An obvious CFL trend over the years has been that many quarterbacks who were big names in the NCAA haven't exactly dominated three-down football. That's been particularly notable over the last calendar year, with former Florida pivot Chris Leak, ex-Hawaii star Colt Brennan and one-time Michigan man Tate Forcier all being cut. Of course, those three had somewhat different levels of success in college; Brennan broke NCAA passing records with mid-major Hawaii, while Leak wasn't dominant but still was the quarterback on a national championship team with Florida, while Forcier had one good year at Michigan before being overtaken by Denard Robinson and then bouncing from school to school. They all were relatively well-known before they went north, though, and they all washed out of the CFL quickly, while guys like Thomas DeMarco, Scott Riddle and Justin Goltz who played at lower levels in the NCAA still have CFL jobs. Having a job is one thing and being a starting quarterback is another, though, so it's worth examining just where all eight projected CFL starters this year came from (in a school sense rather than a birds-and-the-bees sense, of course). Here's that information:
What's notable is that while none of these starters came from Division II or Division III (unlike guys like Goltz), most were a much smaller deal in college than the three high-profile cuts mentioned above. Two starting quarterbacks (B.C.'s Travis Lulay and Toronto's Ricky Ray) played at the FCS level (the old I-AA, or effectively the second level of NCAA football), while three more (Montreal's Anthony Calvillo, Edmonton's Steven Jyles and Winnipeg's Buck Pierce) played in conferences outside the BCS auto-qualification process (which is restricted to the biggest six conferences, although that entire setup is changing), and even the three who played in AQ conferences weren't all at high-profile schools. Hamilton's Henry Burris played at Temple while the Owls were in the Big East, one of the lesser AQ conferences, and shortly after he left, they were kicked out for their non-competitiveness, spending years as an independent and then in the lower-profile Mid-American Conference. (They'll be joining the Big East again in 2013, but it's unlikely it will still be a power conference by then.) Saskatchewan's Darian Durant played at North Carolina in the ACC, but although he set plenty of school records, the Tar Heels have hardly been a football powerhouse, and they were just 19-30 during his four seasons there. The exception who was actually a legitimate college star during his NCAA career is Calgary's Drew Tate, who played for the Iowa Hawkeyes and led them to some reasonable success. In this crowd of starters, that makes him a notable outlier.
Why is this? Well, the primary factor is likely that most of the big-college stars are taken by the NFL, and even the ones who don't find incredible success there manage to hang on as backups or on practice rosters. Thus, the CFL's picking from a smaller pool, so they sometimes have to dig a little deeper, and big-name guys like Forcier, Leak and Brennan may have been passed over by the NFL for a reason. It seems there may be more to it than just that, though. Another element could be that adjusting to the CFL game can be difficult, and perhaps guys who weren't as well-known in college are more prepared to change how they approach things and put in extra work. Whatever's behind it, though, the current crop of starters have proven that you don't have to be a big-college star to excel in the three-down game. In fact, maybe you're better off if you don't have a high profile.