When Jimmy Garoppolo became the OVC’s career leader for touchdowns and passing yards, I knew we were seeing greatness. But how great is Garoppolo when you put him against the other great quarterbacks that have come through the conference?
The Spoo Years
We go back to 2010, when Eastern Illinois was the bottom of the conference and coached by Bob Spoo, to get our first look at Garoppolo. Listed as the backup, Garoppolo would make his way onto the field just four games into the season with his first start against then No. 4 Jacksonville State. In his debut Garoppolo struggled, as any freshman would, throwing two interceptions in a 28-23 loss.
Starting the final eight games in 2010, Garoppolo earned All-Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer team honors his freshman year. While Garoppolo was shaky, he finished the year with over 1,600 passing yards with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Garoppolo showed a preview of what was to come over the team’s final four games going 68-109 for 1,052 yards with 12 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.
In Spoo’s final year, Garoppolo’s numbers continued to rise with the sophomore tossing over 2600 yards with 20 touchdowns and averaging 240 yards a game. More importantly the team didn’t have a running game and depended heavily on Garoppolo, more than what we see under Babers. There was no running game to protect the young signal caller as EIU backs only averaged close to 90 yards on the ground in his two years under Spoo. It seems easy to say that the team depended on Garoppolo even before the majority of us knew of him.
When Dino Babers arrived in Charleston, Illinois, nobody expected what happened with the team selected last in the preseason poll. Babers was a wide receivers coach from Baylor, who were coming off a year that saw RG III bring home the Heisman. While everyone sees the big numbers, over 3800 yards and 31 touchdowns, he continued to throw interceptions. Garoppolo’s 15 last season was the highest in his career and something that he needed to develop.
Garoppolo was the guy tossing the passes to wide receiver Erik Lora, who finished top five in voting for the Walter Payton Award, keeping the quarterback out of the spotlight. Even out of the spotlight, Garoppolo finished tenth in the FCS’s top award.
This season we have seen Garoppolo like we have never seen him before. Averaging over 400 passing yards a game, he is on pace for nearly 5,000 yards. While the touchdowns are up, 23 in just five games for the Panthers, his interceptions are down. Way down. His four interceptions have been good interceptions as well, with two coming with his receiver falling down on a route. He is the conference’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 88, passing yards with 10,032 and is on pace to set the single season passing yards record again which is 3,823. Garoppolo is on pace to break the single season touchdowns record of 34, as well as the OVC’s career completions record of 938 and attempts (1407). Currently Garoppolo sits at 823 completions and 1,331 attempts for a 61.8 career completion percentage as the Panthers are on a bye
All these numbers are great, but there are still doubters to whether Garoppolo is the greatest quarterback in the conference’s history.
Product of the Babers system
The first argument is that Babers pass happy offense has boosted Garoppolo’s numbers. The numbers may suggest that, but in his early years Garoppolo was putting up nearly identical numbers. In his sophomore year under Spoo, Garoppolo completed 217 passes, and averaged 12 yards a completion. Under Babers in 2012, Garoppolo completed 331 passes and averaged 11.5 yards a completion. The difference was the amount of passes and yes Babers gives quarterbacks numerous chances to throw the ball, but you have to make the plays.
Damond Talbot of NFLDraftDiamonds says that it was Babers that fine tuned the quarterback. “In his sophomore year before Babers, Garoppolo showed that he had the talent,” Talbot said. “I think that Babers has played a vital role in the development of Garoppolo, because of his expertise in scoring and high powered offenses.”
Talbot went on to say that Garoppolo seemed to fight the Babers system last season making the wrong reads that lead to the increase in interceptions.
I completely agree with this analysis and Garoppolo has looked more at ease this season. He is in year two of the offensive system but he seems to making the correct reads. Most quarterbacks have raw talent and need to mentored into a great quarterback, which the conference’s quarterbacks has had. Romo had Spoo, Brockman had Chris Hatcher,and Garoppolo has Babers.
Not better than Romo
The biggest opponent to Jimmy Garoppolo being the best quarterback in OVC history is Tony Romo. Yes, the Dallas Cowboy quarterback. He attended Eastern Illinois from 1999-2002 and led the Panthers to three straight trips to the FCS playoffs. The awards for Romo includes a Walter Payton Award from his senior season, only one in OVC history, and is a three-time OVC Offensive Player of the Year award. During his While Garoppolo has yet to win the conference’s top offensive award, he is certainly on his way to doing so this year. He has topped the 85 touchdown passes record that Romo left behind for the conference.
From a scout’s point of view the two are quite similar but Garoppolo is getting the NFL draft buzz that Romo didn’t a decade ago. “They are both competitors, they hate when they do something wrong,” Talbot said. “Tony was more likely to take the ball down and scramble while Jimmy will look to pass. Jimmy is athletic enough to get the first down anytime he wants it, but he trusts his arm.”
Romo in his EIU days set the conference’s record for career passing touchdowns (85), and single season touchdowns (34). The most impressive record that Romo owns and might stand for awhile is his 16-16 game against Indiana State in 2001.
When I posed the question to Talbot over which quarterback he would recommend to a general manager his answer was Garoppolo saying that he want him to sit behind a vetern for a year to develop.
Just last year there was another quarterback putting up amazing numbers, his name was Casey Brockman. He was so good that the OVC decided to feature his photo in the football media guide when showing the passing records.
Brockman had a great career and ended his four years at Murray State just short of 10,000 passing yards and held the conference’s record. Brockman along with yards record holds (for now) the career completions record at 938. He also threw for 3,700 yards in his senior season and completed over 350 passes both records. On the individual game record section you see Brockman’s name alot. Brockman holds the OVC single game records for completions (45), passing yards (600) and touchdowns (8), along with an NCAA record 422 passing yards in a half. Brockman owns the league’s highest completion percentage as the Racer QB completed just over 67 percent of his passes.
The quarterback that many refer to as the greatest before Tony Romo came into the league, is former Morehead State QB Chris Swartz who played for the Eagles from 1987-90. While Swartz and the Eagles never finished above .500, his stats were the leagues best two decades. The right handed QB set the career passing mark of 9,028 yard and held as the league’s record for 22 years before being topped by Brockman. Along with the career passing yards, Swartz set the OVC’s completions (774) and passing touchdowns (55) records. He currently holds the OVC’s career record for passing attempts at 1,407 (for now).
Who is the best?
We are seeing a great quarterback and its rare that record breaking performances happen. Could he be the greatest quarterback in OVC history? The stats show that and even our scout believes he is better than Romo. Only time will tell if Garoppolo will be a great NFL quarterback but we deal strictly with FCS football and the stats speak for themselves.
We could not only be in the midst of the best season in OVC history, but the greatest quarterback career in conference history.If you have the chance to see Garoppolo in person this season, make plans and do it. You are seeing the greatest QB in the conference’s history.