>Wednesday Lunch: The Senior Conundrum

Posted: November 24, 2010 in ncaafb
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By Dylan Davis

 

This Saturday, fellow Sack Lunch writer Will Robinson and I will travel to Berkeley, Calif. to take in the Cal football game vs. Washington (yes, this will produce the first non-soccer game report in TSL history.) Before the season when I was deciding which Cal home game looked the most appealing, a few jumped out at me right away. The last three home games of the season were visits from Oregon, Stanford, and Washington. It’s almost impossible to get tickets for The Big Game, so I crossed that off the list immediately. That brought it down to a choice between Oregon and Washington. That decision isn’t even close in hindsight: Oregon is the number 1 ranked team in the nation while Washington has struggled to a 4-6 record, but you know what they say about hindsight, and I didn’t want to miss a chance to see a potential future NFL legend when Jake Locker came to town with his Huskies.

 

jake-lockerWhen the season started, many were touting Jake Locker as the probable number one overall pick in the 2011 draft. He had the arm strength and mobility scouts dream of, and his teams had gotten steadily better since he had arrived on campus. Now that the teams talent level was starting to catch up to that of Locker’s, many pundits believed he would finally be able to show off his true talents. The big QB was on the Heisman short list of many even though the stats for his first three years combined were 5,374 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions with a 53% completion rate. If he had entered the NFL draft, everyone would have overlooked those numbers, and possibly even commended Locker for doing anything with the lack of talent surrounding him.

 

jake-lockerLocker went through a decision making process that hordes of 3rd year college players have gone through before him, should he stick it out in college one more year or should he jump to the pro level right away and be a top-five pick along with Sam Bradford? He decided to finish out his college career in the northwest and that decision may have irrevocably changed the course of his professional career. Starting with a mediocre performance against BYU in the opener to a shellacking at home against Nebraska in which he completed four passes, Locker’s stock has dropped further and further down draft boards to the point where some think he may not even get drafted in the first round. Looking back at his first few seasons in Seattle, it’s easy to see that Locker is nowhere near ready for the NFL, and he may never get there.

 

Why did Locker stay? What goes into players’ decisions to stay in college or jump at the possible riches of the NFL? Let’s look at a few reasons players stay.

 

1. They may really love college. Many times in interviews over the summer and into this season Locker stated that one of the main reasons he decided to finish his senior year was that he loved the college lifestyle and he would miss that. When a player is in college, especially if he is well known (and especially if he’s the quarterback) he is the big man on campus and he gets a ton of love from everyone around him. Usually high draft picks are tremendous athletes that are a great deal better than everyone else is. It’s fun to be the big man on campus and the best player on the field and once they go to the pros, that all changes. Locker knew that he could always go the NFL this year instead of last year, but he couldn’t replicate the same college experience if he wanted to go back later.

 

2. They may have unfinished business. Many players fall just short of the national championship or the Heisman trophy and come back for one more year to accomplish that goal. Last year we saw Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and Colt McCoy all return to college after to failing to win the national title (Bradford), the Heisman (Tebow), or both (McCoy). Many times the players that do this would already have been drafted high, but they think they can either keep their status high or even raise it a bit. If Bradford had gone to the NFL after his Heisman season he likely would have been a top-ten pick, but the extra year in college elevated him to the number-one overall pick. Locker’s team had struggled horribly in his first couple of years and if he was a true competitor, it more than likely ate at him that he had not been able to win more games and compete in a bowl at seasons end.

 

3. They may know they’re not very good. This can go both ways, but a player may want to stay an extra year in college if he thinks he may be destroyed once he reaches the pro level and he wants one more year of glory before that happens. A lot of Texas Tech QB’s have waited until after their senior year to test the NFL waters and none of them are having success despite record setting performances while in school.

 

4. They want to graduate. I know this may seem far-fetched in the world of money-grabbing athletes who only look out for themselves, but some collegiate athletes actually want to graduate from college. Every once in a while you’ll hear a player asked at the draft why they stayed the extra year in college and they’ll say that they promised their mom or other family member that they would graduate college. Remember that although college sports are amazing to watch, during the week the players still go to class (some of the time).

 

Of course, more often than not, it seems like players jump to the NFL after only three years instead of finishing what they started. Let’s look at a few reasons for that.

