I would like to see a transfer in JUCO/senior grad(If possible). Not a starter, just a depth guy in case of injuries and perhaps be the #2. Seems like we're going to have the scholarship room this year after all.
Denard Robinson's injury on Saturday, coupled with Russell Bellomy's poor performance in a backup role, prompts many questions about Michigan's quarterback recruiting. Could the coaches have anticipated this? Were mistakes made? If so, by whom?
Before we try to answer these questions, let's get a few quick observations out of the way.
1. Game performance and practice performance can differ. We don't know what the coaches saw out of Russell Bellomy in practice, but one must assume it was better than what we saw on the field. We do know that Bellomy looked sharp in the spring game, but that was in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium, against the second-team defense.
2. Anytime a star of Denard Robinson's caliber is knocked out of a tough road game, you're probably going to lose. Obviously, a better performance by Bellomy would have made the game less painful to watch. But the fantasy where he actually wins it was always a long-shot.
3. Bellomy's first performance against a credible opponent with the game on the line, is probably not the best indication of his capabilities.
With that out of the way, let's get back to our original questions.
Quarterback recruiting has some unique challenges that the casual fan often does not appreciate.
1. Quarterback rankings are generally accurate. High-school quarterbacks are very highly scrutinized. Their position generates a lot of stats, and they're filmed on every down. It is therefore difficult to surprise anyone at quarterback. I know that Brian Griese was a walk-on, but he was a rare exception. Everyone knows who the great prospects are — including, of course, the prospects themselves.
2. Most teams play only one quarterback. This means that a star QB who's one class behind another star QB, has a very strong chance of spending most of his career on the bench. This situation differs from, say, the offensive line, where the presence of a 5-star on the roster is not necessarily going to dissuade other 5-stars from committing. You can make productive use of more than one of these. At QB, you can't.
3. Quarterbacks are usually not fungible. Leaving aside Devin Gardner, most QBs can only play QB. This means they have less potential for switching positions if they arrive at college and find a depth-chart traffic jam.
4. You don't play quarterback as a hobby. Even for exceptionally talented players, preparing to play quarterback is a full-time job. It is generally not possible to play another position, and then quickly switch to quarterback when the need arises.
What can we draw from these observations?
In economic terms, the market for college quarterbacks is transparent, and quarterbacks have the advantage: there are more schools seeking a great QB, than there are great QBs to go around. And it is rather unlikely that a school will find a great QB that no one else knew about. (Yes, I know: Denard Robinson. Keep reading.)
A highly-touted QB is therefore unlikely to choose a school where he risks losing the job to another highly-touted QB. The best recruits look for a school where there's a clear path to becoming a multi-year starter.
Of course, that's true at every position, to a certain extent. But there's no other position where the typical team plays only ONE guy, and if you're not THAT guy, you probably won't see much game action at all.
When a five-star quarterback commits to your school, there's good news and bad news. The good news is: you got a five-star quarterback. The bad news is: the classes surrounding him are going to be barren.
Here's the list of Michigan's quarterback commitments in the Rivals era:
|2002||4||Matt Guttierez||Transferred to Idaho State|
|2003||4||Clayton Richard||Switched to baseball after one year|
|2005||3||Jason Forcier||Transferred to Stanford|
|2006||3||David Cone||Stayed but never saw meaningful game action|
|2007||5||Ryan Mallett||Transferred to Arkansas after his freshman season|
|2008||NONE||(Steven Threet had transferred from Georgia Tech the year before.)|
|2009||4||Tate Forcier||Flunked out of school after his sophomore year|
Observe the quarterback vacuum around each of the three five-star quarterbacks that Michigan has recruited in the Rivals era. Other top QBs don't want to compete with these guys.
(Some may recall that there was a similar vacuum around Drew Henson's recruitment. They weren't giving out stars then, but it's likely Henson would have had five, if he'd come along later.)
To a lesser extent, it is also difficult to pick up multiple four-star quarterbacks in consecutive years. These guys aren't quite the nearly-sure things that five-stars are; still, they're in short enough supply that they tend to look for situations where they have a clear path to the top of the depth chart.
