Inexact science

Has Terrelle Pryor made up his mind yet? I don’t know about you but I’m getting kind of tired of waiting for his decision.

This, of course, brings up an even bigger question. How do we even know he is going to be a great quarterback in college? Does he have the right stuff to lead somebody to a national championship? was the first to tab Pryor as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit. Most expert analysts, like myself, and recruiting enthusiasts, like you, have concurred in this opinion. However, history would suggest that, even if we are right, this might have very little to do with which quarterback actually leads his team to the national championship three or four years down the road.

Matt Flynn, Matt Mauck, Craig Krenzel, Ken Dorsey, and Josh Heupel, would attest to this. On the flip side, so would Peyton Manning.

When it comes to a quarterback, you just never know who is going to end up being “the guy.”

I have a recruiting story for you that provides a glimpse of just how inexact this recruiting science is.

It was in January of 1990 and I was the head coach at Division I-AA Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. I was waiting for the two big boys in the state – Alabama and Auburn – to lock up all their recruits so I could pick up a few of the late ones who dropped off their lists. That’s pretty much how you get your best players in I-AA. In fact, there was an outstanding quarterback right across town at Hewitt-Trussville High School by the name of Jay Barker who I was hoping to fall into.

I had had my eye on Barker for quite a while. Being a local kid, I had kept up with his progress more closely than other colleges. Plus, he had attended The Bowden Family Quarterback Camp that summer and looked exactly like what you are looking for in a quarterback – 6-3, 215 pounds. He was smart, athletic, and a natural leader. He won the long-ball throwing contest with a distance that still stands as the camp record. More importantly to me, he came from a high school that only threw the ball 6-7 times a game and was almost completely off the recruiting charts of all the big schools around the South. He was the kind of guy who definitely slips through the cracks of this whole recruiting process.

Of course, I can’t take all the credit for uncovering this gem. I had an “inside source” that kept me apprised of everything going on with Barker. His mother, Barbara, was my secretary.

By the second week of January, Jay Barker still did not have a scholarship locked up. Auburn had invited him as a walk-on and if things worked out they would give him a scholarship the next January. It looked like this was going to be his best offer and the one he would probably take. His favorite school since birth, Alabama, had failed to offer him. But change was in the air.

Coach Bill Curry had resigned in December to go to Kentucky and Gene Stallings had arrived after Christmas as the new Crimson Tide boss. Stallings had yet to lock up a quarterback for that year’s recruiting class and in the middle of January he was still looking for one.

. My father, Bobby Bowden of Florida State, was in Birmingham one day to recruit one of the top athletes in the state, and decided to stop by my office. He is a Samford graduate and he loved coming back to visit his alma mater. And, one of his favorite people at Samford just happened to be Barbara Barker.

Well, on this particular day, my secretary asked my father for a big favor. She asked him if he would go by the high school and say hello to her son, Jay, who was still looking for a big-time scholarship offer. Maybe she thought this would cheer her son up, or maybe she thought Bobby would all the sudden offer him a scholarship, but for what ever reason, she was persuasive enough and the old man agreed to go.

The word quickly got out around town that Bobby Bowden had made a personal visit to see Jay Barker at his high school. The sports talk radio shows picked up the news and it quickly became a hot topic. The phones down at the football offices in Tuscaloosa began to ring off the hook from ‘Bama boosters in Birmingham not wanting to see one of their own heading out of town to play for the Seminoles. Within a few days, Stallings, made his own visit over to Hewitt-Trussville High School and extended a scholarship offer to Barker. Auburn’s Pat Dye heard of this turn of events and immediately upped the ante down on the Plains. All of the sudden, Jay Barker had solid offers from both Auburn and Alabama and became the focus of a heated recruiting battle between the two. When it was all over, the Crimson Tide had finally found a quarterback.

So why do I bring up this story?

In early January of 1990 Barker did not have a major scholarship offer. Three years later, he led Alabama to a 13-0 season and the 1992 national championship and was the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Winner. During his years at Alabama he built the best winning percentage of any quarterback in school history (.934 percent) – better than Super Bowl winners Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler – and ended up 35-2-1 as a starter.

He wasn’t the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country, the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the South or even the No. 1 quarterback recruit in Alabama.

He just ended up the No. 1 quarterback.

Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site.

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Updated Thursday, Feb 21, 2008