In football, you never have a quarterback until you suddenly just do. The quarterback position is arguably the most pressure packed in all of sports. In no other sport is the ball in the hands of and directly influenced by one man for the majority of a game. If a team lacks play making and sound decision making at the quarterback position, it's next to impossible to produce, let alone sustain, any meaningful form of success.
In the NFL, one could argue that average quarterbacks have had success, but one should remember that even the "bad" quarterbacks in the NFL were stars for their college teams.
In college, with its wide variety of offenses placing an even bigger burden on the importance of needing a playmaker under center, we've seen how guys like Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, and Vince Young can almost single-handedly carry a college team to national heights. This season alone guys like J.T. Barrett, Deshaun Watson, Greg Ward Jr., and Lamar Jackson have made their squads not only lethal, but a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Which unfortunately brings us to Kansas...
This is the challenge that faces second-tier football programs across the nation. Such programs rarely get their hands on a blue chip stud at QB. When they do it's usually because said stud flamed out at a bigger program. See Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps who chose Kansas after failing as starters at Notre Dame and BYU respectively. The truth is though, if a quarterback can't produce at football schools like Notre Dame and BYU, it's foolish to believe they will suddenly turn it around at a lesser program where the talent is comparatively bare.
But what makes sports even worth the time and money is the fact there is no such thing as a guarantee. Even the bluest of chips at quarterback don't always pan out. Sometimes an under recruited kid will emerge as a god on the field. The stats, the measurements, the supposed promise, none of that matters until you see what a quarterback can do once they are thrown into the speed, power and violence that is the game of football.
That's why nobody has a quarterback. Until they do.
Every quarterback will have good games. They will have bad games. So how do you know when you have a quarterback with which to actually get an offense going? To paraphrase the late Potter Stewart, you will "know it when you see it."
The pressure of the position demands a level of otherworldly confidence and trust in one's physical abilities. When a quarterback taps into it, seizes the moment, the entire game, players, viewers feel it and witness it. And it's glorious. Because win or lose, when you have a baller at QB your team will always have a fighter's chance.
It's what Texas Tech fans saw when Pat Mahomes burst onto the scene late in his freshman season, filling in for an injured Davis Webb and shredding Oklahoma's defense in his debut and then going for nearly 600 yards against Baylor in a near victory that very much played a role in keeping Baylor from the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Kansas has seen this too. 'Hawk fans saw it midway through Mark Mangino's first season (2002) when Bill Whittemore threw for nearly 300 yards and ran for 80 yards with 4 total Tds (2 passing, 2 running) in a shootout against Baylor.
'Hawk fans saw it again in late October of 2006. The Jayhawks were reeling, the season slipping away after four straight losses. Talented, yet inconsistent and injury prone, freshman QB Kerry Meier was hurt again. His replacement, Adam Barmann – himself a disappointing and supplanted former starter – had the offense putting on an absolute s**t show against Colorado. The 'Hawks were down 9-0 at the half when in desperation Mangino pulled Todd Reesing's redshirt and threw the freshman into the game. Things weren't perfect. Reesing started his KU career with a pick on his very first pass. Late in the game he delivered a cartoonishly bad fumble that went for six points to the Buffaloes. But in one half, the scrappy Texan balled like the playmaker that would define the rest of his career as a Jayhawk.
See for yourself. You never have a quarterback. Until you do...
The 2016 Kansas Jayhawks do not have a QB. Head Coach David Beaty started the season with Montell Cozart because of his ability to escape the pocket and his strong completion percentage numbers (nearly 20 points higher than Ryan Willis), but Cozart couldn't shake the demons of his poor decision making, hesitancy at the worst times, and overall inconsistency. He was given ample time to see what he could do this season.
After Thursday night, sophomore Ryan Willis has rightfully earned his chance to be the starter. Still, even though he provided a bit of a spark, 'Hawk fans saw plenty of the reasons why he couldn't pass Cozart on the preseason depth chart. The kid can't move and his accuracy continues to be atrocious. Much of his accuracy issues seem to stem from his rushing himself, a byproduct of knowing he can't evade a pass rush (aka: happy feet), itself a problem exacerbated by a line that can't form a consistent pocket.
Jayhawk fans were excited about Willis given that as a true freshman he started the last nine games of the 2015 season. Letting an underclassman grow through experience can have that effect because you feel like you have time to accept the accompanying growing pains. It was the same talk around Memorial Stadium after Adam Barmann filled in for Whittemore in 2003 after Mangino pulled his redshirt as a freshman. Barmann showed flashes, but ultimately was defined as who he was by the end of his sophomore season. Willis seems, and even kind of looks, like Adam Barmann 2.0.
Willis should, and will, be given the keys to coach Beaty's inexplicable lateral-based passing offense. As of right now though, he looks to be just another non-factor at the position for going on seven straight seasons of Jayhawks football.
Coach Beaty has been the biggest beneficiary of Kansas' abysmal recent history. It affords him time. Most of the sins of the program have been declared not his fault. However, with each passing game Beaty's own coaching flaws continue to come into focus.
It was a little disconcerting to have Fox Sports 1 continue to throw images of KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen and Beaty's faces up on a split screen. Bowen was the one supposed to be outmatched in this most recent contest against Texas Tech. Yet it was Bowen's squad that was flying around, hitting hard and making plays against one of the nation's best offenses before running out of gas due in large part to a Beaty's offense's parade of three-and-outs against one of the most maligned defenses in the entire FBS.
Bowen was passed over in favor of Beaty following the 2014 season in which the team rallied around his leadership after KU fired Charlie Weis. In fairness to Beaty though, Bowen finished 2014 with a quarterback in Michael Cummings who was superior to what Cozart and Willis have given Beaty so far. By the end of 2014 Cummings was putting up quarterback numbers not seen in Lawrence since Reesing. It would have been interesting to see what Beaty's offense would have looked like with Cummings had he not been lost for the season in a meaningless scrimmage in the spring of 2015.
If there was to be a retroactive removal of Reesing and Whittemore from Mangino, his tenure in Lawrence would have been soundly mediocre if not a complete failure. It was the lack of quality quarterback play that just ended Les Miles' run at LSU. It's just too important a component of college football to mismanage or simply miss on all together.
Beaty has time, but he doesn't have a quarterback. The ticks on his clock may start to get louder and louder until one finally shows up in a Jayhawk uniform.