In 2008, Rich Rodriguez inherited Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet (a former four-star) and Nick Sheridan, a walk-on. Neither guy was well-suited to Rodriguez's spread offense. After the 2008 season, Threet transferred for the second time in his short career, leaving a void at the quarterback position.
In the 2009 class, Rodriguez picked up two four-star quarterbacks, a rare feat. This was possible only because most major programs thought that Denard Robinson could not play QB at the college level.
You can't exactly call Robinson a sleeper, because he had offers at multiple top-tier programs, including Florida, Auburn, Georgia, Miami, Ohio State, and West Virginia. But among those schools, only Michigan offered him at quarterback.
Then, four-star Devin Gardner saw the tire fire that was Michigan's 2009 season, and decided to stick with the Wolverines in 2010, although he had other top-tier offers, including Oregon, Notre Dame, and Nebraska.
Thus, Michigan got three four-star QBs in two years, which you'll find is an uncommon occurrence in college football.
But Devin Gardner was taking the risk that all QB recruits take, when they sign the year after another touted recruit. To become a multi-year starter at QB, he needed Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson to both flame out. Only Forcier did.
Adding insult to injury, Rich Rodriguez foolishly burned Gardner's redshirt after Tate Forcier was temporarily demoted to third string, to punish him for a lackluster effort in off-season work-outs. Gardner played a total of three snaps in two games when Robinson was briefly sidelined, plus garbage time against Bowling Green.
At this writing, it is still unclear if Gardner can obtain a medical hardship waiver for an alleged back injury that he suffered midway through his freshman year. I am not sure how serious that back injury was. By the time of Michigan's bowl game, Forcier had already flunked out of school. Gardner made the trip to Jacksonville and would presumably have played if Robinson had been forced out of the game.
Should Gardner be unable to secure a fifth year, his lost freshman season is probably the worst burned redshirt currently on the team, and one of the dumbest ever.
When Brady Hoke arrived in January 2011, he found only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and none committed. No top-tier quarterbacks were available, and none would have considered Michigan in the wake of an ugly and disorganized transition from Rich Rodriguez to a little-known (at the time) coach from San Diego State.
So Hoke wasn't going to have a lot of options. The best he could get was Russell Bellomy, a three-star from Arlington, Texas, whose best previous offer was Purdue. The Michigan media promptly wrote fawning tributes to Bellomy, but let's not forget: quarterback rankings are generally accurate. There are reasons why his best previous offer was Purdue.
Brady Hoke started recruiting like a firestorm, and within a few months he'd snagged his first trophy: a commitment from Shane Morris, a junior quarterback who was on his way to getting five stars from all of the major recruiting services.
At this point, Michigan quarterback recruiting entered the five-star thundercloud. No one who's better than Russell Bellomy is going to want to risk the possibility that he'll spend three or four years on the bench, watching Shane Morris light up the Big Ten.
You can understand, therefore, why Michigan didn't take a quarterback in 2012. The only ones available would have been the David Cone types, someone practically guaranteed never to see meaningful game action. Certainly, any quarterback they might have taken in 2012 would not have helped avoid the loss to Nebraska. Nor would that hypothetical QB have been any help next year: he'd probably still be fourth string.
Obviously, Michigan will need to take someone in 2014 — Shane Morris can't be their only QB over a three-year period — but unless they find a legacy kid who happens to have four stars, it's probably going to be another three-star who feels that a probable date with a clipboard at Michigan is better than the starting job at Purdue.
With Devin Gardner, the coaches were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't.
Any idiot ought to have known that Gardner was likely to be a better backup quarterback than Bellomy. Gardner's not only a year older than Bellomy, but he was better than Bellomy in high school, and as we've noted, QB recruiting rankings are generally correct. Nothing we've seen from Bellomy, other than a spring game in which he faced Michigan's second-string defense, should have led you to believe otherwise.
Despite this fact, some people actually believed that Bellomy was better than Gardner; some even believed he was better than Denard. I imagine most have now been disabused of that notion.
