It's hard to be shocked at any player transferring from a college program anymore, but disappointment, worry and even panic are in ready supply anytime a highly regarded player decides to move on. So it was last night when Britton Ransford of WazzuWatch.com broke the news that one-time four-star quarterback Tyler Bruggman has decided to leave WSU.
Bruggman was widely considered the heir apparent to Connor Halliday, but there were indications this past spring that the transition from one "franchise" QB to the next wouldn't be quite as smooth as we all assumed. Bruggman was in a tight battle with fellow redshirt freshman Luke Falk for the 2014 backup spot in which it sure sounded like Falk was outplaying Bruggman in practice.
Then Bruggman's struggles were put on national TV for all to see as he floundered in the Crimson and Gray game in Spokane. While the physical tools were obvious, it was equally obvious that he lacked command of the offense, indecisive with his reads and sustaining sacks one minute, then forcing balls into coverage the next. He was 12 of 28 for 154 yards and no touchdowns with three interceptions, and while spring stats don't always tell the story, they did on this day.
By contrast, Falk was 20 of 31 for 213 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions. While he clearly couldn't throw the ball with the same kind of velocity as Bruggman, he displayed an understanding of the offense beyond what you might expect from a guy who spent the majority of last year leading the scout team.
Bruggman -- locked in what I would guess was the first real competition for playing time of his career -- appeared to be losing the competition, despite being given every possible chance to win the job. However, this was far from some kind of referendum on his potential -- I noted after the spring game that Bruggman didn't look all that unlike Halliday in his first spring game at the helm of the Air Raid. There was no reason to think Bruggman couldn't mature along a similar path, even if he spent next season as the third string QB.
But now his WSU career actually is very much dead. Why he left isn't really important -- best of luck to the kid wherever he ends up -- because whatever the reason, we're left to ponder the impact of the last three scholarship quarterbacks transferring before ever even seeing their third years on campus. When Brett Rypien committed elsewhere, I used the following table to show that recruiting quarterbacks is sort of its own weird beast, since only one can play at a time. It generates a lot of turnover -- at many schools, not just WSU -- but it's also generally not a huge deal ... IF you can find a quality multi-year starter every few years.
Signed since 2002 (Career Pass Attempts)
|2002||4-star||Carl Bonnell (0)||-||-|
|2003||2-star||Alex Brink (1,447)||2-star||Kyle Kendrick (0)|
|2004||3-star||Gary Rogers (120)||2-star||Cole Morgan (0)|
|2005||3-star||Arkelon Hall (0)||-||-|
|2007||2-star||Marshall Lobbestael (603)||3-star||Kevin Lopina (256)|
|2008||2-star||Calvin Schmidtke (0)||-||-|
|2009||3-star||Jeff Tuel (864)||-||-|
|2010||3-star||Connor Halliday (1,108)||-||-|
|2011||3-star||Cody Clements (0)||-||-|
|2012||3-star||Austin Apodaca (42)||-||-|
|2013||4-star||Tyler Bruggman (0)||-||-|
|2014||3-star||Peyton Bender (N/A)||-||-|
|2015||3-star||Tyler Hilinski (N/A)||-||-|
I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that it's totally fine that WSU now has nothing to show for its last three scholarships given to quarterbacks. The transfer of Apodaca ensured that in the event of an injury to Halliday in 2014, the Cougs will be trotting out a player with zero game experience, and the transfer of Bruggman now makes it very likely that there will only be two viable candidates to start in 2015: Falk, who will be a redshirt sophomore, and Peyton Bender, who will be a redshirt freshman.
This isn't ideal. But, again, it's not necessarily the end of the world ... IF Falk or Bender prove to be awesome.
A surprising number of fans (in the admittedly small sample of Twitter users) seem to be minimizing the loss of Bruggman because of what Falk showed in the spring game. I've also heard some say that Falk would have been more highly recruited if he hadn't fallen through the cracks because of changing schools.
The message: "This isn't that big of a loss because Falk looked better anyway. He's even a diamond in the rough!"
I cannot concur. There's a reason Bruggman was four stars and a reason Falk was not, and it wasn't because Falk moved around. The reason was plain to see in the spring game: Bruggman can spin it in a way that Falk simply cannot. And while arm strength isn't some kind of Air Raid holy grail, it's an important component if you're going to maximize what the system can do -- a quarterback has to be able to deliver the ball to any part of the field to truly stress the defense.
Can Falk do that? Maybe, but it sure looked to me like there are throws he's going to struggle to make in the Pac-12. People like to say that arm strength isn't everything, and it certainly isn't; they'll even point to guys like Kellen Moore who have had tremendous college success. However, Falk won't be throwing the ball into the massive windows provided by WAC and Mountain West defenses; the field is simply more compact in this conference, as you might remember from watching Lobbestael for a couple of years. Again, maybe his accuracy and decision making compensate for that. But physical tools matter.
Which brings us to Bender, who appears to have those physical tools. While only a three-star recruit, Bender was the 34th ranked pro-style quarterback by 247sports' composite metric, and he was offered a scholarship by Penn State and former coach Bill O'Brien, a noted quarterback guru who now coaches the Houston Texans. When you're being pursued by Leach and O'Brien, you're doing something very right.
Here's what Trent Dilfer had to say about Bender after he participated in the early stages of the Elite 11 camps:
"I think Peyton Bender is a kid that all the things people say that he can't do, are things he does very well," Dilfer said. "He's very athletic. He's got a big arm. He gets it out so quick -- I use the term 'LTA,' load to arrival. The time you start to load the process to the time the ball arrives is what really matters. It's more than arm strength, and it kind of brings everything into the picture. His is as good as anybody in this class. He understands offense; he makes great decisions."
Will he be able to pick up the offense in a year in order to seriously challenge Falk in 2015? We'll see.
Regardless, Cougar fans need to hope for two things: Pristine health for Halliday in 2014 and that either Falk or Bender possesses the skill to be a long time starter.
The margin for error has now disappeared.