Stellar start: Rosen stacks ups with Winston, Tebow in debut
Josh Rosen's first college start for UCLA drew rave reviews, along with comparisons to recent debuts of Heisman Trophy winners such as Jameis Winston and Tim Tebow.
Tebow won the Heisman as a sophomore, Winston as a redshirt freshman. At some point a true freshman will win the award. Rosen seems equipped to be the first.
In fact, his brilliant start - 28 for 35 for 351 yards and three touchdowns in UCLA's 34-16 victory against Virginia - was no surprise to those who have worked with him before.
''There are a handful of guys in my six years of doing this that you see a pro at 17 years old. He's one,'' said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who coached Rosen at the Elite 11 competition for top high school quarterbacks in 2014.
Quarterbacks enter college more advanced physically and mentally than ever before. Access to all sorts of personal coaches and trainers, plus year-round football have many ready for success soon after they step on a college campus.
Rosen is still ahead of the curve.
Dilfer said Rosen's understanding of defenses as a high schooler was uncanny. The former NFL quarterback credits Rosen's football smarts to a combination of intelligence and the high-level coaching he received at southern California football powerhouse St. John Bosco High School.
Asked about Rosen's confidence that borders on cockiness and Dilfer is quick to correct: ''I don't think it's bordering.''
Dilfer coached Rosen hard and was publicly critical of him at Elite 11 because of that cockiness, but he doesn't think it's a negative.
''I think it's necessary to succeed,'' Dilfer said. ''I wanted him to open his mind to more football. I thought the danger was in him thinking what he knew was enough.''
UCLA coach Jim Mora took a similar approach, chastising the young quarterback in practice in front of reporters about a week before naming him the starter. Mora tried to hold down the hype after Rosen's sensational start, but he knew the 18-year-old would not wilt in the Rose Bowl.
''He kept a very even-keeled demeanor throughout the game, whether it was three-and-out or a touchdown. He came to the sideline and was able to communicate information to the coaching staff and was able to absorb information we gave him,'' Mora said Sunday.
Dilfer saw a key piece of development in Rosen's first start. Dilfer says a quarterback's eyes and feet need to work together for a passer to effectively and quickly find an open receiver after the first option is covered.
''I saw a poised player and matched feet and eyes that I didn't see in high school,'' Dilfer said.
One of the other players Dilfer cites when talking about spotting future NFL players in high school is Winston, whose first start for Florida State was a lot like Rosen's.
Sometimes, though, a promising start can be a peak. It never got any better for Kenny Hill at Texas A&M than his first game as Johnny Manziel's successor last year. Hill, though, did not come to college with Rosen's pedigree.
Here are the first college starts of the last seven quarterbacks to win the Heisman, four of which won the award in their first seasons as the starter.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon, 2014 Heisman winner
First start: 18 for 22 (81.8 percent), 200 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. 24 yards rushing, 4 carries in a 57-34 win against Arkansas State in 2012 as a redshirt freshman.
Jameis Winston, Florida State, 2013 Heisman winner
First start: 25 for 27 (92.6), 356 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs. 25 yards rushing, 8 carries, 1 TD in a 41-13 win at Pittsburgh in 2013 as a redshirt freshman.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, 2012 Heisman winner
First start: 23 for 30 (76.7), 173 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs. 60 yards rushing, 17 carries, 1 TD in a 20-17 loss to Florida in 2012 as a redshirt freshman.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor, 2011 Heisman winner
First start: 15 for 19 (78.9), 294 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. 42 yards rushing, 10 carries, 1 TD in a 51-6 victory against Northwestern State in 2008 as a freshman.
Cam Newton, Auburn, 2010 Heisman winner
First start: 9 for 14 (64.2), 186 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. 171 yards rushing, 15 carries, 2 TDs in a 52-26 victory against Arkansas State in 2010 as a junior.
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma, 2008 Heisman winner
First start: 21 for 23 (91.3) 363 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. 10 yards rushing, 2 carries in a 79-10 victory against North Texas in 2007 as a redshirt freshman.
Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007 Heisman winner
First start: 13 for 17 (76.5), 300 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. 38 yards rushing, 8 carries, 1 TD in a 49-3 victory against Western Kentucky in 2007 as a sophomore.
AP college website: www.collegefootballl.ap.org