I don't think the coaches ever believed Bellomy was better than Gardner. They're not stupid. But unless Denard were injured, Gardner was destined to waste another year on the bench. Pickings were slim at wide receiver, and Gardner was that rare quarterback who actually could play another position, precisely the one where Michigan needed him.
So the coaches took a calculated risk. They knew that if Gardner practiced at WR enough to actually be usable at that position, he would no longer be well enough prepared to step in at QB. They hoped that Bellomy would be good enough to spell Denard occasionally, and that they wouldn't need him to go out and win the game in Lincoln or Columbus.
It wasn't a crazy gamble, from the viewpoint of playing the odds, and trying to give Michigan the best chance to win every game. You can't be so defensive that you keep one of your best athletes off the field, waiting for an injury that might never happen. Unfortunately, they rolled snake-eyes.
So the short answer is: no, I don't think they mishandled Gardner, given what they knew at the time and the depth they inherited at wide receiver.
Devin Gardner will be a full-time quarterback again, starting the day after Michigan's bowl game. Depending on Denard's injury status, he might be switching back now.
The one sure thing, is that even if you believe Bellomy will eventually win the job, you wouldn't just hand it to him. You've got to have at least two ready, and Gardner will be the only other QB available between Denard's departure and Shane Morris's arrival.
Despite Morris's high talent ceiling, he lost half his senior season to mono, he played for a mediocre high school team, and he isn't graduating early. You're kidding yourself if you think he'll arrive in mid-summer, and be ready to start for Michigan (or even to be a credible backup) by September 1st.
My own view is that Gardner will win the job. As I've noted above, QB rankings are usually correct. He came in with a higher ceiling than Bellomy, he's the better athlete, he has more game experience, and he's a year older.
Gardner has provided useful depth at wide receiver, but he has not set the world on fire. This once again validates what Brian Cook has so often said: the presence of a position-switcher on the depth chart is usually a sign of weakness. The two kids Michigan actually recruited at receiver, Darboh and Chesson, should be ready to step up next year. And that's before we consider any production from the two incoming 2013 freshmen who are already committed, or any others who are still considering the Wolverines, such as Laquon Treadwell.
This scenario will allow Gardner to start at quarterback, Bellomy to be the backup once again, and Morris to redshirt. The worst conceivable scenario, which I imagine the coaches would prefer to avoid, is that Morris plays relatively meaningless backup action as a true freshman, and squanders what could otherwise be a far more productive fifth year down the road.
1. You should not be terribly bothered that Michigan didn't take a quarterback in the 2012 class. Anyone realistically available would not have seen the field anyway.
2. Russell Bellomy probably isn't a quarterback you can win a Big Ten title with. That shouldn't have surprised you.
3. You can't really fault the coaches for switching Devin Gardner to wide receiver, given what they had at the time. Nevertheless, he's probably your 2013 starter.
4. Michigan is better off with Shane Morris than without him. But it's hard to get two guys like that in close succession. Any other highly-ranked QB will want to put distance between himself and Morris. Your next stud quarterback won't come until 2015, or maybe even 2016. The next guy they get is going to be another Bellomy type; maybe even the next two.
I would like to see a transfer in JUCO/senior grad(If possible). Not a starter, just a depth guy in case of injuries and perhaps be the #2. Seems like we're going to have the scholarship room this year after all.
suggests they didn't make a mistake. But they demonstrably did. I forgive them, I see why, but it was a mistake. Better to say that their rationale was okay, but it didn't work out. (Calling for anyone's head over it is just crazy, hopefully post-game trauma.) We'll benefit next year if Gardner gets some reps now, I think.
Beyond that, great, great cold water-style diary that I hope everyone reads. I never got what fueled the fantasizing over Bellomy when Gardner was all-everything, but maybe people can explain that to themselves. (Yes, in limited on-field action last year Gardner did not set the world aflame, but he did lots better than Bellomy, who looked like alabaster in every close-up shot, more numb than Denard's elbow. Hope he recovers and has lots of great games for M in future.)
You can't say the demonstrably made a mistake because of the way things worked out. If you're playing blackjack, you hit on 12 if the dealer has a face card showing. Sometimes you bust, but that doesn't mean you made the wrong call.
