As a general rule, highly rated quarterback recruits are the crown jewel of any school's recruiting class. Sure you can bring in a #1 Linebacker or a #1 Offensive Tackle, but those guys don't score points and their faces aren't plastered all over ABC or CBS every fall Saturday. Offenses simply don't work without an able bodied/minded signal caller under center.
But high school kids rarely turn out to be the person we thought they'd be coming out of high school. While Dr. Saturday has pointed out on numerous occasions (link no longer available) that a 5* player is far more likely than a 4* or 3* player to make the NFL, for some reason a 5* is far more likely to get himself arrested than a 4* or 3* (from the 2005 class at least). You get your five star flame outs (Ryan Perrilloux) far more often than your #1DC's like Matt Stafford, and you're just as likely to be starting a three star quarterback that you recruited as "insurance" than your four/five star savior.
For Michigan, this is not welcome news. Since the departure of five star rated Chad Henne, Michigan has gone from five star rated Ryan Mallett to no star rated Nick Sheridan to four star rated Steven Threet, back to Sheridan, then to two star Justin Feagin, to Threet, to Sheridan, and now, finally, to four star rated Tate Forcier. Looking at the preceding list, it's easy to disillusioned by the rankings process. Mallett transferred, Threet transferred (again), Sheridan was basically useless, and Feagin is being switched to receiver. As a result, Michigan will be starting a first year quarterback for the second straight year.
Despite Michigan's string of bad luck under center last year, it has failed to temper the enthusiasm of the Wolverine faithful when talking about Tate Forcier's first snaps. While (thankfully) this enthusiasm hasn't gone all Beano Cook, it is palpable when you talk to a Michigan fan. And to his credit, Forcier has done something to stoke that fire. Four passing touchdowns and one running touchdown in your spring game, your first anything against college competition, will get people excited.
Oddly, in watching that video the first thing that jumps out at me is not, OMG Savior!, it's "our defense is going to be baaaaaaaaaaad." But I digress. Watching this video is incredibly reassuring for any Michigan fan who had to sit through or pour over bad video of last year's spring practice. Combined, IIRC, Threet and Sheridan combined for 6 turnovers and no touchdowns via the air in 2008. And that performance was turned in against what proved to be the worst Michigan defense in Michigan history. I'm just saying.
So it's kind of hard to truly judge what we can expect out of Forcier against live competition, you know, the kind that will actually try to tackle him. Last year's quarterback play set the bar very low. But, Forcier seems to have the unique abilities required to run Rodriguez system. Tate showed the ability to throw on the run. Go deep. Scramble out of a sack. Not spike himself. These are good things.
Last year Michigan quarterbacks combined to go an abysmal 165/338 for 1718 yards, 11TD/12INT and a miserable combined QB rating of 95.2. Nick Sheridan's numbers alone make you cringe, a QB rating of 81.1 and a 2/5 TD/INT ratio despite starting a handful of games. If you just threw up a little in your mouth, you're not alone. Say what you want about changing systems, these guys were not and are not good quarterbacks in any system with numbers like that. Last year Forcier's numbers look like a shiny beacon in comparison. 208/326 for 3424 yards, 23/15 TD/INT ratio, 783 yards rushing on 92 attempts, and 12 rushing TDs. But lets break this down a bit.
For context on the competition, Forcier's High School, Scripps Ranch, is a Division II South school in California. Scripps is in the middle tier high school division for California schools with enrollment between 2400 and 1100 kids. The bigger Division I schools have enrollment from 2400 and up [some almost reaching 5000 enrollment]. Scripps is one of the larger Division II schools with enrollment around 2100. So he definitely facing decent competition, he's just not facing a Long Beach Poly kind of talent pool (4600+ kids).
Now, onto the numbers. One thing that jumps out at me is the 2 to 1 TD/INT ratio in 2008. Forcier, if you look at his numbers, had his best season as a HS junior where he was 21/5 TD/INT. But that's two years ago, with different personnel. Last year in 12 games, Forcier had just three games without an INT, and threw 2 picks or more in five games. Tate's playoff numbers were a mixed bag, throwing for over 300 yards in one game, but tossing a combined 5 picks in both play off games he played in. The glass half empty kind of person can take that as Tate wilting under pressure.
