Young and relentless

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 07, 2006



By Cold, Hard Football Facts senior writer John Dudley
 
Speaking in superlatives is a common practice among pigskin "pundits." They love to offer over-the-top opinions that aren't necessarily substantiated by data. Players are so routinely called "the best," "the smartest," "the strongest" and "the fastest" that the terms no longer hold any real value.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts would never make such bold proclamations without having performed exhaustive research. And when we do, it's usually something groundbreaking.
 
Consider this: No quarterback going from college to the pros has ever enjoyed as much success in a calendar year as Vince Young.
 
He began 2006 with a national championship, virtually carrying underdog Texas to a scintillating 41-38 victory over USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4 (just as the Cold, Hard Football Facts had predicted). Eleven months later, he has already led the Titans to five victories in his nine starts, including three straight against favored opponents.
 
With his recent heroics, Young has proven to be every bit as dangerous in the NFL as he was for three years with the Longhorns. He has accounted for at least one touchdown in each of those past nine games, making plays both passing (10 TDs) and running (4). His transition to the next level has been almost seamless.
 
You would think that numerous other quarterbacks have parlayed a collegiate title into some decent playing time as NFL rookies. After all, they capably manned an integral position on the best team in the country.
 
You'd be wrong.
 
The list is short and, for the most part, undistinguished. Remember, many celebrated QBs – like Joe Montana and Bernie Kosar – won a championship as underclassmen and then returned to school. But even they didn't experience rookie success comparable to Young's. He has easily prospered far more than any of his brethren from the past 40 years.
 
To find the last quarterback who led his college team to a title and then made an immediate pro impact, you have to go all the way back to Joe Namath. After helping Alabama earn a share of the1964 national championship, he joined the AFL's New York Jets and played in 13 games as a rookie.
 
Ah, but Young holds one distinct advantage: Namath didn't win his final college game. The Crimson Tide lost in the 1965 Orange Bowl, yet still finished at the top of the already-determined AP and UPI polls. (Voting after the bowls, the Football Writers Association of America named 11-0 Arkansas No. 1.) Interestingly, the team that knocked off Alabama on that New Year's Day in Miami was Young's future school, Texas.
 
In football history, just eight quarterbacks have captured a national championship in January and then taken professional snaps (NFL or AFL) that fall. Here is the rundown:
 
Year
Quarterback (School)
College Finale
Pro Team
Record
Games Played
2006
Vince Young (Texas)
won Rose Bowl
Titans
5-7
11
1998
Brian Griese (Michigan)
won Rose Bowl
Broncos
14-2
1
1997
Danny Wuerffel (Florida)
won Sugar Bowl
Saints
6-10
7
1983
Todd Blackledge (Penn St.)
won Sugar Bowl
Chiefs
6-10
4
1979
Jeff Rutledge (Alabama)
won Sugar Bowl
Rams
9-7
3
1966
Steve Sloan (Alabama)
won Orange Bowl
Falcons
3-11
3
1965
Joe Namath (Alabama)
lost Orange Bowl
Jets
5-8-1
13
1939
Davey O'Brien (TCU)
won Sugar Bowl
Eagles
1-9-1
11
 
Owning that 5-4 record as a starter, Young has already equaled the rookie win total of Namath – and surpassed his other predecessors. With the exceptions of Brian Griese and Jeff Rutledge, who were third-stringers for eventual Super Bowl participants, none of them experienced much team success. Davey O'Brien played in every game but only won one. Danny Wuerffel made two starts but lost both of them.
 
The chart below shows what these eight men contributed as rookies:
 
Quarterback
Att.
Comp.
Pct.
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rating
Vince Young
257
129
50.2
1,486
10
10
64.8
Brian Griese
3
1
33.3
2
0
1
2.8
Danny Wuerffel
91
42
46.2
518
4
8
42.3
Todd Blackledge
34
20
58.8
259
3
0
112.3
Jeff Rutledge
32
13
40.6
125
1
4
23.0
Steve Sloan
13
6
46.2
96
0
2
31.7
Joe Namath
340
164
48.2
2,220
18
15
68.8
Davey O'Brien
201
99
49.3
1,324
6
17
45.3
 
Although Namath still represents the standard for passing yardage, Young could overtake him by averaging 185 yards in his four remaining games. He would need two TD passes per contest to match Namath's mark in that category, but Young does have 14 total touchdowns on the year, whereas Broadway Joe didn't run for any scores as a rookie.
 
Todd Blackledge, the biggest bust from the quarterback class of 1983, owns the best passer rating and completion percentage. Unfortunately for fans in Kansas City, both numbers were his career highs.
 
Another part of what makes Young's 2006 the greatest year ever for a college-to-pro quarterback is that he has engineered a string of remarkable comebacks. In four different games, he has led his team to victory after trailing by more than 10 points. To recap:
 
Texas 41, USC 38
Deficit overcome: 12 points
The Longhorns trailed 38-26 with less than seven minutes remaining, but Young was just getting warmed up. On the next two Texas possessions, he alternately used his arm and his legs to take the team right down the field. Each drive ended with Young rushing for a touchdown (from 17 and 8 yards out). The Trojans knew what was coming but were powerless to stop him. For good measure, Young even ran in the two-point conversion to make the margin of victory equal to a field goal. On the night, he had 267 passing yards and a mind-boggling 200 rushing yards.
 
Titans 25, Redskins 22
Deficit overcome: 11 points
A week after nearly knocking off the Colts in Indy, winless Tennessee went to Washington for a Week 6 game. The Redskins jumped out to an early 14-3 advantage, but Young would earn his first NFL victory in his third start by passing for 161 yards and a score, with no interceptions.
 
Titans 24, Giants 21
Deficit overcome: 21 points
In Week 12, New York scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions and took a 21-0 lead into the locker room. Young would answer on three straight drives in the fourth quarter, throwing for two TDs and running for another. Following an interception of Eli Manning, he completed two more passes to set up the game-winning field goal. Young finished the game 24 of 35 for 249 yards – and added 69 rushing yards on 10 carries.
 
Titans 20, Colts 17
Deficit overcome: 14 points
A Week 13 home game gave the Titans a chance for revenge against Indy, but they found themselves in a 14-0 hole halfway through the second quarter. Young would respond with two touchdown passes, completing 15 of 25 attempts for 163 yards on the day. He also ran the ball nine times for a career-best 78 yards.
 
Prior to this year's draft, Young reportedly scored poorly on the Wonderlic Test, which assesses a player's cognitive ability. Some concerns were raised about whether he would be able to grasp the complexities of an NFL offense.
 
Most of those questions have now been answered. Last Sunday, Young connected with 10 different receivers, tying Tom Brady's Week 8 performance against Minnesota for the most in a single game this season. He is already seeing the field like a veteran, and he inspires confidence in his teammates. He's done it before: Last year, quarterbacks like Matt Leinart at USC and Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt drew plenty of "oohs" and "aahs," but it was Young who led the nation in passing efficiency.
 
There is no mistaking Young's physical skills. He stands 6'5" and is a solid 230 pounds. He can run a 40-yard dash in under 4.6 seconds. His incredible abilities as a football player have been on display throughout 2006.
 
But what truly sets him apart is his will to win. A trait like desire isn't evident on a written test, and it can't be measured with a scale or a stopwatch.
 
If it could be, Young might well grade out the best.

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