QB Curve: Clint Trickett, West Virginia’s Hair Raider

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week, QB Curve will keep you up to speed on the game’s most important position by putting a different college signal-caller in the spotlight and putting the rest of the field in perspective.

QB of the Week: West Virginia’s Clint Trickett

Typecasting — The Everyman: Most of the quarterbacks we assess here fall into a staple category — the pocket passer, the “athlete,” etc. — but in Trickett’s case, it makes more sense to start with the kind of quarterback he is not. Trickett wasn’t a particularly touted recruit out of high school, and at 6-foot-2, 186 pounds,1 he’s the skinniest starting quarterback at the FBS level. He doesn’t possess a cannon for an arm. He’s not very elusive as a runner, and not very productive, either. He’s nowhere near the minimum size threshold for an NFL prospect. Trickett’s most notable physical attribute, by far, is his ’90s-heartthrob haircut, which never loses its shape and looks at all times as if it is auditioning for a spot on The Real World.

clint-trickett-hair-west-virgina-triJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

But the numbers don’t lie: Seven games into the season, Trickett ranks third nationally in passing yards, and comes in among the top 20 in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and overall efficiency. Within the Big 12, he’s supplanted his more hyped counterpart at Baylor, Bryce Petty, as both the most prolific passer in the conference and the most efficient. As a team, West Virginia has averaged 538.4 yards per game, a 31 percent increase over 2013, despite dates with three opponents (Alabama, Oklahoma, and Baylor) that carried top-five rankings at kickoff. Nearly two-thirds of that production has come from Trickett’s right arm, which has racked up more than 300 yards in every game.

At this time last year, his ascent would hardly have seemed possible. After transferring from Florida State, Trickett was among the most battered quarterbacks in America in 2013, enduring multiple concussions and a shoulder injury in September that plagued him for the rest of the season. West Virginia dropped six of its last seven games en route to its first losing record since 2001. This year, following last weekend’s out-of-the-blue 41-27 upset over no. 4 Baylor, the Mountaineers find themselves at 5-2, back in the national polls, and very much in the thick of things in the Big 12, the most gleefully nonhierarchical conference in the country. If fortune favors the best quarterback in the league, WVU’s odds of pulling away from the pack are looking better by the week.

At His Best: Gaudy statistics are taken for granted in a Dana Holgorsen offense, and Trickett’s numbers certainly have to be considered in the context of a system that’s called for him to attempt 41.3 passes per game this season. But so far, at least, the “Air Raid” seems determined to live up to its name: Trickett has already connected on 37 passes this season covering at least 20 yards, more than any other FBS quarterback except Miami (Ohio)’s Andrew Hendrix. In total, Trickett’s top five receivers have averaged 13.8 yards per catch. The best of the bunch, senior Kevin White, is the only FBS player with 1,000 receiving yards to date, putting him on pace for a truly blockbuster season by any historical standard. This is not an offense trickling its way down the field on a steady stream of bubble screens.

The big-play ethos has been most apparent on third downs, when Trickett has completed nearly 72 percent of his passes and converted more than 56 percent of them into first downs, and most especially on third-and-long: With seven yards or more to go, Trickett has converted on 18 of 39 attempts (46.2 percent), with 14 of those attempts gaining at least 15 yards in the most daunting down-and-distance scenario a passer can face. Nationally, he’s completed more passes for more yards and more first downs on third-down attempts than any other quarterback.

At His Worst: The most obvious, baked-in doubts about Trickett remain his mobility and his durability on a relatively spindly frame. Beyond the physical limitations, though, there are also concerns about his consistency: As recently as last year he was a mediocrity who barely completed half his passes and threw as many interceptions as touchdowns. There was no guarantee he would hold onto the starting job as a senior. When Trickett was forced to sit out spring practice following shoulder surgery, Holgorsen used it as an opportunity to hold an open competition for Trickett’s potential replacement.

That Trickett returned to the top of the depth chart in the preseason seemed to say more about the other guys vying for the spot than it did about the incumbent, whose highest ambition at the start of the season might as well have been to make it through his final college campaign in one piece. Is it realistic to suddenly expect him to be the model of consistency with a conference championship at stake?