But the reality is that's far from the case. Scripps was a good, but not great team last year going 8-4. Their second round bow-out from the DII playoffs was against 12-0-1 Oceanside, the defending state champs, who won their fifth consecutive Division II section title in 2008. Forcier scored both TDs in the loss for Scripps, and a look at the boxscore shows there's not a lot you can do when you give up 28 points in the 4th quarter. Looking at the results, you'll note a couple of games where Scripps gave up 40+ points, including 70(!) to the eventual state champs, Cathedral. FWIW, Forcier was 21/36 for 295 yards, 4TDs and 1INT in the Cathedral game.
What all this means is Michigan is getting a kid who has taken his lumps, knows what it's like to get planted, and has played well against higher levels of competition. Is he the Rich Rod savior we've been hoping for? Chances are we're not going to know for a while. After the jump you'll find the Rivals rankings for every quarterback receiving four stars or higher since 2005, and a few three stars of note. Of this group, over five years, you're only going to find five or six quarterbacks that jump off the page at you. Three of those page jumpers are: Tebow, Bradford, and McCoy. Surprisingly, Bradford and McCoy were three star recruits.
If it seems like things are a little off moving towards 2005, you're right. In '05 Rivals handed out only thirteen four star plus ratings to quarterbacks. In 2009, Rivals handed out twenty five four star plus ratings, nearly double the 2005 amount. In my opinion, this might have something to do with the precipitous drop in production from 4* plus players. When you're handing out high ratings like candy, eventually you degrade the overall effect of that rating. It also explains why I'm nervous about anointing a four star quarterback, even a good one, as a program savior or more modestly as an offensive savior.
So what do these numbers mean for Michigan and Tate? It means we should all cool our jets a tad. Given the number of four and five star flameouts over the last five years, a four star QB is statistically more likely to be a bust than a success. Further, regardless of pedigree, even the best of the best get hammered in year one. Everyone remembers the lumps Chad Henne took as a first year starter, the bad throws, the bailouts by Braylon. And Chad was one of the highest ranked QB recruits in the country at the time. Sam Bradford's been a starter since day one but he got beaten down fairly regularly too. What helped Braford, and what is a major question mark for Forcier, is Bradford's OU defense was AWESOME that year and Bradford often had the opportunity to fix things when he messed up.
Tate's in that middle ground between OMG SHIRTLESS and good, solid prospect. On the negative side, he's shorter than we'd like. He's got good, but not great arm strength. He's shown a propensity, at least at the High School level to throw some picks. On the positive, he has shown great escapability. Great instincts. Good decision making. Has a resume jam packed with awards and MVPS. And an arm that is more than capable of delivering the ball down field and into tight pockets mid field. But all this is conjecture before he plays a single game. So before we all start bringing offerings to his temple, let's allow the kid to show us what he can do in a real game environment.
But here's where the realistic fan in me comes out; it's really hard not to get excited about what he's shown so far. On the basis of his high school career, spring performance, and Rodriguez offense, 2,300 passing yards, 700 rushing yards, 15/9 TD/INT, 6 Rushing TD seems like a reasonable expectation. Juice Williams threw for 3,000 plus last year while running for 700 yards on a bad team. Having seen both players throw, I like Forcier considerably more than Williams as a passer. The rushing numbers will be comparable just because of the nature of the offense. Forcier's going to run the ball. It's a necessity in this offense. So he'll have every opportunity to gain rushing yards.
I may be underselling the passing a tad, but I don't know how well our receivers are going to play this year. They should be a solid group, but there were a lot of dropped and misplayed balls last year. If the receivers play better, I think Tate can get them the ball and my projection would go up from there.
Here's the list of ranked quaterbacks from 2005 forward. Help me fill in the blanks on these guys if you can.
Rivals.com dual-threat quarterbacks 2009
Not included – 14 Denard Robinson 4* ATH - Michigan
Rivals.com pro-style quarterbacks 2009
Rivals.com dual-threat quarterbacks 2008
1Terrelle Pryor 5* OSU – You may have heard of him
Rivals.com pro-style quarterbacks 2008
Rivals.com dual-threat quarterbacks 2007
1Tyrod Taylor 5* VTech – Starter
Rivals.com pro-style quarterbacks 2007
Rivals.com: Dual-threat quarterbacks 2006
Rivals.com Pro-style quarterbacks 2006
Rivals.com Pro-style quarterbacks 2005
Rivals.com: Dual-threat quarterbacks 2005