Like with anything else, the coaches had to take a calculated risk either way. But when playing averages, sometimes the less likely outcome happens.
The problem with the Black Jack analogy is you are giving the coaches too much credit when some of these variables are somewhat quantifiable.
1. Denard runs alot, Denard gets BOO BOOS.
2. Hoke said that they have confidence in Russell because he is a good QB. That was a false statement. Russell is not a good QB.
3. Devin Gardner > Russell Bellomy
4. The only good reason to move Devin to WR is if he is an up and upcoming Braylon Edwards. Devin is not Braylon Edwards.
1. Denard getting a boo-boo isn't the risk. It's Denard getting a boo-boo vs. UMass or Illinois vs. on the road at Nebraska that's the risk. And much more random.
2.You don't know that Bellomy isn't a good quarterback. You know he had an awful game, in a really tough environment. There is probably other evidence. But it's not something you can say definatively.
3. You actually don't know that either. From most of Brian's musings and assessment, Devin hasn't been a very good QB, and looked no better in the spring. Maybe worse. Now do I tend to think that's the case, that Devin is better? Yes; but I can't say Gardner has shown me anythign to make me sure I'm right.
4. This is just nonsense. Have you seen our receiving corps? We need help, especially after Stonum left. If moving Devin gives your team the best chance to win, you do it. The idea that was endorsed by this site, and disagreed with by almost no one...till after Nebraska.
Well, first, I agree that it is important to not overreact. Even in the case where a mistake may have been made, a mistake does not mean that we have bad coaches or that someone should be fired etc.
That being said, I think there is something else to be drawn from the history described above. Of the 10 QBs recruited since 2002 (Morris has not arrived yet), 5 of them transferred or left the program. Even if we exclude Mallett who clearly left because of the coaching change, the other 4 (Gutierrez, Richard, Forcier x2) left for reasons unrelated to coaching instability.
If 40-50% of the recruited QBs do not stay with the program, then it IS important to take one each year to allow for those that do not work out.
No doubt, a true Fr QB would not have helped us when Denard went down, but there is no guarantee that both Bellomy and Gardner work out next year, and it would be nice to allow Morris a chance to learn the offense and redshirt rather than being thrown in before he is really ready.
But again, recruiting is hardly a science, and you can't force these kids to pick Michigan. It is at best a source of regret, but should not be a cause of major recrimination.
You could argue an exclusion for Gutierrez too. He WAS the starter for the 2004 season before hurting his shoulder the day before the season opener. He doesn't get hurt, he probably starts for 2 seasons while Henne rides the bench and collects a redshirt. The only reason he transferred was because he got Wally Pipp'd by Henne.
I think people remember the mid-90 teams where Michigan was loaded with QB talent and want to believe that it's always been that way, but that was a really unique time, before the internet and recruiting websites almost ensured that no talent ever fell through the cracks.
The whole time i was reading this I was thinking where is a qb like Alex Moran when you need him.
Yes yes yes. Or raydon randell?
Second, I am still not sold on Gardner as a QB. Having said that, why wait until after the bowl game to convert DG back to QB? Wouldn't the bowl preparation time be more wisely used getting him up to speed? You might even be able to give him a little live game action.
As oakapple said, DG may be switching back to QB now depending on Denard's status. But after the bowl game, DG will definitely become a full time QB once again because of the depth situation at QB (bad) and WR (decent) and lack of quality production at WR.
Regardless of the situation next year, I hope Morris redshirts.
Great writeup, good to get everything in to perspective.
Morris will get a chance to compete, but if he is able to beat out a senior and a redshirt sophomore with multiple seasons of understanding the system under their belts, that really doesn't say much about our player development at the position. Smart money sayd that Morris redshirts.
As this diary makes clear, Morris probably won't beat out Gardner as a freshman. But I don't think the coaching staff will approach him with a "redshirt at all costs" perspective. If Gardner goes out for a game or two, they'll probably try to get by with Bellomy, but if Gardner has a long-term injury, I think that putting Morris in would be preferable to starting Bellomy for 2+ games.
