Can Drew Lock or Will Grier make their teams contenders this season?
By John Luke McCord
Having a good quarterback, doesn’t guarantee you have a good football team, but it’s a key element a good team needs to win a championship. Only Alabama has proven they can win a championship without a good quarterback, but even in those seasons(with guys like Blake Sims and Jake Coker) they got big plays from the quarterback spot at the right times.
However, if you’re not Alabama, but instead you’re a team generally in the middle of the pack in your conference then you need both of those elements to truly be in contention to win a conference or especially national title.
At the top of the HourGlass power five QB rankings are two perfect case studies for this premise. Missouri signal caller Drew Lock sits ranked ahead of all returning quarterbacks in college football, according to HG analytics, and West Virginia QB1 Will Grier is just behind him in the p5 QB ranks.
While many feel that Grier gives legitimacy to WV’s title hopes in the Big 12, hardly anyone feels Lock can lead Mizzou to the SEC title game. With that said, Lock has already garnered some attention as possibly being the most likely top choice for the 2019 NFL Draft, at this point. Besides that, Missouri was able to make the SEC title game in Atlanta their first two seasons in the league, which was predicted by no one.
So let’s look deeper at each situations, starting with the less complicated of the two - West Virginia. First off, Grier is entering his second season as the starter, and Dana Holgerson has an impressive track record with second-year starting QBs at WV. Secondly, the Big 12 slate, though it now includes a conference title game, is much easier to navigate. With a program that is built to go as their offense takes them, Grier could legitimately take the Mountaineers to the Big 12 title game if he can guide them past a tough four game stretch to finish the season - @Texas, vs. TCU, @OK State and vs. Oklahoma.
Our analytics project an 11-1 regular season for WV - with the lone regular season loss coming against TCU - but a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
For Lock and Missouri, things will be far more complicated in the mighty SEC. Sure, the Tigers won six in a row to end the 2017 regular season and they play in the Eastern division(which has been far less stacked that the West in recent years) of the league. However, the Georgia Bulldogs are on pace to become as daunting in the East as Alabama is in the West. Then there’s South Carolina, who is improving rapidly under Will Muschamp, and Florida just hired Dan Mullen this offseason. Though Missouri is picked just behind those three teams, most feel they belong more with the bottom feeders Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. However, a good quarterback can change things. Lock, who led the FBS with 44 TD passes in 2017, is just that. In fact, he seems to be coming into his own as he approaches his senior season.
Our analytics project Missouri to finish 7-5 in the regular season, good enough for a fourth place finish in our projected SEC East standings.
When you look beyond conference championship weekend, which one of these top QBs has the better chance to make the CFB Playoff? The answer is a bit nuanced. West Virginia, being in the weaker conference, has the easier path to making their conference championship game. However, in our projected scenario, even if they did win the Big 12 title game, they could be held out of the playoff due to the loss in conference play during the regular season. When you look at Missouri, sure the fact that they would represent the East in the SEC title game is more of a longshot, but if they did - and won - then they would likely have a better shot at making the CFB Playoff because the SEC champ is unlikely to be left out.
Many will have their eyes on both West Virginia and Missouri this season, if only because of their quarterbacks bring the intrigue. Will they elevate their teams and justify their top-rated QB stamps? We’ll have to wait and see.