To Saturday and Beyond: I doubt West Virginia fans care very much if Trickett’s success can be separated from his receivers’, especially that of White, who has been a human highlight reel against single coverage. Whether or not Trickett is capable of completing those jump-ball attempts to a less gifted target might interest pro scouts, but as long as White is in the lineup, there’s every reason to expect the one-on-one lob to remain a potent part of the offense, and for Trickett to continue to rack up above-the-fold numbers.

The more pressing question going forward is whether he’ll be able to limit mistakes. Trickett hasn’t produced a bad game this season — he passed for 365 yards on 8.1 per attempt against Alabama, which is Johnny Manziel territory — but he did throw two interceptions in the Mountaineers’ only conference loss to date, a 45-33 decision against Oklahoma, and West Virginia has been burdened by the worst turnover margin in the Big 12.2 If the West Virginia defense continues to play the way it did Saturday in the upset over Baylor, the big plays on offense might be enough to carry the Mountaineers to a conference title, or at least very, very close. If the defense reverts to its usual generosity, the margin for error will be too small for multiple giveaways, or for Trickett to regress from his chart-topping averages on a given weekend.

Quick Outs

jameis-winston-florida-state-notre-dame-triJoe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images

• Florida State’s skin-of-the-teeth, 31-27 win over no. 5 Notre Dame put to bed any remaining notion of FSU as a front-running juggernaut, except in one crucial way: With respect to Dennis Green, Jameis Winston is who we thought he was. Amid a tornado of scrutiny over Winston’s past and future alike, his value has never been more apparent than it was in the second half, when he hit 15 of 16 passes for 181 yards while leading three extended touchdown drives.3 Ten of those completions resulted in first downs; seven gained at least 15 yards. Under the circumstances — opposite a top-five opponent, behind a struggling offensive line, with no semblance of a reliable ground game to slow down the Irish pass rush — the final two quarters on Saturday arguably matched last year’s second-half comeback against Auburn in the BCS championship game as the best half of Winston’s career.

Jameis-Winston-Passing-Chart_triThe chart to the left shows every pass Winston attempted Saturday in the third and fourth quarters, with completions marked in green and incompletions or sacks in red — obviously, there are very few of the latter. Given his quarterback’s consistency over the first four possessions of the half, it’s hard to fathom why coach Jimbo Fisher opted take the ball out of Winston’s hands on the fifth, which isn’t included on the chart because Winston didn’t attempt a pass; instead, with FSU backed up inside its own 10-yard line and nursing a four-point lead, Fisher called for three straight handoffs as the clock ticked below five minutes. The subsequent three-and-out left Notre Dame with the ball at midfield and nearly three minutes remaining for its final, dramatic drive. If you can’t trust the reigning, red-hot Heisman winner to move the sticks at that particular moment, whom can you trust?

• Hardly anyone noticed Saturday amid Florida’s ongoing offensive meltdown in Gainesville, but Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk is in the midst of a fairly spectacular flameout of his own. One week after serving up four interceptions in Mizzou’s 34-0 loss against Georgia, Mauk was 6-of-18 passing for 20 yards against the Gators — that’s 20 yards passing for the entire game, good for 1.1 yards per attempt — leaving him with an astonishing 51.9 pass efficiency rating in the Tigers’ first three SEC games.4 Even the rating of Florida’s besieged starter, Jeff Driskel, is nearly 35 points better in conference play.

Even more astonishing: Missouri has actually won two of those three games, having rallied from a 20-7 deficit to beat South Carolina on September 27 and scoring four non-offensive touchdowns in Saturday’s win over the Gators to remain relevant in the SEC East standings. (Despite the 42-13 final score, Mizzou’s offense contributed only one touchdown to the most recent victory, following a Florida turnover that gave the Tigers the ball at the UF 19-yard line.) Only a month ago, I had Mauk rated among my top 10 quarterbacks in the nation, ahead of Brett Hundley and Dak Prescott. In the meantime, Mauk’s only highlight involved wasting a Florida tackler en route to a rare third-down conversion, which for Mizzou fans was more notable for the conversion than for the hit.

