I interviewed former USC and San Diego State head coach Ted Tollner last week. Here is the transcript.
Q: Why do smaller schools like Fresno State and San Jose State have a pedigree for producing NFL quarterbacks, and bigger schools like Alabama and USC don’t?
TOLLNER: You can recruit the most physical players in the country at some big schools. Other schools, you’re not going to get all of those big offensive linemen where you’re going to pound and control the ball. So you spread the game open and allow your quarterback and wide receivers to make up for the physical bulk that some of those other programs have. The running game still is very, very important. Those programs are going to get top linemen and be able to pound the ball, and still be able to develop a quarterback but they don’t open it up quite as much. They don’t spread out to one back all of the time. The schools you’re talking about are predominantly one-back programs. The power teams like Alabama and USC, they’re going to be two-back programs and try to physically dominate the game.
Q: Three of the consensus top-four quarterbacks went to non-major conference colleges. Is that a coincidence or the beginning of a trend?
TOLLNER: Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater. Let’s take those three. Of the quarterbacks that people talk about as being top-four this year, Johnny Manziel is the only one in a major conference. You take UCF, Fresno State and Louisville – those are really good programs, and I think they do see speed and athleticism, but they don’t see it every week like Alabama does. When you get down to I-AA, then you have to be a little leery. Did they see enough competition that’s going to be close to what the NFL is? Those three quarterbacks we’re talking about, they saw a high level of ability from the opposing team. Not every week, but they saw it. That wouldn’t concern me as much if they were able to produce.
Can he throw the ball accurately? Can he make good decisions? Does he have the feet to get the ball up on time and the arm strength to get it there on time? And the next thing is level of competition. If it’s too dramatically low, then you get concerned. The three quarterbacks we’re talking about, I think they played tough competition. That wouldn’t concern me.
A quarterback needs to look at philosophy. If I go there, is there a philosophy that allows me to develop as a throwing quarterback? It doesn’t have to be every down, but is there a philosophy that allows me to develop in both a commitment of time in practice and what they ask me to do during the game?
They don’t want to get caught short. They want to test their ability against good competition. Even if it’s not a major conference, they want to see is this schedule still competitive enough that I will get tested, and if I perform within the philosophy of this system the pro people will be interested in me? Does the program win? Is the philosophy conducive to quarterbacks developing? Do they play a tough enough schedule that I’m going to see how I stand up against good players who are also going to be NFL prospects?
I think more than anything is that there is so much emphasis now on the passing game, the wide-open passing game, so you’re going to see more and more quarterbacks. Universally, even in the areas where it’s cold and not conducive to throwing, there is so much more emphasis on passing at the high school level. That creates more quarterbacks capable at the college level. There are more to go around. You can’t all go to the same major school.
A lot of the smaller schools you’re talking about really believe in the wide-open passing game and really let the quarterback go and give him a chance to throw 30 or 40 passes a game. That develops guys.