I think the calculated risk with DG is magnified because of Denard's strengths as a QB/athlete. The way Denard is most effective is also a style that increases the odds of injury (this point has been debated, but I think it's fair to say a running QB who absorbs more contact on more plays has a higher risk of injury). Because of that higher risk, the DG move to WR becomes an even riskier proposition. Unfortunately, we all saw the results in a big game last weekend.
Disclaimer: My post makes no comment on recruiting the QB position, although perhaps it's implied.
Good read, thanks for taking the time to write this up.
In regards to a 3 star QB - I can't say how accurate recruiting rankings are, and I know that the work has been done to show which services are more accurate - but I can say that sometimes they are wrong. Examples of 3 star (to Rivals) quartebacks who had decent college careers -
Unfortunately, the list of 3 stars who never saw the field is much, much longer. I think the goal when recruiting a 3 star is always that you hope for the exception, and sometimes you might get it. For Bellomy, I think the case may be that the sample size is too small to make that call. At the beginning of the season, we are always talking about how vanilla the offensive scheme is. This is to give the offense a chance to work up to the speed of conference play. Bellomy hasn't really been in any situations that would prepare him for that, and that is [insert blame here]. He was clearly overwhelmed by the speed of the game.
Brandon Weeden graduated high school before there were recruiting services assigning stars
On item #4 - It seems like this analysis would point towards playing Shane Morris next year (backup or whatever, just make sure he is used). If he is a world beater, he's not staying around for a fifth year. If he is just a Chad Henne or less type, then you get another 5 star (possible world beater) 1 year earlier and the depth next year does not look so terrible.
Most college football players, even very good ones with NFL potential, do stick around for the fifth year. Andrew Luck is a recent example. Obviously, there are no sure things in sports, but it's not like basketball, where the great ones hardly ever last four years, much less five.
Of the following scenarios, which is the more common in football:
(A) Player burns his redshirt and is not very effective as a freshman; he's a star by his senior year, and would have stayed a fifth year, if he could.
(B) Player redshirts; he's a star by his redshirt junior year, and foregoes his fifth year for the NFL.
I think (A) is more common, and therefore it's better to hold onto the redshirt -- unless, of course, the player actually beats out the older guys ahead of him.
....except that Andrew Luck didn't stay a 5th year. He RS'ed in '08, played in '09, '10, and '11 and left after he graduated. If he had stayed this year, it would have been his 5th year
Just a Chad Henne? Really? We should be so lucky.
Kelly has 5 QB's on roster, thre, Rees, Golson and hendrix seem pretty good, yet they get 5 star Kiel to commit. Kelly had rotating QB's a cincy, Injuries did not doom them to failure
Good article, but have to disagree on one point. Some very good Michigan teams featured tight ends who had been QBs and converted when there was no opportunity at the QB spot. Jay Riemersma maybe? Another guy also, can't recall which one.
I am not sure if Gardner passes better than Bellomy, comparing Gardner's on-field performance last year to Bellomy's this year. To me, the big advantage Gardner has as a back-up to Denard is that the play calls don't have to change so much. I doubt if Nebraska would have pinned their ears back against Gardner as they did against Bellomy. Next year, without Denard, that advantage disappears.
The decision process to move Gardner to WR left us with a situation that a program of Michigan's stature and calibre should not be in: The second string quarterback needs to run an entirely different play set than the starting quarterback, not only impacting the backup QB but also the entire offense. The coaching staff really revealed themselves, that they really DESPISE this idea of having a running quarterback, regardless of how good and beloved Denard is.
WR personnel shortcomings aside, Gardner should have remained the backup QB and gotten some run at WR on some plays, like Nichol at MSU, to get him "on the field." That way, the offense wouldn't need to change much if Denard gets hurt, and it could continue or at least "transition" for the next two years until Shane takes over.
HOWEVER, the coaches made the decision that the days of Michigan having a quarterback with enough running ability to impact the style of offense Borges wants to run are OVER. By declaring WR hardship and moving Gardner, they were able to end the running-QB play sets with Denard's graduation, and move on to Bellomy or Morris next year. Probably not the best move for the program for the short OR long term, but at least Borges and Hoke don't need to hassle with this running quarterback thing anymore.
