TCU coach Gary Patterson didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d be comfortable starting a true freshman at quarterback this season.
“If he’s the guy …” Patterson said at Big 12 Media Days. “The key is we’re going to play whoever we have to play. Who’s the guy?”
In other words, do not rule out Max Duggan from winning the starting quarterback job for TCU. Duggan has impressed since arriving on campus in January, and has already earned the respect of the coaching staff and teammates.
Patterson has raved repeatedly about Duggan coming from a coaching family. Duggan’s father, Jim, served as a longtime high school football coach in Iowa before retiring after last season.
“He carries himself well,” Patterson said of Duggan. “He had a dad as a coach. His team was the first time they went to the playoffs and got deep in the playoffs, maybe in the history of the school in Iowa playoff history. Obviously he did some things that nobody else was able to do at his high school.”
Maybe Duggan will next do something that no true freshman quarterback has done under Patterson -- become the opening day starter.
Patterson has only had one true freshman start a game during his tenure. Shawn Robinson started for an injured Kenny Hill at Texas Tech in 2017.
Duggan has the background to possibly change that trend. This is a guy who was Iowa’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the No. 5-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country by 247 Sports.
Duggan, a four-star recruit, is coming off a season in which he threw for more than 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns, as well as rushing for 1,200 yards. He’s shown an ability to make a relatively seamless transition to the college level thus far.
TCU receiver Jalen Reagor, who had a 1,000-yard season despite seeing four different quarterbacks take snaps last season, sees no reason why Duggan can’t win the job.
“The ‘freshman thing’ is not an excuse at this school,” Reagor said. “I started as a freshman. Coach P says freshmen are sophomores. Sophomores are juniors, and juniors are supposed to act like seniors. And seniors act like fifth-year guys. So you no longer use being freshman as an excuse.
“If you can play ball, you can play ball.”
True freshman quarterbacks have shown they can play ball at the highest level of college football. The last three national championships have had teams in it that were led by true freshmen -- Alabama’s Jalen Hurts in 2016; Georgia’s Jake Fromm in 2017; and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence last season.
True freshman QBs have had success in the Big 12, too, evident by Iowa State’s Brock Purdy last season. Purdy led the Cyclones to a 6-1 record in seven conference starts last season.
Asked if high school quarterbacks are better prepared to start as true freshman these days, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said: “I don’t know. That’s a really good question. To me, it’s not so much of is a high school player ready. It’s not the quarterback position, it’s the mentality.
“Why Brock was successful for us is because Brock had a great understanding of who he was as a person. He’s got a great foundation on him.”
All signs point to Duggan having a great foundation himself by making such a strong first impression his first few months on campus.
Fox Sports analyst and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart believes that TCU shouldn’t hesitate to start a true freshman should Duggan emerge as the top option over K-State transfer Alex Delton, redshirt freshman Justin Rogers and junior Mike Collins, among others.
“When I was playing, very rarely did true freshmen play,” said Leinart, who didn’t start until his sophomore year at USC and went 37-2 as a starter from 2003-05.
“Football is so different now and these kids are more and more polished and ready out of high school. To me, best quarterback plays. You shouldn’t worry about wasting a redshirt. Whoever wins and whoever you feel is going to win the most games, whether it’s a freshman or if it’s Delton who comes in and has experience, may the best man win.
“True freshman or not, if you’ve got a guy who can play and has confidence, it doesn’t matter.”
Or, simply put, if he’s the guy ...