Both the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Golden Gophers are fighting for their post-season lives, and while the Vikings look closer to competing than the Gophers, the U can rest assured that at least they have their QB of the present, and the future in Philip Nelson. Christian Ponder's present has been disappointing, and his future right now is very much in doubt.
It wouldn't just be stating the obvious, but OVER-stating the obvious, to say the quarterback position is more important than ever to success in both pro and college football. If you watched college football on Saturday, you saw the top teams- Bama, Oregon, K-State and Notre Dame- all led to victory by their outstanding QB's. On Sunday, you saw it at the next level too as QB's like Peyton Manning (Is this season the most impressive of his career? Playing with a fused neck and noodle arm and he's still leading his team to victory? Amazing), Aaron Rodgers, and that guy who replaced Manning as just a few examples of excellent quarterbacking being instrumental to their teams' success.
Now, more than ever, having the right QB is a necessity if you want to win. You don't necessarily have to have a hall-of-famer or Heisman tropy or All-American candidate (although that certainly helps), but what matters is having the RIGHT quarterback for your system. Oregon's Marcus Mariota might not be as good running Alabama's or USC's offense, but thus far he's been the perfect fit for the Ducks' ridonkluous spread attack. Taylor Martinez will always be an arm-punter as a passer, but he's a great fit for Nebraska's run-based option offense, and he has the Huskers as the top bowl-eligible team in the Big Ten right now. Matt Schaub is not a top-5 NFL QB, but he has the Texans' going pretty good right now.
When it comes to the Gophers and Vikings, both teams are struggling this season, yet there's much more hope (or at least there should be) with one fan base than the other because it looks like one team has found their quarterback, while the other has most certainly not. Gopher true freshman Philip Nelson still has a long ways to go to be a good college quarterback, but through his first three games he's looked promising (for what it's worth, I don't MarQueis Gray or Max Shortell would have done any better against Michigan's defense on Saturday. That's a group of men amongst boys that the Wolverines have), and certainly looks to be the right fit for Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover's offense. He's a good enough athlete to run the option keeper and be dangerous, and showed against Purdue he's got the arm, smarts and poise to help Minnesota excel in the passing game too. The team still looks a long ways away from contending for the division, let alone the conference, but at least as Gophers fans we know we have the right quarterback. Sure, like the entire team, he's a long way from a finished product, but three games into his tenure as Minnesota's starting QB I can't help but be excited for Nelson's- and the team's- future.
For the Vikings and their fans (of which I am one), it's a much different story. Despite the immense talent of Pro Bowl players like Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway, the Vikings once-promising season is going down in flames. Or should I say, in 4 yard dump passes that don't result in first downs. While the team's losing of late can't, or maybe a better word is shouldn't, be attributed to just one thing or one player, the majority of the blame this morning is falling on the shoulders of second year QB Christian Ponder. After a solid start, Ponder's last month of football has been nothing short of abysmal, and has failed to throw for more than 70 yards in two of his past three games. No really, that actually happened- A starting NFL QB couldn't throw for more than 70 yards in a game not once, but twice.
Not surprisingly, Ponder has faced the brunt of criticsm and abuse from Vikings fans for his and the team's struggles. His issues as compounded because there's not just a simple cut-and-dried answer: there's no guarantee Joe Webb, or any of the other Vikings backups, could do any better, and there's no other short or long term answer on the roster. There's also the fact that yesterday's loss was just the 16th start of Ponder's young career, the equivalent on just one full season. Yes, he's struggling right now, but is Minnesota ready to pull the plug on a former first round pick barely two years, and one full season's worth of starts, into his career?
Not that I'm a Ponder fan, or necessarily think he can turn this around, but there's one other fact being left out of the "Ponder Sucks!" discussion: he has argubaly the worst group of outside receivers in the NFL. There is nobody- and I mean NOBODY- who threatens a defense in the slightest who lines up at outside receiver for your Minnesota Vikings. Guys like Malcom Jenkins, Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu not only wouldn't start for any other NFL team, but they'd be lucky to make the team for most of them. Maybe Ponder can't throw a deep ball or get it down field well, or maybe we're not going to know until they get him some help in the offseason.
And all of that leads to the frustrating reality for Vikings fans that they're no closer to find a short or long term answer at quarterback than they were last year, or the year before, or really for the past umpteen seasons since Daunte Culpepper stopped being an effective NFL starter. The Vikes, despite all of the individual talents on that team, aren't going to the playoffs without a good quarterback, and not only do they not have an answer as to whether they have that good quarterback, but there are no easy solutions to finding one either. The Gophers might be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten yet again, but they're one winnable game away from the post-season, and more importantly, they know they've found their quarterback, the RIGHT quarterback that can lead them into 2013 and beyond.
It may sound crazy, but the Gophers are better off than the Vikings right now, and for the foreseeable future too.