• On the opposite end of the spectrum, the title of “Best Performance in a Losing Effort” goes to Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, who shook off an early shoulder injury to finish 26-of-32 passing for 318 yards, three touchdowns, and a career-high 189.4 efficiency rating in a 31-30 loss to Kansas State. Unfortunately, he also did this while standing in his own end zone:

Oklahoma ran the gamut of mistakes against K-State, including two missed field goals, a blocked extra point, and a second interception by wide receiver Durron Neal on a trick play gone awry. But if the Sooners manage to find themselves over the next six weeks and this loss winds up costing them a playoff bid, the decision to throw a quick out from the 1-yard line will deserve a prominent place on the lowlight reel.

Reggie Collier “Athlete” of the Week: Alabama’s Blake Sims

blake-sims-alabama-texas-am-triKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Reggie Collier “Athlete” All-Stars honor quarterbacks who best embody the “dual threat” ethos of their inspiration, the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

For a guy who spent part of his college career as a running back, Blake Sims hasn’t done as much damage as a rusher this season as one might expect, which may help explain why the unblocked half of Texas A&M’s defense appeared totally unprepared for the prospect of tackling him on this ridiculous, 43-yard touchdown run:

The two Aggies who were juked to the ground on that play, Donovan Wilson (no. 18) and Armani Watts (no. 23), are both true freshmen with many successful tackles in their future, which is the only conceivable solace A&M can take from a 59-0 shellacking in the present. For the day, Sims accounted for 322 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in a little more than two quarters’ worth of action before even Nick Saban decided he’d seen enough.

QB Curve Power Hour!

everett-golson-notre-dame-fsu-triStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

Ranking the nation’s best quarterbacks after Week 8.

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Seven games in, Mariota has multiple touchdown passes in every game and still – still! – hasn’t thrown an interception. (Last week: 1)

2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State. You know Prescott Power is real when it’s enough to make Mississippi State–Kentucky the most high-profile SEC game on a weekend that includes Alabama-Tennessee and Ole Miss–LSU. (LW: 2)

3. Jameis Winston, Florida State. A Heisman repeat remains a long shot, mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with football, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Winston wound up atop this list by season’s end. (LW: 3)

4. Everett Golson, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are going to be very, very good in 2015. (LW: 6)

5. Brett Hundley, UCLA. As an ostensible playoff contender, UCLA has been a disappointment, but since returning from an elbow injury, Hundley has been every bit the player the preseason hype suggested. (LW: 8)

6. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss. Wallace has gone 14 consecutive quarters without an interception, which means “Bad Bo” is either dead or busy plotting his return at the worst possible moment for the ascendant Rebels. (LW: 5)

7. Blake Sims, Alabama. The last quarterback with Sims’s efficiency rating and Sims’s moves in the open field was Cam Newton. (LW: 9)

8. Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty has looked very ordinary since returning from a back injury, culminating in Saturday’s flop at West Virginia. If I had to bet on one Big 12 passer to heat up over the next month, though, he’d still be the pick. (LW: 4)

9. Nick Marshall, Auburn. Auburn’s next four games are against South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Georgia, so Marshall has a chance to rise very quickly. (LW: 7)

10. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State. Since his September 6 debacle against Virginia Tech, Barrett has accounted for 1,433 total yards and 20 touchdowns in four games. People are starting to notice. (LW: 10)

Waiting: Shane Carden (East Carolina), Connor Cook (Michigan State), Jared Goff (California), Cody Kessler (USC), Anu Solomon (Arizona), Clint Trickett (West Virginia)

Filed Under: College Football, QB Curve, QB Curve Power Hour!, Quarterbacks, West Virginia Mountaineers, Clint Trickett, Florida State Seminoles, Jameis Winston, Florida Gators, Jeff Driskel, Missouri Tigers, Maty Mauk, Oklahoma Sooners, Trevor Knight, Reggie Collier “Athlete" of the Week, Blake Sims, Alabama Crimson Tide, Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott, Everett Golson, Brett Hundley, Bo Wallace, Bryce Petty, Nick Marshall, J.T. Barrett, Football, NCAA, NCAAF, Matt Hinton

Matt Hinton is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ MattRHinton