Max Duggan vs. Stetson Bennett: Two unorthodox journeys to football’s peak

LOS ANGELES โ€” It’s been seven days since the first of this year’s College Football Playoff semifinals kicked off with a wonderful twist: the unmistakable, inimitable grunts of famed UFC announcer Bruce Buffer. He fired up the crowd with his usual theatrics from an end zone at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

“This is Bruce Buffer!” said former Michigan tight end Jake Butt, now a Big Ten Network analyst, as his eyes widened from an elevated perch in the press box. Thousands of fans roared with joy.

Once the game began, Texas Christian galloped away from Michigan to extend its Cinderella season by earning a shot at defending national champion Georgia, and in doing so, the Horned Frogs set the stage for a unusual matchup between two programs that thrived behind their cloths. quarterbacks to rich. It’s fascinating to imagine how Buffer would introduce the two callsigns:

Introducing first, fighting from the purple and white corner: a warrior with a record of 13 wins, one loss. He lost a quarterback competition in fall camp and battled through two surgeries to correct a heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Fans disowned him before they learned to love him. He is 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds. Fighting from Fort Worth, Texas, through Council Bluffs, Iowa…featuring…Heisman Trophy runner-up and Davey O’Brien Award winner… Max Duugggaannn!

And now, introducing the champion, fighting for the red and black corner: a big man who has a record of 14 wins, no losses. He continued one season at Georgia before leaving to attend college. He returned to the Bulldogs as a scholarship athlete and led them to a title last season. He is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 190 pounds. Fighting from Athens, Georgia, through Blackshear, Georgia, and Ellisville, Mississippi…featuring…the reigning, defending and undisputed National Champion… Stetson “The 25 Year Old” Bennnnnettttt!

Not the resumes most people expect on the sport’s biggest stage.

But all fun and banter aside, the unorthodox paths followed by both Duggan and Bennett ran afoul of a recruiting industry obsessed with player rankings, star power and back-to-back tournaments who have morphed into the Instagram-able cousins โ€‹โ€‹of the NFL scouting combine. affectionately known as the underwear Olympics. Their storybook ascensions from afterthoughts and also to the upper echelon of college football reinforces the amount of guesswork involved in extrapolating high school quarterbacks to the next level. And his combination of unwavering commitment and self-belief in the face of relentless criticism underscores just how critical the mental side of quarterbacking is, especially in the age of social media.

“I think it’s all between the ears, how well they handle pressure,” said TCU tight end Jared Wiley, a former high school quarterback. “Is the guy a winner? Is he hard to beat because he’s just that type of competitor? I think with quarterbacks it’s a lot about how you’re prepared and what’s between the ears rather than mechanical issues.”

So how did they get here?

TCU’s Max Duggan wins the Davey O’Brien Award

TCU's Max Duggan wins the Davey O'Brien Award

Duggan was a four-star prospect from the heart of Big Ten country who spent three seasons as TCU’s starter before first-year head coach Sonny Dykes benched him in favor of backup Chandler Morris. He ruled out transferring to another school to complete his career at TCU, and teammates say there was no discernible difference in his demeanor before and after the depth chart shift. When Morris was injured early in the season, Duggan regained the starting job and quickly threw for 3,546 yards and 40 total touchdowns en route to the national title game at SoFi Stadium on Monday night. Now, Dykes says Duggan should be enshrined in the TCU football hall of fame alongside former quarterback Andy Dalton, whose 2010 team went undefeated and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Bennett, on the other hand, was a two-star recruit who grew up four hours southeast of Athens. He was ranked as the No. 2,569 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite and had scholarship offers from Columbia, Georgia Southern, Mercer and Middle Tennessee State, passing them aside to walk on at Georgia. A freshman season came and went without a single appearance for Bennett, who was one of four Bulldogs to be named Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year, and that avoided a humbling decision : Stay in Georgia and try to move up the depth chart. without much playing time, or transfer to another position to get more reps on the field. He chose the latter and, in 2018, led Jones College to a 10-2 record while throwing for 1,840 yards and 16 touchdowns to earn a three-star rating as the No. 166 junior college prospect.

Stetson Bennett rushes 64 yards for a touchdown

Stetson Bennett rushes 64 yards for a touchdown

“His mom and him came into my office and said he was leaving to go to college,” head coach Kirby Smart said, “and he wanted to play and he felt like he was good enough to play and he wanted to play. And I knew there was no guarantee he would play at our place the following season, but I knew he could play (somewhere) if he went to Mississippi (and had some experience).

“They sat there with complete confidence, and I didn’t doubt him. I just didn’t know if he was in Georgia (where he would have a chance). And that conviction that they had when they sat in my office should have- he did. he said, “there’s something special about this guy.”

At the LA Convention Center, where the CFP held its media day event, a host of quarterbacks and coaches offered a variety of explanations for how players like Duggan and Bennett, each of whom is now the engine of the success of your team; each of whom was invited to New York City last month as a Heisman Trophy finalist; can be overlooked on the recruiting trail and then again within their own programs after arriving on campus.

Some pointed to the philosophical differences between coaches known for being patient enough to develop quarterbacks over multiple seasons and others who rely primarily on prospects they believe are plug-and-play options as underclassmen. Some cited a wider chasm in the caliber of instruction from one high school team to another, a discrepancy further compounded by quarterbacks whose families can afford additional private instruction. Others pointed to the problems posed by COVID-19, when some states canceled high school football while others did not, which in turn produced quarterbacks with vastly different experience despite identical rankings of class

But the reason most cited by Bulldogs and Horned Frogs alike was how difficult it is to predict the kind of inexorable willpower their current quarterbacks possess, that uncanny ability to “turn up the temperature in a room” simply by being -hi, as Dykes explained when asked what makes Duggan so special.

It’s the moxie Bennett channeled to complete 12 of 14 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns to erase a second-half deficit against Ohio State. It’s the lung-busting effort Duggan summoned in a shootout win against Michigan when he accounted for four of his team’s five offensive touchdowns a week after bleeding out during a narrow loss in the Big 12 title game.

“If you have that,” TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley said, “that’s going to go a long way in college football. Everybody’s good; every quarterback is going to be competitive, I don’t care what school you go to. So if you have somebody that he’s mentally strong, mentally tough and understands those things, that brings a lot of value to the recruiting side.”

The challenge, of course, is to find it.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

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