 

1. They’re ready. Every once in a while, a player comes along who is ready to play in the pros the minute he graduates from high school. Adrian Peterson showed this a few years ago when he burst onto the scene as an 18-year old man-child freshman at Oklahoma but had to stay in college for t years because of the rules prohibiting early entry into the league. Maurice Clarrett and Mike Williams decided that they were ready for the pros before that, but the NFL decided they could wait their turn like everyone else and they ended up losing the remainder of their college eligibility and hurting their NFL careers. If a player is ready to join the NFL, he can go whenever he wants and be fine, but some choose to join earlier than others do.

 

2. They need the money. Even though players are given free ride scholarships to college, a lot of them come from extremely poor backgrounds and need money. When they can’t convince schools to pay them (Cam Newton (allegedly) and Reggie Bush-style) they have to find another way of making money fast, and jumping into their pro careers is a fast track to a lot of dough. Many players damage their future earnings by jumping too early and not getting enough experience at the college level first, but looking that far into the future is hard when you have the possibility of millions right now.

 

3. They’re in a bad situation. Maybe their coach just was fired or their team is going to be horrendous next year. Maybe they’re going to be found out for having taken money from their school or some other infraction and decided to get out before the fit hits the shan. IF a big name freshman is joining the school and may start eating into their time on the field, they may also decide to bolt. This usually leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because of the bad situation at the players’ school after they leave.

 

4. They’re not good enough. If a player is not as good as everyone thinks, they may try to ditch their senior year so no one can figure out how terrible they really are. Maybe a quarterback lost his top receiver and is going to be exposed without him. It’s usually hard to spot these players until after they bomb in the pros but if Locker had gone early to the draft, we may have been able to count him in this group.

 

Of course, how early a player enters the draft affects more than just themselves. The NFL scouts usually need that extra year of tape to tell if a player is going to be a good pro, but an injury the senior year may throw everything off. Often, a player like Akili Smith (Who?) will have a monster senior season, only to be a complete bust at the pro level. Players have tough decisions to make, and they don’t always make the right ones.

 

 

This past week of college football was exciting, but it can’t hold a candle to the importance of this week, one of the most action packed we’ve seen in a few years.

 

Week 13 Preview

 

Best Games of the Week:

All of the games below are between two ranked teams that are still in position for conference titles or BCS bowls.

 

Auburn vs. Alabama: mark-ingramThis is the most important game in college football this year. The balance hangs in the Heisman race, the SEC race, the national title race, and the possibility of a non-AQ reaching the title. Auburn has relied on Cam Newton all year, but I see the Alabama defense doing just enough containing of the big quarterback to give themselves a chance to win. The Tigers defense has been mediocre at best all year and I see Mark Ingram returning to his Heisman ways and leading the Tide to a huge rivalry win. Pick: Alabama – 31 Auburn-28

 

Arizona vs. Oregon: This is Oregon’s last home game of the year, and the Wildcats team they will be facing has a defense that is very similar to Cal. The speed may finally be enough to stop the Quack Attack, but the Ducks have scored at least 50 points in every home game this year. I expect that to continue and Oregon to head into the Civil War with a spot in the national title at stake. Pick: Oregon – 56 Arizona – 38

 

Boise State vs. Nevada: Boise hasn’t been tested since its home tilt against Oregon State in week three, and haven’t had test away from home since their opening week squeaker against Virginia Tech. The Nevada offense is very difficult to prepare for, but Boise has a great defense and Kellen Moore will not allow them to lose. I think this wins vaults Boise ahead of TCU in the BCS. Pick: Boise – 35 Nevada – 31

 

Arkansas vs. LSU: Both of these teams are out of the SEC race, but both still have a realistic shot at an at-large BCS berth. I think a truly talented offense led by Ryan Mallett will finally expose LSU. Pick: Arkansas – 34 LSU – 28

 

Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma: If the Cowboys can finally topple their rivals from Norman and reach the Big-12 title game, they should be favorites against Nebraska, but that’s a big if. Oklahoma State has traditionally struggled against the Sooners and I think that continues behind the arm of Landry Jones and the pass catching of Ryan Broyles. Pick: Oklahoma-35 OSU – 31

 

That’s all the time for this week, but tune in next week for a recap of all the earth-shaking college football excitement. Enjoy your turkey day.

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