clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kenny Hill shows that at Texas A&M, talent trumps experience

In hindsight, maybe we shouldn't have been shocked by rookie quarterback Kenny Hill's performance against South Carolina.

Grant Halverson

At SEC Media Days in July, the conference announced that the media had picked the Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M Aggies to finish sixth in the SEC West.

This made sense. The Aggies were handing the reins of the offense to a sophomore quarterback who had never started before, and listed 14 freshmen on their depth chart. This inexperience was enough to assume there would be a decline for A&M, and it gave us all reason to believe that South Carolina would have its way with the young Aggies.

More Kenny Hill

Of course, that's not what happened, as new quarterback Kenny Hill lit up the Gamecocks' defense in A&M's 52-28 romp Thursday night. Hill's 511 passing yards broke Manziel's single-game school record, and the offense's 680 total yards were the most a South Carolina defense has ever given up.

One game in, Hill is a Heisman contender and A&M is right in the thick of the SEC West race. This proved once again that we never really know anything about college football. But Hill's performance against South Carolina — one of the country's most experienced teams — might've taught us something about systems and how much experience they really need.

In preseason prognostications, experience seems to be valued over talent, and perhaps just as importantly, over overall program quality. While experience will always be important in the trenches due to the size differences between college seniors and freshmen, the advent of spread offenses has shifted the skill-position scales on the importance of experience vs. talent. Former four-star Hill's performance exemplifies that.

Texas A&M isn't the only program to do this. Baylor and Oregon and others have cycled through good quarterbacks who have proven themselves from a young age. Whereas it might take a quarterback a few years to learn the very best option for each play on a pro-style team, the best spread teams create workable reads for even first-timers. (And there's always the exception — Jameis Winston had Jimbo Fisher's NFL-complex offense down from day one.)

Rather than put the full load of the offense on the quarterback, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has created a system that will allow any talented, athletic player to contribute. He spread the field to create more space, surrounds new quarterbacks with a plethora of talented, speedy receivers — 12 of them, including several underclassmen, caught passes against South Carolina — and opens up the playbook.

On nearly every play, Hill had multiple clear options to throw to, flummoxing the defense and putting him in a position to succeed. When you combine that with the experience on offensive line — where we're hypothesizing that experience really matters — it was hard for an ultra-talented quarterback like Hill to fail, whether it was his first start or his 50th.

Success breeds more success. Not only can coaches get the most out of their young players, they can also promise more young players early playing time without a dropoff in results. And that's at least a contributing factor as to why Texas A&M, Baylor and Oregon have upgraded their recruiting since adopting new systems.

It's not just this concept that should reshape how we evaluate the potential of young teams. Evidence over the past few years suggests that young quarterbacks in these offenses have been overlooked in the preseason. CBS Sports' Jon Solomon calculates that, of the eight quarterbacks to play in the national championship since 2010, six were new starters, with four of those running spread offenses. (The other two, Alabama's AJ McCarron and Winston, played for teams that demonstrate a different kind of talent-over-experience lesson. Stocking five-stars at every position encourages success, no matter how experienced you are or what systems you run.)