The University of Delaware football team is ranked 15th in the nation in the big preseason poll, but that has more to do with history than reality. The Blue Hens are ranked in every preseason poll in every year and they usually finish there, too.
But this year nobody really knows what to expect from the Hens because nobody knows what to expect from their quarterback. And that position is now as critical to a college team as it is to a professional one.
It used to be that the NFL was a passing league and the NCAA was the running league, but that has changed as more and more college teams go to spread offenses that feature lots of passing and wide-open action.
It’s not a coincidence that in the last decade, whenever the Hens have had a really good quarterback they’ve had a really good season, and when they’ve had a so-so quarterback they’ve … well, you get the idea.
Last season, the Hens were inconsistent at this most critical position after starter Trevor Sasek – a rare non-transfer — went down with a knee injury. The two players who shared the starting job last year – Sasek and Tim Donnelly – are both back, but the leading candidate to lead the Hens into the 2012 season is Trent Hurley, a sophomore who transferred from Bowling Green this winter.
If you’ve paid attention at all to the Hens since K.C. Keeler became coach in 2002, this is normal operating procedure and last year was one of the few times that Keeler’s team wasn’t lead by a transfer QB. And even though Keeler hasn’t officially anointed Hurley as his starter, it’s inevitable. That’s because Keeler already knows what he’ll get from Sasek and Donnelly, which is some good and some bad, but, in the end, not enough.
Keeler doesn’t know what he’ll get from Hurley, who has played in just four college games and thrown a total of 16 passes (completing 9 for 115 yards with an interception). Keeler, of course, has a pretty good idea of Hurley’s potential after scouting him and then going through spring football and now summer camp with him. However, what you see in practice isn’t always what you get in games and Keeler is certainly aware of that.
But he also knows this — his only chance to bring another championship to Newark is if Hurley ends up being what the Hens hope and pray he’ll be. And he can’t become that standing on the sideline watching somebody else play.
The only problem is that it might not happen this year. That also has been the pattern with transfer QBs like Andy Hall and Joe Flacco and Pat Devlin — they struggle some their first season in the Hens’ system, and when the quarterback struggles in the Hens’ system, all the Hens struggle.
Those were quarterbacks good enough to play in the NFL and if needed a year to adjust completely there’s a good chance Hurley will, too. But the payoff for that patience has been worth it – Hall won a national championship and Flacco and Devlin both made it to the championship game.
There’s no way of knowing whether Hurley can eventually fill those big shoes. Not every Delaware transfer QB has been a success and in a league and a division that gets more competitive every year, there are no guarantees. And it’s not as if he was transferring from Southern Cal or Alabama – Bowling Green isn’t exactly a football factory, so it’s not like the Hens have landed a premier blue-chipper.
But at least Hurley gives the Hens a chance to be great. At least he makes Delaware football more interesting this season as we watch and wait and wonder.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.