I cannot believe all this gloom and doom. Does anyone remember Denard's first outings as a replacement thrust into big games? Remember when he came in for Forcier in the Iowa game? Remember the (does this sounds familiar) interceptions and horribly missing receivers? Remember everyone saying we were doomed with Forcier, that Denard would never be a quarterback, and that he should switch to wide receiver?
Granted Bellomy is not going to be the athlete or explosive runner Denard is, but give him a chance...
Let's let the season end and see what happens next fall!
You say that now but it is a really long off season.
You've provided some good common sense observations. I agree that Bellomy didn't play as bad as his numbers showed. There were some drops & that crazy Smith pop-up interception that was not his fault. That being said, despite Garnder having little to no snaps this year, he still most certainly would have put up better numbers than Bellomy. I can understand giving Bellomy a few series hoping that Denard would come back. But, after the start of the second half and Bellomy continuing to struggle it makes no sense not to throw Gardner in there for the 4th quarter. If he drives us down the field and scores a TD the momentum and whole compelxion of the game could change. Even if he hasn't taken a single snap in practice since camp, he knows the offense, it's the same offense he knew last year. Just his dual run/throw threat would have helped, slowed down Nebraska's blitz, and likely eliminated the turnovers and sacks. Other than that point, I totally see what you're saying. I do agree Gardner is our no doubt about QB next year and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full season. I hope you're right and the coaches RS Morris to get another year out of him. That will follow suit with great young O-lineman. The only bad part for poor Gardner is he is gonna be stuck with a very young and inexperienced offensive line. Poor kid...he's really taking one for the team his whole career. That's a real Michigan man.
....and great read. Very impressive research, logic, analysis and conclusions. Well done.
One thing I wonder about is the 2014 QB battle, assuming Garnder gets the medical redshirt. And also assuming that he wins the battle next year....will be interesting to see if a 5th yr senior Gardner would beat out a RS-Freshman 5-star prototypical Borges-style QB in Shane Morris. Would it be better to have Gardner AND Morris on the field at the same time (Gardner at WR) a la 2012? Obviously a long ways off, but something to consider and chatter about for the years to come.
Did he get 4 stars as a QB recruit or as an 'athlete'?
I still haven't heard an explanation for why the NCAA hasn't ruled on the Gardner redshirt decision yet. What info are they hoping to get next year that wasn't available two years ago. I've never heard of a redshirt decision taking nearly this long.
The redshirt decision has a huge impact on the program, Devin's career, and academic planning. Does anyone have any clue why they've been postponing the decision? Is there any precedent for such a delay?
Until your eligibility is exhausted....that rule only applies to medical redshirts.
I could be wrong, but that is how I understand it.
I think they really miscalculated Russell Bellomy's skill level. You know Denard is gonna get hurt at some point and chances are your going to need the backup to do something and Russell can't do it, so they screwed up. I don't think in their mind they would be moving Devin back to QB next year because you really killed a year of his development, they were expecting Bellomy to be the starter unless Shane Morris came in and was lighting the world on fire. Luckily would we have an awesome defense and as Brian likes to say, BIG TENNNN!
Prior to 1994 I'm going off of other peoples' memories because I didn't pay that close of attention yet.
1990: Todd Collins, the first guy recruited to be more Grbac than Grbac (a tall gunslinger) after the Grbac/Taylor transition year.
1991: Jay Riermersma, probably a 4-star, huge dude (6'5 235 as a freshman) and could move. Probably expected to be in the mix after Grbac graduated.
1992: Eric Boykin. I don't remember him at all. Grbac was going into senior year and Collins was ahead of Riemersma, so crowded.
1993: Scott Loeffler, would have been low 4-star according to a thing I think I read once. A year to redshirt then compete to replace Collins. Also Bob Griese's son Brian came as a preferred walk-on but I don't think anyone thought of him as a walk-on. Both expected to wait out Collin's career (Collins started a few games as a soph in '92).
