KANSAS CITY — Nebraska’s Joe Ganz wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, told he was too small to play quarterback on the college level.
Any other conference, maybe that holds true.
Not in the Big 12.
As Missouri’s Chase Daniel and Kansas’ Todd Reesing showed last season, bigger isn’t always better, particularly in the Big 12, the conference that gives hope to little guys all across the country.
“What Chase and Todd have done, they’ve kind of opened the door for smaller guys to hopefully get recruited more,” Ganz said. “Hopefully, we can open the door for a lot more coaches to realize you don’t have to be the typical 6-4, 230 to have success in college. I know that’s what the pro guys look for, but you don’t need that big size, that big stature to be successful in college.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than the Big 12, land of the little quarterback.
Ganz stands at 6 feet 1 inch, 210 pounds. Daniel is a stout 6 feet, 225. Colorado’s Cody Hawkins is not bigger than some high school freshmen at 5-11, 190 pounds, Reesing only a little bigger at 5-11, 200. Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell is listed at a generous 6-3, 200 pounds.
There are a few more in the prototypical mold — Kansas State’s Josh Freeman is 6-5, 250 pounds, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford 6-5, 213 — but nearly half the returning quarterbacks in the Big 12 are considered undersized by today’s standards.
The thing about these little guys, though, is they know how to make the most of their abilities and how to lead a team.
Take Daniel. The senior was Missouri’s first Heisman Trophy finalist and was seventh in the nation in total offense with 325.64 yards per game. He completed 68 percent of his passes — not bad for someone who supposedly couldn’t see over his linemen — for 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns, leading the Tigers to one of the best seasons in school history.
Reesing was nearly as good, guiding the Jayhawks to 479.8 yards per game, second-best in the country, while setting numerous school records, including most yards (3,486), touchdowns (33) and completions (276) in a season. The junior also completed 61 percent of his passes, leading Kansas to its first BCS Bowl win — over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl — and the first 12-win season in school history.
There was a time when the undersized quarterback was an anomaly — Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie being two of the few successful examples — but that’s not the case anymore, at least in the Big 12.
“They say a guy has to be 6-4 so he can drop back 10 yards and throw over a guy that’s 6-7, that’s a bunch of falsehoods,” Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said. “It’s more about passing lanes anyway. It’s better to be short and be on target than tall.”
The prevalence of the spread offense in the Big 12 has made a difference.
The conference used to be about power, teams running the option or over opponents with massive linemen. If a quarterback wasn’t relatively tall, he’d have a hard time seeing over defenders to pick out receivers.
The spread has opened things up — not just for the teams, but for their smaller quarterbacks.
By lining up in the shotgun and fanning players out at the line of scrimmage, the quarterbacks have more avenues to throw, more places to see through the wall of linemen. Throw in the rollouts and swing passes that are a part of the spread, and it’s easy to see why smaller quarterbacks have thrived in this system.
“It’s fun to play in the shotgun when you’re not 6-5,” Daniel said. “You’re throwing through lanes; we almost have hash-to-hash splits on our offensive line, so it gives me a lot of different opportunities to see through and really make plays with my feet as well.”
Smaller quarterbacks also seem to have another, less discernible trait: will.
Because they’ve always been told that they’re too small, undersized quarterbacks often have that extra little something inside that pushes them to prove everyone wrong.
Flutie had it. He was 5-10, yet he never stopped believing in himself, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1984 at Boston College and going on to a long career in the NFL and Canadian Football League.
Daniel and Reesing seem to have it, too, and the rest of the Big 12’s little QBs could be soon to follow.
“I think guys saw that I had the confidence in myself, and that’s half the battle, believing in yourself,” Reesing said. “Once you have that, you’ve got to go out there and just prove to your teammates that you’re the one to lead them.”