In the footsteps of giants: How Myles Brennan, Mac Jones can achieve the impossible this season
Some college football experts consider Tommie Frazier the best quarterback to never win the Heisman Trophy.
After he led Nebraska to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995, a kid named Scott Frost took the reins. The Huskers were shut out in Frost’s second game as the starter in 1996. A year later, Nebraska fans booed him during a shaky Week 2 win.
Frost is a little busy trying to restore the Huskers to previous glory as head coach. But if they have a spare moment, Myles Brennan and Mac Jones might want to at least pull up Frost’s bio.
The thing about tired cliches is they’re often true, and it’s indeed accurate there’s no replacing legends the likes of Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa.
That’s the nature of college football. It’s why recruiting is paramount. Players come. Players go.
And yet that also presents Brennan and Jones, the heirs apparent for SEC West contenders LSU and Alabama, respectively, plenty of case studies for how to successfully follow up some of the best to ever do it.
Lean on experience
Both Brennan and Jones can start with themselves.
Burrow’s historic 2019 season afforded Brennan some mop-up duty last year. The Long Beach, Mississippi product performed admirably — 24-for-40 passing, 353 yards and a touchdown.
Jones’ experience is, of course, more comprehensive. Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury saw Jones start the Crimson Tide’s final 4 contests and throw for over 1,500 yards.
Now both have had an entire offseason to study film and tweak deficiencies knowing they’ll be “the guy” when the season starts. COVID-19’s impact on spring ball and the normal offseason schedule made time for even more mental reps.
“This offseason was a little different, obviously like we were talking about, but just being back home, working with quarterback coaches, just working on everyday things,” Jones said during a recent radio appearance on the “Zach Gelb Show.” “Like I would go into full pads, just to make sure I was getting real reps back home, I wasn’t just doing it in my shorts. Just making sure that I was ready to go, whenever the time was going to come.”
Be ready for some hate
Frost was benched for part of Nebraska’s Sept. 13, 1997 game against UCF. When he returned, a smattering of boos was audible in Memorial Stadium.
By January of 1998, just a few months later, he was accepting a national championship ring from coach Tom Osborne.
That’s not to say the fan bases of LSU and Bama will have it out for Brennan or Jones if they struggle early (again, COVID-19 has something to say about this, with limited capacity at both schools’ venues). Social media, though, is the new fishbowl, and you can bet the haters will make themselves heard as soon as Brennan throws an interception or Jones fumbles a snap.
Kids in Louisiana and Alabama dream of growing up to hold the position of starting quarterback for the Tigers and Tide. And yet the scrutiny today’s college athlete falls under isn’t at all enviable. It’s pretty much impossible to stay off Twitter and Instagram, especially if you’re trying to build a personal brand.
But there are two paths you can go by, as Robert Plant would say: Either compartmentalize it and set it aside or use it as fuel.
“I wasn’t going to let adversity or any challenges get in the way and make me crumble, you know,” Brennan said earlier this offseason when discussing waiting behind Burrow.
Embrace the opportunity
Ken Stabler followed Joe Namath and Steve Sloan, leading the Tide to an 11-0 mark in 1966. Stabler’s rebellious, rockstar lifestyle is well-documented, but he credits coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for giving him an opportunity and keeping him on the straight and narrow.
“Without Coach Bryant saving me,” Stabler said in author Mike Freeman’s book “Snake: The Legendary Life of Ken Stabler,” “I guess I’d be a bartender somewhere.”
There seems to be little risk of that for Brennan or Jones. But theirs isn’t a role for the faint-hearted.
Florida’s John Brantley had to take over for Tim Tebow in 2010. A year later, Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley split time in the wake of Cam Newton.
Both the Gators and Auburn finished 8-5 with 4-4 SEC marks in those seasons.
Not every next man up is a Ken Stabler. Which brings us to our final point …
This goes for player as well as fan. College football teams with a new full-time starting quarterback already face a plethora of variables. Add in the novel coronavirus and its unprecedented impact, and it’s hard to find a more convoluted and challenging situation for a new man under center.
College careers sometimes feel like a ticking time clock. But if things go awry, it’ll be incumbent upon Brennan and Jones, their teams and support systems, to stay grounded.
That’s a lesson we can all learn from this year.
“He has sat patiently … him and his family,” Orgeron said of Brennan on ESPN 104.5 Baton Rouge earlier this year. “They have believed in LSU. I told them we believe in Myles. Now it’s his time. We believe that he is very talented, but there are some things that he has to get better at. But Joe had to get better his first year too and continue to grow. Like I said before, all we want is the best Myles Brennan and that’s going to be good enough for us.”