When someone asks who is the best quarterback in the Big 12, the typical responses are either Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Baylor’s Seth Russell or Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. However, it is time to start recognizing West Virginia’s Skyler Howard as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference — if not the best.
The story of how he got to where he is today is well known. Howard was unrecruited out of Texas and went to Stephen F. Austin, where they told him he was going to be a running back. Howard didn’t like that and transferred to a junior college in California. And the 6-foot quarterback thrived in that offense, which helped him get to Morgantown.
The small-framed quarterback knows he has doubters. Critics have stated that he isn’t big enough to play at this sort of level or his arm isn’t the greatest. However, the non-believers fuel Howard to achieve and sustain the sort of level of play his has shown in 2016.
“I’m going to have to earn everything and zero will be given to me,” he told ESPN on playing with a chip on his shoulder. “Even if I do earn it, I’ll still have to reestablish myself in whatever my next chapter will be.”
During his time, the signal-caller has consistently exceeded the expectations that have been placed on him. And through five games this season, Howard has produced more than West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen, the rest of the coaching staff and Mountaineer fans anticipated.
Last Saturday, when West Virginia traveled to Lubbock to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders, it was Howard and Mountaineers’ first true road game of the year.
In the two games prior to Texas Tech, Howard overcame small, early struggles against BYU and Kansas State to help lead West Virginia to victories over those foes. But against the Red Raiders, Howard shined throughout the entire 60 minutes.
Howard outplayed one of the quarterbacks who is considered elite in the Big 12, Mahomes, with an almost near-perfect performance. The Mountaineer gunslinger completed 21 of 31 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown. That gave Howard a stellar quarterback rating of 92.6 out of 100. While dissecting the Red Raider secondary, he also ran for 89 yards and two scores on 12 carries.
Now, some may consider Howard’s outing against Texas Tech a stroke of luck. But if you look at the statistics through the past 10 games — the five this season and the last five in 2015 — they are outstanding.
In Howard’s last 10 games for West Virginia, he has compiled a record of 9-1, with his lone loss coming by one point against the Kansas State. And in those 10 outings, he threw for 2,860 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing 61.9 percent of his passes. What’s even more impressive is that Howard has battled through injuries to record these numbers.
In the Mountaineers’ opener against the Missouri Tigers, Howard suffered a rib injury that has kept him out of practice at times, according to Holgorsen.
“When he practices, he does really good,” Holgorsen said the weekly Monday Big 12 coaches phone conference. “He’s had a couple of nagging injuries (earlier this season) but he’s back to 100 percent now. He played his tail off and he’s doing good.”
The only downside to Howard’s play is his interceptions. He has tossed four picks this year, which gives him a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If he can limit his turnovers as the year progresses, Howard can further validate himself as one of the Big 12’s best quarterbacks.
Howard has looked into the face of adversity and has consistently overcame it. If he can keep on leading West Virginia down the path of unbeaten and possibly a Big 12 championship, he could become one of the nation’s foremost QBs. But as for right now, Howard should be seen as one the conference’s top quarterbacks.