given this development, its a shocker McCoy was let go. It also explains (sort of) why they traded for backup Joshua Dobbs on August 24 (from Cleveland). On paper this is a downgrade.

McCoy: Texas grad, 3rd round draft pick of Cleveland in 2010, 13 year veteran with 5 teams, 36 NFL starts, 7,975 passing yards, 34 TDs. Dobbs: Played at Tennessee, 4th round pick of Steelers in 2017, Cardinals will be his 5th team since drafted, total career pass attempts 85, 456 passing yards, 2 TDs.

There has been some speculation in the media that the Cardinals are now eyeing Caleb Williams (see above) as their QB of the future. Starting Joshua Dobbs might be a way to move up next year’s draft board? This in spite of Kyler Murray’s 5 year $230 million deal thru 2028. But, if Murray were to be let go at the end of 2023, the Cardinals would owe “only” the remaining $35 million that is guaranteed. I have a feeling some folks in the Arizona front office will be ringside in South Bend on October 14.

Bailey got Zapped!

Remember “Zappe Fever” in New England last year? Last year Bailey, the former Western Kentucky 4th round pick of the Patriots, filled in for the injured Mac Jones and went 2-0 as a starter, while completing 705 of his passes for 781 yards and 5 TD vs 3 INTs. Well, Bill Belichick is no longer impressed. Zappe was put on waivers this week (along with fellow Patriots QB Malik Cunningham) and will no longer be QB2 behind Mac Jones. Why? Well, reports out of Patriots camp had Zappe back-sliding this year plagued by inaccuracies, indecision, and holding the ball too long leading to sacks. Zappe has cleared waivers and reportedly has agreed to join the Patriots practice squad. Meanwhile, the Patriots need a new QB2 to backup Jones. Colt McCoy, is your number listed?

Joe Burrow then Who?

Even with Joe Burrow nursing that strained calf, the Bengals have waived BOTH backup QBs in Trevor Siemian and Reid Sinnett. Siemian, of course, being the most notable. Trevor was drafted by the Broncos in the seventh round out of Northwestern in 2015 and was on the Super Bowl winning team that season. While he saw no action in 2015 he did win the job in 2016 after Peyton Manning’s retirement. He played well enough to be named a pro-bowl alternate. But it’s been downhill since, as Trevor dealt with a coaching change, injury, and inconsistent play. He’s been with 6 teams since 2018, but has thrown for 42 TD passes and over 7,000 yards in regular season play. Maybe someone to consider if your QB room is looking for a FA with some experience.

Stetson Bennett is a Ram!

The LA Rams made their cuts this week which included backup QB Brett Rypien, leaving them with Stetson Bennett as the only backup to starter Mathew Stafford. Bennett played all three preseason games and unfortunately it was not all pretty. According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett was the lowest-graded quarterback in the NFL this preseason. A position with which I, personally, am very familiar! Stetson finished the preseason with a completion rate of 58.1% (thats low these days), one TD pass and three picks. Pro Football Focus says Bennett was killed by his decision-making. His six turnover-worthy plays were tied for worst. Clearly, the Rams are investing in Stetson for the time being. But look for the Rams to bring back Rypien on the practice squad and possibly pick up another QB before it’s all settled. I love Mathew Stafford as QB1, but he’s a 13 year veteran coming off a 2022 season that included some serious injuries, including concussion. I don’t see the Rams betting the season just on Bennett IV at this point.

With one more week of practice left for NFL teams before the opening weekend on Sept 10, look for more QB waivers and certainly a few trades involving the more experienced backups around the league. The Quarterback Connection will be on it!!!

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