1994: Scott Dreisbach, moderately shirtless, probably would have been a high 4-star or peeking into 5-star, like Gardner. Expected to understudy Collins for a year then step into starting role (Riermersma moved to TE this year).
1995: Tom Brady, would have been a low 4-star today, and DiAllo Johnson because let's try one of these running quarterback things maybe.
1996: Jason Kapsner. Not highly recruited but fit the statuesque mold.
1997: No QB recruits, but Griese returned from suspension so crowded depth chart between him, Dreisbach and Brady.
1998: Drew Henson, 5-star ubermensch. Even in these dark recruiting days Henson came with more hype than any QB since. Competition was former starter Dreisbach, a 5th year senior, and Tom Brady, a RS junior but at the time Henson had a reasonable expectation of beating out Brady by his sophomore year.
1999: Andy Mignery, a low 4-star and John Navarre, a 3-star. With redshirt either could expect to be Henson's backup in 2000 and 2001, and compete to start in '02.
2000: Jermaine Gonzalez, an athletic type with a profile similar to Bellomy. Few expected he would ever start but there were whispers among some about getting one of these running QB-type things. Expectation was QB race would be wide open after Henson graduated.
2001: Junior transfer (Mormon mission) Spencer Brinton and that's it, as recruits were staring down three years of Navarre.
2002: Matt Gutierrez, a high 4-star whose high school team never lost. Expected to RS and be Navarre's heir apparent in 2004.
2003: Clayton Richard, left-handed gunner ranked a bit lower than Gutierrez. Expected to RS and then have a shot at four years starting if he could beat out Matt.
2004: Chad Henne, 5-star about on par with Shane Morris, made Penn State fans hella mad. Backfield looked crowded until Gutierrez was injured in fall and Henne beat out Richard.
2005: Jason Forcier, low-ish 4-star, not a strong arm but considered plus-mobile. Expected to back up Henne later in Chad's career, once Gutierrez cleared out. Clayton moved on to baseball, which was a good move.
2006: David Cone, high 3-star who YMRMFSFPA'ed Navarre. Considered just a body at time of recruitment (rap skillz then unknown).
2007: Ryan Mallett, high 5-star, expected to back up Henne then assume the mantle for three solid years of starting. Former 4-star Steven Threet transferred from Georgia Tech and sat out the season, expected to be Mallett's backup.
2008: John Wienke, 3-star, another body that fits the mold.
You'll note there was a wash effect when a freshman or sophomore started. However until 2007 there never was a time when there weren't at least 2 or three candidates recruited to compete for the job afer THE MAN left. Of the major recruits:
Planning to hand off from one 5-star to the next worked sometimes but not always. A few guys transferred or became TEs or played baseball, but a lot of them got significant playing time opportunities. In the later years it does seem M lost something in not reeling in those in-between-year guys.
It still shows an up and down cycle. Grbac had a good back up in Collins, but that depth gets you Eric Boykin. Loeffler seems like depth, but he didn't even make it through his career before injuries had him as a grad assistant rather a back up. Driesbach seemed like "the guy", but he had problems staying healthy too. And neither he or Griese could really wrestle the position from everyone else till '97. And Brady had some good accolades, but no one was considering him the heir for anything. Especially after Henson committed early (and requested that no one be recruited at the position the year before him). And to the OP, he easily would have been 5 stars....he was in the mix for top player in the country at any position. And (see if this sounds familiar) looked awful when thrown in before he was supposed to be due to Henson injury, then leaving early.
And I don't know that Gonzalez was really recruited as a QB. I'm sure he got that "you can try the position in your freshman year thing, and then we'll evaluate" but he was more recruited as an athlete/WR. Good for trick plays and such, but probably not going to win the position. We've had more recruiting depth, but I don't know that when you take into account when some of those guys left or position switches that we've really had a lot more guys vying for the position. Right now we just have a mix of a guy failing out, two guys not getting redshirts who should have (one probably beyond the control; one maddening) and a transition with heir apparents already in line, followed up by the 5* scaring people away. It's not just the East Coast that's had the perfect storm.