Here’s a number worth noting as we begin the second week of the season: 1,375.
That’s the amount of combined passing yards in Week 1 of the college football season by the top five quarterbacks from South Florida: Miramar’s Geno Smith (West Virginia), Miami Central’s Rakeem Cato (Marshall), Miami Northwestern’s Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Deerfield Beach’s Denard Robinson (Michigan) and Monsignor Pace’s Stephen Morris (Miami).
South Florida has long been a hotbed of recruits, but the days when Miami-Dade and Broward counties stereotypically specialized in only producing top-flight defensive backs and wide receivers are long gone. Southern California remains the nation’s unofficial capital of quarterback cultivation, but it seems South Florida is catching up.
Remember when Jacory Harris was supposed to be the best passing quarterback to come out of Miami-Dade since Brian Griese? Harris had an above-average career for the Hurricanes, but, in retrospect, Jacory was just the beginning of a new trend. There are a handful of current college quarterbacks from South Florida who are arguably better than Harris, and more are on the way.
Judging by the media attention Michigan’s Robinson received before last week’s game against Alabama, it would be easy to assume that the Wolverines star was the best quarterback South Florida has to offer the game of college football. Wrong.
West Virginia’s Smith currently holds the crown after helping thump Marshall 69-34 in a game mountain folk like to call the Friends of Coal Bowl. Smith threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns on, get this, 32-of-36 passing.
But the really impressive thing about that game, as far as South Florida is concerned, is that Smith’s counterpart, Marshall’s Cato, grew up a short car ride down 441 from where Smith honed his skills at Miramar High. Cato actually outdid Smith, going 38 of 54 for 413 yards.
Smith has had the look of a future NFL quarterback since his sophomore year at Miramar. He is currently rated the fifth-best passer of his class by NFLDraftScout.com, but his stock is rising. With a good senior year, Smith could play his way into the first round alongside Matt Barkley of USC and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas.
Before you scoff, consider this: In Smith’s past two games, West Virginia is averaging 69.5 points per game. In last season’s 70-33 drubbing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Smith completed 32 of 43 passes for 407 yards and six touchdowns. In Smith’s past two games, he is 64-of-79 passing for 730 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception.
Robinson was a preseason candidate for the Heisman before Alabama’s defense roughed him up. Here’s a prediction: If Smith leads West Virginia to a conference title in the school’s first year in the Big 12, then he’ll win college football’s most coveted individual award.
Which, of course, would make Smith the second quarterback from South Florida to win the Heisman. Born in Miami Beach in 1945, Stephen Orr Spurrier won the award in 1966. Miami’s first great quarterback, Arnold Tucker (Army) of Miami Senior High, finished fifth in the Heisman voting in 1946.
Putting up Heisman-like numbers in the first game of his sophomore season, Louisville’s Bridgewater (19 of 21 for 232 yards) is another Miami-born quarterback primed for an impressive year. The Big East Rookie of the Year in 2011, Bridgewater set a school record for completion percentage in the Cardinals’ 32-14 victory against Kentucky on Sunday.
And more area quarterbacks are grooming themselves for college stardom. Junior Wade Freebeck of Davie Western High has an offer from Florida. Another junior, Nicodem Pierre of Miami Coral Reef, already has a letterbox full of offers. There are many more. Dedicated coaching at the high school level along with the rise of summertime 7-on-7 camps has helped South Florida flood college football with quarterbacks.
Smith, West Virginia (323 yards and four touchdown passes against Marshall); Barrett Jones, center, Alabama (Crimson Tide rushed for 232 yards against Michigan); Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC (377 yards and four touchdown passes against Hawaii); Cordarrelle Patterson, receiver, Tennessee (six receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown and two carries for 72 yards and one touchdown against N.C. State); Marqise Lee, receiver, USC (10 receptions for 202 yards and one touchdown, and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown).