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Is Mason Rudolph a Top Tier Big 12 Quarterback?

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Has Mason Rudolph proven himself as one of the Big 12’s elite QBs?

Southeastern Louisiana v Oklahoma State Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Is Joe Flacco elite? This is a question that was a hot topic with the talking heads of sports after his Super Bowl win in 2012 (and Super Bowl MVP). Critics of Flacco range from thoughts that “he’s inconsistent” to “he’s always had great defenses”. While on the other hand, some of Flacco’s supporters note his “big arm” and” clutch-gene” that made him a quarterback that any team would want leading their offense. Obviously his teammates think that he’s “elite”, including Terrell Suggs, who was seen sporting the Flacco “Elite” t-shirt from Barstool Sports:

When I think about the “Is Flacco Elite?” debate it reminds me of a similar topic of conversation in college football… Is Mason Rudolph a top tier Big 12 quarterback?

I feel like since the end of last season through now, this has been a hot topic when talking about Big 12 football. On one hand, he led the Cowboys to finish as the 2nd best passing offense in the Big 12 in 2015, with absolutely no help from the running game, and helped them earn a Sugar Bowl bid. On the other hand, he had to split time with JW Walsh last season and he’s looked inaccurate at times this season.

So the question still remains about Rudolph going forward into this season. I wanted to take a look at where he currently ranks among Big 12 quarterbacks a fourth of the way through the season.

As you can see Rudolph ranks, 3rd in yards, 5th in touchdowns, 3rd in attempts and 7th in completion percentage.

ESPN’s preseason Big 12 QB rankings had Rudolph listed as the 4th best quarterback in the Big 12. Here’s how the entire list shaped up:

  1. Baker Mayfield
  2. Patrick Mahomes
  3. Seth Russell
  4. Mason Rudolph
  5. Joel Lanning
  6. Skyler Howard
  7. Kenny Hill
  8. Jesse Ertz
  9. Shane Buechele
  10. Ryan Willis

As you can see, Kansas had a different QB listed. They’ve been going with Cozart, but also still rotating in Willis. Why? Because it’s Kansas, and they are so, so bad.

But, enough about that. The question is, has Mason Rudolph made his way into the conversation as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12?

Well let’s take a look at the three quarterbacks in front of Rudolph on ESPN’s list:

Baker Mayfield

Mayfield was a front-runner in the conference to have a shot at the Heisman trophy, but he has really struggled in OU’s two… yes, two, early losses. However, both losses have been to high quality opponents in Houston and Ohio State, and he’s still putting up good numbers. But, he definitely hasn’t looked like the same guy he did last year. He made some questionable decisions in the Ohio State loss, including a badly forced throw that led to one of his two interceptions in the game. Now the blame can’t be placed all on Mayfield; the offensive line has really struggled this year and he hasn’t gotten much help from his receiving corps.

Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes is putting up HUGE numbers. His 1,493 yards and 14 touchdowns both lead all FBS quarterbacks. He also leads the nation in passer rating at 128.8. Two of the three games TTU has played have been against weaker opponents in Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech, but he also put up video game like stats in the Red Raiders’ matchup against Arizona State. It also doesn’t hurt that he is able to use his elusive running ability to make plays when the protection breaks down. He definitely has my vote as top in the Big 12 at this stage in the season.

Seth Russell

Russell, along with the rest of the Baylor Bear offense, has gotten off to very slow starts against very weak opponents in their first three games. They failed two score in the first quarter against both SMU and Rice. And trust me, Big 12 defenses may not be elite, but they are far superior to what Rice and SMU are running out on the field. All in all, aside from some missed throws and drops from his receivers, Russell is having a pretty good year. His quick release (third-fastest time to throw according to Pro Football Focus) allows him to get the ball to the open man and avoid any chance of getting sacked. He’s not putting up numbers like he did last year, but he looks like he’s starting to hit his stride.

Skyler Howard (WVU) and Kenny Hill (TCU) are also putting up solid numbers, but Howard has been turnover prone in the past and I still need to see more from Hill. I feel like both of these guys are in a tier below the three mentioned above. One could also make a case for Shane Buechele at Texas. Buechele looked amazing in Texas’ first two matchups, but he came back to Earth slightly against Cal last week. He only completed on 19 of his 34 passes. In addition, it’s tough to put a freshman in a class with the Big 12’s elite QBs this early in the season.

So, where does that leave the Cowboy QB1? I think something that stands out to me this year is his throwing accuracy, not only on the incomplete passes, but even some of the ones that are caught. His completion percentage this year is 61.7, which is slightly down from last year’s 62.3. We’ve seen him throw high (a lot), low, over throw and even under throw receivers. But, he’s also made a lot of good throws. He’s dropped some absolute dimes, especially last week against Pittsburgh (via Pistols Firing Blog):

And, in my opinion, he throws the deep ball better than any QB in the conference.

He’s looked poised at times and at times he looks like he’s pressing and lacking confidence. His Passer Efficiency Rating of 151.3 per ESPN currently ranks him 5th in the Big 12 so far this year. However, this number is actually up from last year’s 149.1 rating.

Coach Gundy said on his weekly radio show on Tuesday that maybe some of the NFL talk has gotten to Mason and he is “pressing a little bit”.

In conclusion, considering the lack of running game and the below average offensive line, I think Mason has handled himself very well. Even though he hasn’t looked as accurate this year on the short to medium routes, we know he is capable of it. We also know he is capable of making plays like this:

I think that Rudolph is having himself a pretty good year so far, and I think he’s starting to put it all together heading into Big 12 play. I have him currently ranked as the 3rd best quarterback in the Big 12 at this point in the season. This is one spot above where ESPN had him at the beginning of the season. I don’t think he’s in the same class as Mahomes, who I think has the #1 spot currently, but I would include him in the mix with Mayfield, Russell, Howard, Hill and Buechele. I think the top 5 currently shapes out like this:

  1. Mahomes
  2. Russell
  3. Rudolph
  4. Mayfield
  5. Buechele

With Howard and Kenny Trill close behind.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Where does Mason rank amount Big 12 QBs? How does your top 5 look?