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  • If you could pair any quarterback from two decades ago with any offensive mind today, who would you pick? Plus, the battle for Los Angeles, the true beneficiaries of the Olympic model and the rest of this week's #DearAndy mailbag.
By Andy Staples
May 16, 2019

It’s May, and it’s time to start imagining. So we’ll start with a very imaginative question…

From @LouBrown1989: You can pair one pre-2000 QB with one current offensive play-caller. Who do you choose? Some options: Dan Marino with Mike Leach, Steve Young with Urban Meyer/Ryan Day, Michael Vick with Gus Malzahn.

This is a great question, and the Marino suggestion makes it even more interesting. We’ve all wondered aloud what a great dual-threat quarterback like Steve Young or Michael Vick would have looked like in today’s college offenses, but what about a less mobile QB with a cannon arm and one of the quickest releases of all time?

Lou, who did a great job managing the Cleveland Indians in Major League, is spot on when he hooks up Marino with Leach. The key to succeeding in the Air Raid is getting the ball out quickly and decisively. No one was quicker and more decisive than Marino during his days with the Dolphins.

When Marino played at Pittsburgh from 1979 to ’82, he played in a fairly pass-happy offense—by the standards of the day—on some very good teams. (Jackie Sherrill coached the Panthers for Marino’s first three years, and they went 33–3 before Sherrill went to Texas A&M.) But Marino’s numbers would not be considered great today. In his best collegiate season in 1981, Marino completed 226 of 380 attempts (59.5%) for 2,876 yards with 37 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Marino’s 7.6 yards an attempt would be average today, and his completion percentage would be considered less than ideal. Last season in Leach’s offense, Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew completed 468 of 662 attempts (70.7%) for 4,779 yards with 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Marino, playing in a college offense that usually required deeper throws into tighter windows, averaged more per attempt than Minshew did completing passes at a high rate in a much more QB-friendly offense.

So what might Marino have done? He probably would have completed a much higher percentage of his passes, and he threw a better deep ball than any quarterback Leach has coached. Kyler Murray averaged an obscene 11.6 yards an attempt playing in Lincoln Riley’s Leach-based offense at Oklahoma. It’s conceivable Marino could get close to that number, but because Marino couldn’t run like Murray and wouldn’t have a line like Murray had, he would have been throwing at least 40 times a game. The yardage and touchdown totals would have been astronomical.

I love the pairing of Vick and Malzahn. Vick had an even better arm than Cam Newton and was faster than Nick Marshall, so that would have made him ideal for Malzahn’s offense. Pair him with a decent back, and defenses would have been so terrified of the run game that Vick would have been throwing to single-covered (or wide-open) receivers all day. Vick would have been virtually unstoppable in Malzahn’s offense.

I like the fit of Young in the Meyer/Dan Mullen offense, but the players I would have love to have seen play in that scheme are Daunte Culpepper and Jared Lorenzen. Culpepper was 6'4" and 255 pounds with a phenomenal arm and decent speed. Imagine him running the plays Tim Tebow ran at Florida. Culpepper might have led the nation in passing and rushing touchdowns in that offense. The same goes for Lorenzen, whose freakish athleticism has gotten lost in the rubbernecking that has accompanied his ballooning weight in later life. At Kentucky, Lorenzen was 6'3" and 288 pounds, but he moved like a player 60 pounds lighter and threw a magnificent deep ball. That would have been devastating to defenses trying to combat the single-wing concepts in the Meyer/Mullen offense. If they loaded the box, Lorenzen would have launched balls over the top. If they tried to help the secondary, Lorenzen would have surged forward for five or more yards every play.

All of these pairings would have been glorious. That is why we need to truly appreciate when an actual quarterback/coach pairing is perfect like the Murray/Riley one last year.

From Tim: When, if ever, will we see UCLA and USC both ranked in the top 10 at the same time?

There is enough talent in Southern California—and USC and UCLA have enough cachet to recruit elsewhere—that stocking the roster of two top-10 teams simultaneously is definitely doable. The question is whether the two programs will ever have two coaches simultaneously who can pull off the feat.

We know UCLA’s Chip Kelly can build a top-10 program. He did it at Oregon. He’ll need more time to overhaul the Bruins’ roster to get them there, but the improvement that team showed as last season progressed—highlighted by a late-season win against USC—suggests Kelly has UCLA moving in the desired direction.

We know USC can land top-10 talent, and the recruiting rankings suggest the Trojans have something close to that right now. I think the addition of offensive coordinator Graham Harrell will allow USC to take full advantage of a deep group of offensive skill position players. The issue in Troy is on both lines of scrimmage. USC has underachieved on the offensive and defensive lines throughout the Clay Helton era. If the Trojans want to get back into the top 10 consistently, then they’ll need to prove they can play well up front consistently.

So yes, it is possible for both teams to build top-10 programs. The question is whether Helton will be able to hang in long enough to help do his part for USC.

From Dan: The thinking seems to be that the Olympic model for paying players would help the five-stars the most, but isn’t it great for position groups? The offensive line endorsing steakhouses, local roofers using the DBs in commercials (good coverage), etc.?

Wouldn’t an insurance agent want to use the DBs to advertise good coverage? And would you know you have a problem in the secondary if a diner wanted to hire the DBs to advertise its toast? We’re going to see a lot of questions like this one as school and conference officials discuss the issue of name, image and likeness rights as part of an NCAA working group. It’s impossible to tell now how tight or loose any new rules would be, but I’m not sure this sort of thing would happen during any early iterations.

I do think a more loose system is inevitable eventually, though. When that happens, and we could be talking decades, it will make for some delightfully cheesy commercials. But here’s one ad I know would never have happened in any era. The members of the 2007 Appalachian State offensive line would have flat refused to endorse the Brazilian steakhouse where they dined the Thursday before the Mountaineers upset Michigan. Just because a bunch of large men won’t stop asking for more meat doesn’t mean it’s O.K. to shorten the cooking time.

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